1 Comment | Aug 26, 2010

Help For the Vanilla Web Site

Beware the vanilla web site.

I call a sites “vanilla” sites when they possess no brand message, no individuality, no human touch. You’ve seen them, too. Maybe it’s the site of a company that wants to do business with you, or the site of a company that’s been recommended.

(If it’s your site, then read on. You don’t have to sink a fortune in order to break the vanilla routine. Com’n, add some sprinkles!)

Why am I being so critical of these sites? After all, most of us don’t have a fortune to put down for our web real estate. But I want to make the point that just because you have a web site does not mean that it is doing its job for you. Now’s the time to look at your site with an objective eye, and make some easy changes that will take you far in differentiating your company and your brand.

First, how do you know if your site is vanilla?

Your site is generically branded. The colors are discordant with the logo, or there’s no color at all. Ask a web designer to change the colors or change your theme so that your look is harmonious and alive. Note to DC company owners: there are other colors in the rainbow besides red, white, and blue. Really, I looked it up!

Your site uses stock art that you’ve seen elsewhere, like the parachuting team, the European models with shiny suits and long hair, or the woman drawing a flow chart that’s reflected off the photo. Don’t even talk to me about the peg people standing next to the bull’s eye!

You can find fresh stock art (not an oxymoron!) that’s inexpensive. We’re talking $3-$5 per download. Try and pay as you go. Be sure to check  how many times your chosen photos have been downloaded before you pay. Search for newer photos. Or take a fresh angle: Don’t use people. Use only extreme close- ups or partial faces, use only objects, go for black and white, or alter the photos with PhotoShop. Better yet, grab your digital and start snapping your office, your employees and yourself.

Each page is identical, except for the copy. Content is king but every king needs some company, like original photos, charts, and illustrations. A visually interesting site is fresh, with each page different than the page before it.

The content is lengthy, but doesn’t say much. What’s the point of your business web site? Does every content page reinforce your message in a fresh way? DO you get to the point, or do you waste your home page by thanking people for visiting. Have someone else read your content and ask them to edit all extraneous words and thoughts. Sales-y pitches are out. Straight talk is in. Tell your visitor why they’ve come to the right place, and reinforce that message on every page with helpful content that establishes your expertise and builds trust. P.S. if you have typos and misspelled words on your web site, shame on you!

Tired of writing copy? Grab your Flip and make a video for your home page, your product page, or your management team page!

Your navigation is confusing. Does a visitor arrive at a page, later to find that the birds have eaten the bread crumbs and the path is lost? I was on a site yesterday where the section tabs actually float, rearrange and disappear depending upon where I was on the site. (I thought I was losing my mind for a minute there.) Ask someone who has never seen your site to sit at the computer and find “x page” or “y topic”. See how long it takes them.

There’s a cool flash intro, but little else. Flash intros ­ really? I wish I had a dollar for every recruiter company site whose logo danced around my screen. Not only do these space-wasters kill your SEO, but they’re dated, and you’re losing precious time entertaining visitors who have numbed to hip music and colorful intros. Get to the point, before I click off your site and move on.

The point? We all need to stand out for the right reasons. For business web sites, those reasons should be positive, differentiating, and memorable.

Have an example of an overly used stock photo or web theme? Leave me a comment. I’ve posted some of my “favorites” below. (These are comps from They have lots of fresh photos, in addition to these moldy oldies.)

1 Comment

admin 5:08 pm - 26th August:

After posting this yesterday, I just clicked on the site of a creative design/marketing agenc, and there was stock photo #2 staring back at me!

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