I had such high hopes for you, thought you might grow up to challenge PayPal. I soon realized that you were special. Your special SMS verification lead to a number of complaints from customers who claimed they’d never received your message. Those special “ISO” country codes you used in your merchant gateway forced me to write a function with the sole purpose of converting actual ISO 3166 codes to your system. There’s also the special way you treat refunds by keeping the original transaction fees.
Then came Christmas 2004 and it seemed like everyone suddenly wanted a digital scale. Our business took off, but you were skeptical and refused a large number of transactions. Our customers sent us angry emails asking why their credit card worked everywhere else but not with us. I apologized and asked them to use PayPal instead. Almost all transactions went through just fine and none turned out to be fraudulent.
After this disappointing experience I quickly signed up with Worldpay but still kept you around as a payment option for customers who already had a Moneybookers account. Very few did. This year, only one customer used your service.
Eventually, you decided you had to change. You gave yourself a new name (Skrill). You informed me about a new inactivity fee for merchant accounts and started charging a monthly gateway usage fee. Your new name suddenly made sense: Like a whale filtering krill out of the ocean, you wanted to become incredibly fat by feeding on millions of users.
Thankfully, you made it easy to close my account. Best of luck in your future endeavours.
As you can see, most of my visitors where looking for , which is a pet supply franchise chain. That’s because I blogged about how badly ‘s Luxembourgish website sucks. Not only is it configured in a way that omitting the “www.” will get you nowhere, even if you make it to their website it’s difficult to locate their biggest store unless you know where to find it on a map (or keep zooming out). This quickly became the most popular post on my blog (pathetic, I know) which means that I’m obviously not the only one who had trouble finding what I wanted on their site.
So here’s a quick reminder of the very basic content you should put on your website (examples are geared towards a brick and mortar store).
The 5 friggin’ Ws – things you should definitely put on your website
Let’s simply take the well-known 5 Ws from journalism and reinterpret them from the perspective of a website visitor looking for information (which should also get us pretty close to the perspective of a search engine trying to determine your website’s ranking). Apparently these basics are so obvious that they’re often forgotten (either that or many people just have no clue of what to put on a website).
Who are you? Example: We’re “Zombie Megastore”, Luxembourg’s leading store for all you zombie needs.
What exactly is it that you do? Example: We carry a large selection of… well, maybe I shouldn’t have chosen the zombie store example. Anyhow, here’s where you list the things customers can find in your shop so that 1. they’ll find you when searching for your city + a certain item or brand on a search engine and 2. they don’t have to call and ask if you sell product XYZ item before taking the trip to your store.
Opening hours. If you’re closed on certain days, put this on your website. If you’re closing your shop for vacation, put this on your website (yes, I’m looking at you, Luxembourgish shop and restaurant owners who like to take long summer vacations).
Your address (you might want to include your phone/fax number, email, link to contact form, etc.).
This is the place where you might think you’ll have to come up with a wonderful story to justify why you’re doing what you do (“when my grandfather turned into a zombie, I realized there was no shop where I could buy thinks to make his… uhm… ‘life’ just a bit better”). That’s cute, but I suggest staying with the customer perspective and just answering the old basic “why should I buy from you”-question. It can be as simple as “we are the biggest store for zombie supplies in the entire state”.
That’s it, the basics. Of course a website can do much more than just answering these questions, but not answering them means you’ll lose potential visitors/customers every day.
Update: Heise made some modifications while I was writing this post, so not everything below still applies.
It’s summer time in Europe, many people are on vacation, others are distracted by the Olympics – if you were planning something outrageous, now might be a good time to get away with it. No, I’m not talking about Georgia, I mean the redesign of heise.de, Germany’s IT website no. 1.
Heise.de went from a table-based, liquid layout to a xhtml 1.0 strict compliant fixed width (elastic) layout. I don’t think anyone complained about the xhtml compliance, the key here is “fixed width”. Yes, I know. Discussed to death. In the left corner, we have “long lines are hard to read” and “fixed width gives you better control over the layout, making it easier to design visually appealing sites for lazy designers like me” whereas in the right corner we have “liquid layouts adapt to all sorts of different screens, which is what the internet is all about” and “if I believe the lines are too long I can resize my viewport myself, thank you very much”. I can’t tell you who’s right (because it’s one of these annoying “many shades of grey” topics) but what I can tell you is that switching from one camp to the other is going to make many people unhappy. Very unhappy.
2 billions. That’s the number of unhappy comments in heise’s discussion forum. Ok, it’s more like 5000 and only about 90% of those express disapproval. Still, even if you consider that the heise forum is most likely the place in cyberspace with the highest concentration of negativity, that’s a lot of unhappiness.
Is it justified? Well, judge for yourself. Or just let me tell you: yes! Let’s have a look at how they messed it up:
This is how the website now looks on my not-so-gigantic 1280×1024 screen. I took the liberty of highlighting the actual content, squeezed in the lower left corner. Some people on the forum are already complaining about a stiff neck from looking to the left all the time while others don’t like the content being so close to the end of the world edge of the screen:
What I dislike most is the odd combination of a centered upper navigation bar with a main content area justified to the left. It makes me feel seasick:
There’s also the large unused white area to the right which is making readers nervous because they expect annoying flashy ads to appear at any time (the medical term is “ad premonition disorder”).
Having studied 2534523 comments, I managed to identify certain patterns in behavior:
“It’s not a problem if you can fix it”: These folks suggest you manipulate the css to get the beloved liquid layout back. They probably use Linux, so they’re used to fixing everything they don’t like.
“Couldn’t you give users an option, maybe a switch in their profile which would let them choose their preferred layout? Hey, I might even be willing to pay for it”: Windows users.
“You’re not supposed to expand your browser to the full size of your monitor. A good OS wouldn’t encourage you to do this!”: Smug Apple 30″ cinema display owners.
“I hate you and I’m not coming back… at least not until tomorrow, but I’ll just return to see if you changed the design back and to post angry comments if you didn’t”: They’ll never leave and they know it.
“Hey, finally something I can write about in my blog!”:Yeah, that’s… uhm… me.
This would normally have been the end of this post, except that I had an epiphany when I turned my monitor by 90° (it’s fixed on an Ergotron monitor arm and my graphics card supports this, too). This changed everything! All those print media sites like SPON, sueddeutsche.de, faz.net and even wort.lu suddenly looked great! I wonder why…
“Hey, it looks good on my screen!” (the one on the left). 😉
Me: “Too bad you can’t buy anything :(” Brother: “I thought you had some contacts in China, this stuff is screaming to be sold” Me: “Wouldn’t that be… you know…” Brother: “Capitalism? ;)”
He’s studying law, BTW (and just to make sure this doesn’t come back to haunt him when he’s about to be nominated to the European Court of Justice or something like that, let me point out that we were kidding and that it’s now 5:45 AM in Ningbo and nobody’s in the factory to pick up the phone, anyway).
The morally immaculate way is – of course – to look at the designs and let their total awesomeness* inspire your creativity.
*I don’t think I’ve ever used “total awesomeness” before, so you’d better take a look. 😉