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    Web Site Self-Evaluation - Determining Where Your Web Site Is Falling Short

    It's not as important how you feel about your web site as it is how your visitors feel about your web site

    You may be thinking "My web site doesn't need a makeover… I'm happy with the way it looks and I never get any complaints."

    While that may be the case, it's important to understand that you may be getting all kinds of complaints about your site -- they just aren't addressed to you. Most visitors to your web site who aren't satisfied with what they find won't bother to contact you and tell you about it. They'll just move on to the next web site… your competitor's.

    It may be true that you're happy with your web site and maybe your friends (and even some of your clients) have commented on how good it is, but is it as good as it could (or should) be? Are you turning away a large number of potential clients and not even realize it? Do you have enough clients that you don't need to improve the effectiveness and appeal of your web site?

    The following self-evaluation will assist you in determining where your web site may be improved to increase it's effectiveness in attracting clients to your business.

    This evaluation has been created after countless hours researching what some of the most famous and most profitable experts on the internet have determined to be some of the key elements to effective web site design.

    You should answer the questions in this evaluation about your own web site in an objective manner, but it will be even more useful if you get a friend or colleague to apply this evaluation to your site. Sometimes, being too close or too familiar with the project may bias your opinion on some of the answers. (If you wish, you can Contact AFAB and we'll conduct an objective evaluation of your web site for you.)

    You may also want to visit some of your competitors' web sites (be sure to view the sites of other local companies as well as sites from businesses outside your geographical area) to see what they have to offer. You can then compare how your site stacks up against theirs while you answer the questions below.

    Simply answer YES or NO to the following questions and keep track of the number of NO's. At the end, we'll provide you with a scale to determine how badly your web site needs a makeover.

    Web Site Self-Evaluation


    Has your web site undergone a significant update (more than spelling or contact information changes) within the past year?
    Web site are like cars, you can tell an older model from a newer one (and the web evolves much quicker than cars). Don’t let your web site resemble an ’85 Tempo. (At the very least, make sure that your copyright date reflects the current year)

    YES NO
    Is your site designed to be viewed on an 800x600 resolution screen without horizontal scroll bars?
    There are still a large number of web users who have their screen resolutions set to only 800x600 pixels. If your page design is wider than 800 pixels, these visitors will have to scroll horizontally to see all that's on your page -- a big no-no in page design as that's one of the biggest signs of an unprofessional web design.

    YES NO
    Do your web pages load quickly even on a slower internet connection?
    Internet users are very impatient (in today's fast-paced world, who isn't?) so they aren't likely to wait long for your pages to load. This is especially true of your front page where your visitors don't yet know if your site has the information they'll be seeking… if the page takes too long to load, they'll just go to the next site (your competitors!). Experts differ on how long they say a page should take to load, but if your page takes more than 10 seconds, you can bet you're losing a lot of visitors.

    YES NO
    Do you have informative meta tags on each page within your site?
    If you don't know what meta tags are, you're in need of a change. Meta tags are written into the coding of each page and specify important elements (such at the page title, description, keywords, etc.) that help the search engines classify your pages and help your visitors to better understand what they will find on each page.

    YES NO
    Do all the pages on your site have unique and useful titles?
    The title for a page is written in the meta tags included in the coding of the page. It is the title that will appear on the top of a visitor's web browser and it is often what is displayed as the link on many of the top search engines. A useful title will help visitors to find your site and each page title should be unique so that your visitors will be encouraged to visit the page and they'll know what to expect.

    YES NO

    Does your main navigation menu contain the appropriate links that your visitors will be looking for?
    Most visitors to your web site will know what they're looking for before they even view your front page. Your navigation menu should have clear links to all the main sections of information they will be seeking -- About Us, Services, Galleries, Contact Us, etc. An ineffective menu contains too many links (don't include a link to your favourite online gambling site on your main menu -- put it on a links page if you must include it) or too few links (a menu containing only links to "Homepage" and "Contact" while the rest of the information is scattered around will only drive your visitors to your competitors' sites).

    YES NO
    Is the text of your main navigation links clear so your visitors know what to expect?
    I can't tell you how many sites I've encountered that offer a link to something as uninformative as "Our Bread and Butter" when "Products/Services" would be much more useful. Understand what words and phrases your visitors will be looking for and then use them for your links.

    YES NO
    Does your navigation menu appear in the same place on every page?
    Internet users are creatures of habit and they expect to be able to find key elements in specific places. If they have to hunt for a link to the page they are looking for, they won't spend long looking -- they'll just move on to the next site. The most common placements for a navigation menu are at the top of each page, at the left of each page or at the bottom of each page (it is possible to move the navigation menu to another portion of the page, but be sure it's evident that that's what it is -- don't hide it in the clutter of your page). While the placement is important so your visitors can find it easily, it is even more important to keep it consistent on every page within your site. Varying from this may frustrate your visitors and force them to move on.

    YES NO
    Are the links in your navigation menu consistent from page to page -- the same basic links in the same order?
    You don't want to continually throw surprises at your visitors by mixing up your navigation menu. It's okay to add sub-links to pages within a specific section, but it's not effective to have the link to your Portfolio section appear on some pages but not on others.

    YES NO
    Does every page on your web site clearly link directly to your front page?
    Even with an effective navigation menu, some of your visitors may get lost or wish to return to the front of the site. Don’t make them use the BACK button on their browser… provide a direct link so they can jump back to home before following a new path through your site.

    YES NO
    Does every page on your web site clearly link directly to your contact information?
    If a visitor to your site wants to contact you for further information or to make a purchase, they should be able to easily determine how they can contact you.

    YES NO
    Can you move from any single page on your site to any other page in 3 clicks or less?
    A good site structure will allow your visitors to jump to the information they want quickly and easily. If they must follow more than 3 clicks (unless there is clear and useful information along the way), they will get frustrated looking and move on to the next site.

    YES NO
    Can your visitors easily find the answers to their common questions?
    Here's a great test to determine how useful your site navigation is to a visitor -- ask someone who has never seen your site to find the answer to a common question that your visitors might have. Let them browse your site and time how long (as well as count the number of clicks) it takes them to find the answer. You may be surprised at the results. Just because it seems clear to you where the answer may be, your visitors might not be able to find it as easily.

    YES NO
    Are all of the links on your site currently active?
    A key sign that you're viewing a poorly planned site is to find the "Page Not Found" error message when you click on a link. Every link within your site should be checked to determine that it works correctly (often a small typing mistake can mean the difference between a good link and a bad one). If you offer links to other web sites, check them at least once a month to ensure the links are still valid at all times.

    YES NO

    Does your site present a clear company image?
    Your web site is often the first contact that a visitor has with your business so you want to ensure that you are giving them an appropriate image that matches with their expectations. You don't want to come across as fun and whimsical when they are looking for a serious product or service. Even worse, if your web site doesn't present any image at all (it lacks a consistent look and design or appears to be similar to thousands of other sites on the web), you're failing to make yourself stand out in the mind of your visitors (and they won't be contacting you for a purchase).

    YES NO
    Does your site have a consistent colour scheme throughout?
    While it may seem creative to have different colors on each page of your site, the reality is it distracts and annoys your visitors. Your web site should be a place where you establish and enhance your company image -- this can't be done if each page looks different.

    YES NO
    Do you have the company name and/or a consistent logo at the top of each page?
    Consistency is key on the web so you should give your visitors what they expect. By putting your name and/or logo at the top of each page, your visitors know who you are and they know they're still on your site (many sites have links that take the visitor to a different web site which can be confusing -- your business name at the top of each page tells them they're still dealing with you). You may also wish to include a very brief description of your business or a slogan along with your company name/logo so that your business image is reinforced.

    YES NO
    Is your top logo (company name, slogan, etc.) compact enough that the important content of each page is viewed without having to scroll down the page?
    While it's important to have a strong branding on your pages (your logo, company name, slogan, etc.), it's just as important that content on your page be "above the fold" (this is a term borrowed from the newspaper world that translates into "viewable without the need for scrolling down the page"). You want to entice your visitors to read your content and your message so you want this to appear on the page without them having to look for it. If your top logo is so big that the first line of a page's text is only readable after scrolling down the page, you're making your visitors work too hard to find it and many will miss your message.

    YES NO
    Do you have an appropriate number of graphics on each page?
    Determining what's an appropriate number of graphics may be subjective and difficult to determine. The best way to judge is to determine if each graphic is relevant to the content of the page (functional rather than decorative). It is relevant if it illustrates a product or service that you offer (a picture is worth a thousand words, after all) or enhances a text description that you offer. An unnecessary graphic may be an image completely unrelated to the topic of the page or a graphic that is used where text would be a more appropriate method (such as for a heading or title on a page). The biggest violator of the "functional over decorative" use of graphics is an image of a mailbox or big "e" (usually animated in some way) to illustrate an email address -- simply using the word "Email" (and having a contact page where this is listed along with the rest of your contact information) is far more effective and doesn't distract your visitor from the rest of the content on the page (I've come to believe that web sites use this type of graphic just to show off the fact they know how to use animated graphics -- it rarely does anything to attract or entice a visitor and because it's usually a stock graphic that is used on thousands of other web sites, it just shows the visitor that the web designer couldn't create a graphic of their own).

    YES NO
    Are your graphics of an appropriate size for your page design?
    Your graphics should flow smoothly with the rest of your page design. Graphics are a great way to break up large sections of text and move the reader's eyes down the page. However, the graphics should be of a sufficient size that the text flows around them… they don't get in the way of the text and obstruct the reader's flow. A small graphic to the right or left of a paragraph of text can help add some punch to the description whereas a large photo that separates one paragraph from another will distract the reader and take away from your message.

    YES NO
    Do you use fonts consistently on your pages?
    I'll repeat it again -- consistency is important in web design. Use the same font for all your text and headings (bold, italicized or slightly larger fonts may be used to highlight information and section headings, but don't mix the font faces -- it creates a confusing and very unprofessional look).

    YES NO
    Are your fonts of an appropriate size?
    Text is difficult to read when it is too large or too small. For larger paragraphs and more detailed text, you'll want to use a size of 9-11 points as this is easy enough to skim through and fairly easy on the eyes of your readers. For headings or small pieces of text that you wish to emphasize, you can go to a size of 12-14 points, but use them sparingly as they should attract your visitor's eye, not distract them because everything seems to be emphasized.

    YES NO
    Do all of your pages follow consistent design & formatting rules?
    Each of your pages should follow the same rules when it comes to formatting. Use the same font for all paragraph text. The same font size for all headings. The same spacing before and after headings. The same width of the text on the page. Again, you want to give your visitor what they expect and after viewing some pages on your site which follow one set of rules, they will be confused by pages which follow different rules.

    YES NO
    Is the width of your text lines suitable for reading on a computer screen?
    Reading large amounts of text on the computer screen differs greatly from reading text in traditional print form. When reading on the screen, you tend to scan the information quickly to determine if it contains what you are looking for. Only once you have found something of great interest will you stop and carefully read each word. Because of this different reading behaviour on the computer screen (which is where your web pages will be read by over 99% of your visitors), you should present your text to accommodate this practice. To assist your visitor to scan your text while still picking up your main message, you should limit the length of your lines to 15-20 words. This allows the user's eyes to move over the text comfortably so they can pick out the main words and ideas. Longer lines are more difficult to scan (as are shorter lines such as those below 10 words per line) and your visitors will likely tire of trying to read long messages and will simply move on to another web site.

    YES NO
    Are your paragraphs short enough for easy on-screen reading?
    Like line length, the length of your paragraphs also affects how well your visitors will be able to read your text on a computer screen. To make it easier for your visitors to scan the text and pick up your main messages, you should break long segments of text into smaller pieces. Keep your paragraphs short (10-15 lines maximum) and each paragraph should focus on only one main idea.

    YES NO
    Do you have a clear and informative heading on each page?
    Your visitors should know instantly if they are on the correct page. A clear heading at the top of each page will tell your visitors what they can expect to find on the page.

    YES NO
    Do you use centered text appropriately on your pages?
    Text that is centered on a page (or aligned on the right margin rather than the left) is very difficult to read, therefore, centered text should only be used for headings or to highlight important information. Your centered text should never be more than about 3 lines and should be used sparingly to increase its effectiveness at grabbing your visitor's attention. You should never center an entire paragraph of text (or worse, an entire page of text) as it is just to hard to read on the computer screen (or even if it's printed on paper). Left-align the bulk of your text and your visitors will be able to scan it for the important points they are seeking.

    YES NO
    Do you use bold, italicized or capitalized text appropriately?
    The highlighting of text through the use of bold, italics or capital letters should only be used to create emphasis on key words and phrases. It has become identifiable to most readers as something to pay attention to, therefore, you do not want to overuse this feature as the emphasis is soon lost. Single words or short phrases may be highlighted in bold, italics or capitals but refrain from using these techniques to highlight any more than a single sentence (and usually, you'll get a greater response but highlighting only the key words in the sentence).

    YES NO

    Do you have a unique domain name that is appropriate and meaningful?
    Your domain name is not only your address on the internet, it is often the first impression that your visitors will have of your web site. With the relatively low cost of registering your own domain name (typically under $50/year), there really is no reason to have your site hosted under a different domain (for example, This often gives your visitor the impression that you couldn't even make the small investment for your own domain so how viable can your business possibly be. The choice of your domain name is also important. If you use your company name or something that describes your products/services (such as -- though most of these names have already been registered), your visitors are more likely to remember your address -- and hopefully will be able to tell their friends about it.

    YES NO
    Have you avoided using a splash page as the front page to your site (If you use a Flash-based splash page, count this as 2 NO's!)?
    When a visitor views the front page of your site, they don't want to see a notice that says "Click here to enter" -- they expect to already be in your site. Splash pages (a page with your logo or some graphic and a "Click to Enter" link) are like the front door to your business -- you're inviting the visitor to come inside. But on the web, you don't need a front door -- without it, the visitor would already be inside (you're giving them one more chance to change their mind and go away). A Flash-based front page is just as ineffective. You're forcing your visitor to sit through some flashy (and usually uninformative) animation before they can enter your site. In fact, one of the most clicked links on the web (definitely in the top 3) is the "skip intro" link on Flash openings. Your visitors know what they are looking for (as I've mentioned many times already) and your Flash introduction is preventing them from finding it. If you want to present an animated "commercial" on your site, offer it as a link that your visitors can CHOOSE to view if they wish (don't force it on them).

    YES NO
    Can you create a one-paragraph summary of your business, your products and your services based on the front page to your site?
    I'll say it again… visitors to your web site have very short attention spans so you must show them immediately that they have found the right site. Your front page should offer a brief description of your business and of your products/services then, through your navigation menu, direct your visitors to the pages on your site where they'll find more detailed information.

    YES NO
    Is your front page exciting, interesting and attention grabbing?
    The front page to your site is often the first impression your visitor has of your business. In addition to portraying a professional image, your front page should grab the visitor's attention. A strong top graphic and/or logo, an interesting heading, clear and useful links and an informative introduction/description of the site will encourage your visitors to dive deeper into your site rather then moving on to the next one.

    YES NO

    Do you describe each of your products/services separately?
    I've come across far too many web sites that show only the following on their Services page: "We provide (fill in the blank) products/services of all types. Contact us for details." Now maybe these site owners were thinking that because this message isn't limited to a particular customer type, they're keeping their market broad and speaking to a larger number of people, but in reality, they aren't telling anyone anything. To convince your visitors that they should take the next step and contact you, you must address their specific needs. The needs of a person looking for one product/service differ from those of someone looking for another product/service. By describing each of your products/services separately, you can focus on the specific needs of each customer type and increase the responses for each of the services you offer.

    YES NO
    Are each of your products/services described with adequate detail?
    Visitors to your site are using the internet for a reason -- they want information about you and your products and services. They are "pre-shopping" you so that they can create a short-list of companies that they may eventually contact for further information. If you don't give them enough information (presented in such a way that they are comfortable with you), you won't make their short-list. To give them the absolute minimum of what they're seeking you must include information about what you offer, what benefits they'll see from your products/services, what they can expect and what your prices are (at least a ballpark figure so they can determine if they can afford you). If you fail to give them this, they will go to another web site (your competitors') which does.

    YES NO
    Do you provide answers to the common questions your visitors may have?
    Because most of your clients have the same general needs (at least within each of the product/service categories that you offer), they also have many of the same questions about you and your products/services. When they start looking for a company, these questions are at the top of their list and they want satisfactory answers before they even consider working with you. Your web site will be the place that many of them will seek these answers and they'll use the information they find (or don't find) to determine whether you make their short-list of companies to contact. You don't want to be eliminated because they can't find the answers to their questions on your site. Plus, your web site can be a useful tool that will help you to pre-screen your visitors. By offering clear answers to their common questions, you may lose some visitors that don't like your answers (maybe your prices are too high or you don't offer the product/service they're seeking), but at least you didn't waste your time talking with them in person or on the telephone when they never would have bought from you anyways.

    YES NO
    Is your message targeted towards your visitors' needs?
    As I mentioned previously, you need to address your visitor's needs to be able to convince them to take the next step -- contacting you. First, you must understand these needs then you must target your message to address them. Your visitors want solutions and benefits rather than features. Don't just say "We do…" or "Our products/services do…" when you can say "You'll benefit from…"

    YES NO
    Does each page offer a clear message that your visitors will understand?
    Again, knowledge of your target market is vital as you want to ensure that the message(s) on your pages is presented in a way that will be understood by them. Avoid the use of industry jargon and explain your services in a fashion that your clients will understand. Often, using the same words that they would use to describe your services is the best way to make them feel comfortable with you.

    YES NO
    Does your web site make you seem like a real person (or group of people) rather than a cold business?
    The internet may seem like a rather cold medium for establishing a relationship with a potential client (after all, how can they see you as a real person if all they see is a collection of words and graphics on their computer screen?). But in reality, the internet can be a great way to express your personality and to let others get to know you. The wording on your pages should be one-to-one rather than talking to a large group of people (yes, you may be trying to reach a large number of people, but they will be viewing your pages individually so you should address them as such). You can also use the About Us section to make yourself (and your key employees) seem real by showing photos of yourself, talking about the past experience and training and even revealing a bit about your personal life (hobbies, after-work activities, etc. can greatly increase the comfort level your visitors' will experience).

    YES NO
    Does your web site create a sense of comfort and trust in your visitors?
    Despite the rapid growth of the internet as an information and business tool (or perhaps because of this), many people still feel uncomfortable dealing with businesses online. To get them to contact you, you must make them feel comfortable with your business and with you personally. This comfort may come from a site that makes it easy for them to find the answers they seek, from messages that address their specific needs and from making you seem like a real person rather than just a cold business entity. You also need to establish a level of trust before they will contact you. Trust comes from showing them that you know your business (show your past work, describe your experience and training, explain how you will work with them on their projects, etc.) and from illustrating that you will be able to satisfy their needs (by showing them that you understand their needs, you're one giant step on the way there!).

    YES NO
    Do you have customer testimonials on your site?
    You want your visitors to feel comfortable with you and your business. You want to create a level of trust with them. You want to show them that you can meet their needs. The best way to accomplish all of this is to show them how you've helped others with similar needs in the past. Testimonials from past clients will illustrate what you've done for others and how happy they've been with your work. Seeing that you've made others happy increases the comfort and trust levels of your future clients.

    YES NO

    Are visitors to your web site likely to return?
    Even if your hope is that all the visitors to your site will contact you immediately to make a purchase, it's more realistic that they will want to view your site a few times before they contact you. They'll likely be creating a short-list of businesses to contact and they'll return to each of those sites before they pick up the phone and start talking to you personally. If a visitor to your site is not likely to want to return again (this may be because they got a bad impression from the site, they couldn't find the information they were looking for or the site was just too confusing to navigate through), they are even less likely to contact you. If you find that most of your visitors aren't returning to your site, you're definitely in need of a makeover.

    YES NO
    Will the visitors to your site recommend you to others?
    In addition to getting your visitors to come back to your site again in the future, you want them to feel good about recommending you to others. Make your visitors feel comfortable and give them the information that they need and they will be more likely to pass your name and web site on to others.

    YES NO
    Does your site offer at least as much useful information as your competitors'?
    When your visitors are shopping online, it is most likely that they will view more than one site before they make their decision. This means that many of your visitors will be viewing the sites of your competitors as well as your own. If you competitors offer something on their sites that is lacking on yours, you are likely to lose the business to them. Check out the sites of your competitors and make sure that you offer as least as much useful information as they do.

    YES NO
    Are your visitors likely to place you on their short-list of businesses to contact?
    This is a tough question to answer as it requires getting inside the heads of your visitors. However, based on your experience in working with your past clients and your understanding of your clients needs, you should be able to roughly determine where you will rank in your visitors' minds compared to your competitors. If you can't objectively rank your web site in comparison to your competitors' (based on image, ease of use and content), then ask someone outside your business to do so (be sure they will be objective -- tell them not to worry about hurting your feelings as they'll be helping you in the long run). If your business doesn't appear in the top 5 of the local businesses (the top 3 would almost certainly ensure you make the short-list of most of your targeted visitors) then you should conduct a makeover to improve the responses you'll get from your visitors.

    YES NO


    Count up the number of NO's that you answered in the above questions and use the scale below to determine how badly your web site is in need of a makeover:

    5 or less NO's: Your web site appears to be in pretty good shape. You use strong design elements and your message seems to appropriately address your target market's needs. You may want to fine tune your site on a regular basis to ensure that you continue to offer all that your visitors want.

    6 - 10 NO's: Your web site has some room for improvement. Determine which area(s) appear to be the weakest for your site (ie. general usability, navigation, design, front page, content/message, graphics, etc.) and focus on these.

    11-15 NO's: You've still got a passing grade, but you're in the approximate 65-75th percentile. If you've got a lot of local competitors with web sites, you're likely losing a lot of business to them. A makeover which focuses on the main category(s) (ie. general usability, navigation, design, front page, content/message, graphics, etc.) in which you are weak will help you to become more competitive online.

    16-20 NO's: You're about the middle of the pack which means that there's a very good chance that your competitors are getting most of your internet business. This score likely means you are performing poorly in more than one of the main categories (ie. general usability, navigation, design, front page, content/message, graphics, etc.) so a makeover to these sections will be highly advantageous.

    21 or more NO's: Your web site needs a makeover if you wish to compete online. There are several weak areas of your site and these should be improved upon because you are likely driving more visitors away from your site than you are converting into clients.

    Contact AFAB for a free, no-obligation web site review and we'll show you how to make the changes to turn your web site into an effective and profitable marketing tool.

    AFAB Publishing & Consulting - Marketing & Web Design Consultants
    Phone: (403) 701-1206 separator Fax: (403) 217-6378 separator Email: