Cut to the Chase

By Stephen Saugestad
March 8, 2009
Strategy

Considering the volume of information on the web and an audience that is growing increasingly impatient, your website had better communicate its message quickly and clearly.

We believe that an effective website is built around an engaging concept that efficiently delivers its key messages. It should be organized into a logical and simple site structure, use the efficiency of strong imagery, and be chronicled with copy that is short and precise. Used collaboratively, these attributes will allow your website to speak to a user in a matter of seconds.

Studies show that the attention span of people is steadily being shortened by the way we access information on the web. People expect things faster, and if they don’t immediately find the information they’re looking for, they go elsewhere. Whether you like it or not, it’s something you need to consider if you are commissioning a new website.

The sheer volume of information available to a web surfer is astronomical, and growing exponentially. Google has become the de facto method in which we locate new and unfamiliar information. Traditional human processes of retaining information (as you might have been taught in school) are being replaced. In the past (that’s you, 25+!), you may have retained the history of Guatemala from a lesson or encyclopedia – now you’re more likely to know how to search for “Guatemala” on Google or Wikipedia.

This reality must be reflected in the way information is presented on your website.

Therefore, we base our design philosophy around the concept of “cut to the chase” – deliver the information as clearly and quickly as possible. Assume that you only have a few seconds to make a first impression. This may vary according to the demographic of your audience, but let’s aim high. If we can convince the user in a few seconds that your website is relevant, credible, and useful, they will be more likely to stick around, or at least return to your site in the future.

Navigation and Architecture

The top level navigation of your site should be simple and logical, with self-explanatory wording.

First, establish smart site architecture. We are now very familiar with the drill down method of setting up “folders” that hold “files” or more “folders” with more “files”. It is important that the top level folders of your site be intuitive and flexible to accommodate new pages and additional sections in the future.

Next, the naming of these “folders” is essential. Use simple and short words that don’t take up too much space in the design. Label sections and pages semantically, so your users don’t get lost or frustrated. In the hotel world, we use “accommodations” – not “it’s bed time!” The use of established conventions will facilitate navigation – for instance, today everyone knows that a logo should link back to the homepage, but there was a time when this was not accepted, standard practice.

Take apple.com as an example. This is one of the largest websites on the internet, and it has only 7 primary links off its homepage. Apple placed many key pages within those 7 “folders”, and wasn’t afraid that users wouldn’t be able to find these important pages. As a result, their navigation reflects the design philosophy of their products: simple, easy-to-use, and powerful.

Apple does a great job of keeping their top Navigation lean and simple.

Wallop will kick off the planning of a site’s architecture by first presenting a few good examples. From there, we will fine-tune its structure by considering all relevant factors, such as the circumstances of the client (is it a chain of hotels that should follow the same conventions) and the audience (are they older and indisposed to an overly technical interface).

Copy

Short, short, short, and worthy.

Website copy is typically vapid, excessively long, and poorly written.

Remember when you had précis-writing assignments in high school (take this article, sum it up in 100 words, and keep the main message)? The same exercise should be applied to the copy on your website. Add to this that you’ll want your text to be seamlessly sprinkled with keywords to ensure high search engine rankings.

Take this to heart: copywriting for the web is a tangible skill of modern times. It’s hard, takes time, and requires the talents of an experienced copywriter. Keep in mind also that copywriting and editing are two distinct skill sets. Not every copywriter will be good at editing, and vice versa.

Visuals

You must have high quality photography. High quality video is a nice bonus.

Pictures speak a thousand words. This old adage is in no way outdated in the medium of the website. In an instant, a photo of a hotel’s Double Queen Room can communicate that your property is luxurious, unique, creative, legitimate – this would have taken many words to do convincingly with text.

To produce a website in the ‘cut to the chase’ mold, you will need to have good photography or videos. If you don’t, you will need to incorporate this into the cost of your website. We can recommend some great photographers with experience at taking art direction to ensure the new photos will meld with the creative concept of the website.

Our collaboration with the National Film Board was predominantly photo and video.

Leveraging Social Media

Accessing millions of users.

The proliferation of social media sites – websites that primarily feature user generated content and allow people to share and connect – is a huge, fascinating topic to discuss. But we won’t here.

What’s important to note is that this abundance of social media sites means unparralelled access to people and media like never before. What used to take a tremendous amount of money – targetting a large audience through television, print and radio – can now be done for relatively little money. There is also a “credibility factor” when you are using material generated by others to present and describe yourself.

For example, why not post your photos to Flickr, and then display them in a gallery on your website? Your images will be available as usual on your site, as well as showcased to the millions of users on Flickr. An extra twist to this scenario would be to showcase photos of your property, taken by your guests and posted to Flickr, on your own website.

Similarly, your hotel website doesn’t need to include testimonials if you can link to glowing reviews on TripAdvisor.com.Your testimonials will be provided by a trusted third party, rather than the self-moderated variety that carry little credibility with a savvy web audience. We’ve written more about Social here.

Quick Facts Page

Have a single page on your site that summarizes the experience you offer.

While we insist that every page on your site be a summary of what you might have written for another medium, we also recommend having a page on your site that states your offerings in one glance.

This is your elevator pitch. There should be photos of the exterior of your hotel, as well as the common areas and rooms. There should be contact and booking information, a short paragraph describing the hotel, and even pricing.

Features that separate your property from other hotels should be highlighted. For instance, if your hotel is a converted castle, mention and show this. If your site is in a prime downtown location, the Quick Facts page might hold a small map. Perhaps your hotel has great facilities to host groups; then say so.

In essence, your website will be boiled down to one page. If done correctly, the user should be convinced to stay with you without visiting any other page. This page is tailor-made for impatient web surfers – they will appreciate it.

The quick facts page on the Liberty Hotel site.

The Sitemap Button

All pages accessible, from every page.

The sitemap has long been a convention of web design. We recommend a few tricks to make this feature more useful. Instead of taking the user to a separate sitemap page, when clicked, this button will reveal the sitemap in a small container above the current page. Users will be able to find pages faster, and this method is very search engine friendly because links to all your pages are embedded into every page.

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