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Musings from Mike Atkinson on Internet strategy, usability, and more...

Nice affirmation

I did a series of focus groups last week for one of my customers, a public school district here in San Diego County. Due to decreasing enrollments and increased competition, they realize they need a website that would market their already exceptional educational offerings. So I’m consulting with them on how to do that, ending in a plan that they can hand to their designers/developers.

I interviewed parents (both working and stay-at-home), teachers, managers (like principals), classified employees (like secretaries), and others.

Their Internet usage was pretty typical for suburban America and reflected common generational differences (while the middle-aged folks extensively use the Internet daily, the younger folks considered the Internet more of an integral part of the fabric of their lives).

I explored their opinions of what makes a good website. The results were consistent across groups and also consistent with other research and my experience:

  • Aesthetically/visually pleasing (photos and visuals make it more engaging)
  • Easy-to-use
  • Quick-loading
  • Up-to-date
  • Not busy or overwhelming
  • Easy-to-navigate
  • Not gimmicky: no flashing/moving graphics/sounds/Flash intros
  • Intuitive
  • Logical page layout
  • Clean, not cluttered or clunky

Some of their statements backed this up:

“I don’t want to have to work hard at finding the information I need.”
“I want to be able to get in and out easily.”
“It should be simple and clean, but colorful.”

Another parent said she wanted to see photos of children on the site: “I mean it is all about the kids.”

Many expressed concern over the wide use of internalized language, like acronyms (which the education and military worlds are famous for). They also noted that the district listed their schools in alphabetic order, instead of by level (elementary, middle, etc.), which isn’t very helpful for prospective parents researching the district.

When discussing the look of the site, there was a shared sentiment that the first impression of the site is what communicates how important that organization deems the Internet to be and thus how important it is to deliver vital information for their customers to make their lives easier and better.

This confirms something I say in my seminars: “You run your organization at a certain level of professionalism that you (rightly) take pride in. Does your website reflect that same level of professionalism? Or do you hope that folks will assume you’re more professional than your site reflects.”

[Aside: Focus groups are not intended to be statistical or scientific, but to provide anecdotal evidence of trends and attitudes.]

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