This is what happens when your website sucks

Here’s the first page of “search hits” from my three private blogs (hypermegaglobal.net, meltdownblog.com and krise.hypermegaglobal.net – all updated much more frequently than this one):

Search hits and keywords
All of these are from today

As you can see, most of my visitors where looking for fnapf, which is a pet supply franchise chain. That’s because I blogged about how badly fnapf‘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?

Who are you? Example: We’re “Zombie Megastore”, Luxembourg’s leading store for all you zombie needs.

What?

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.

When?

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).

Where?

Your address (you might want to include your phone/fax number, email, link to contact form, etc.).

Why?

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.

Websites with and without ‘www’

Double-u double-u double-u is one of the few things you can say much faster if you say it in German (just say “v v v”). I’m German, so I continuously strive for efficiency (nah, possibly I’m just lazy), which is why it annoys me that I still have to type “www” in front of some domain names to get to the desired website!

I mean, it’s 2008, the World Wide Web has been around for a while, so please, dear webmasters, could you make sure that your website works as http://www.example.com and http://example.com?

Here’s a list of offenders from the past few days (off the top of my head):

Now before you leave a comment and say “why don’t you just use bookmarks or press Ctrl-Enter in Firefox”, let me point out that there’s more to consider: If you can actually reach the same content with and without “www”, so can the search engines. Different URIs for the same resource might mean trouble (“duplicate content”).

AFAIK, the best way to handle both issues is a 301 (permanent) redirect. On Apache, make sure the domain with and without “www” points to the same directory and place an .htaccess file with the following content there (requires mod_rewrite):

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^example.com$ [NC]
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.example.com/$1 [R=301,L]

This will redirect users to URL with “www”. BTW, this code was taken from the excellent book “Building Findable Websites: Web Standards SEO and Beyond” [affiliate link]. It also has a chapter about weblogs which I think I should read. 😉

Chiropractors “very satisfied” with heise.de redesign

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). 😉