Why Most Websites (Still) Suck – Lessons From Tonight's eMarketing Course

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I just got home from the CMA – Canadian Marketing AssociationeMarketing Professional Certificate course that I teach here in Montreal. It’s a fourteen week course where participants come in every Tuesday night from 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm and learn about the Digital Marketing landscape. Because this course is offered through the Canadian Marketing Association, most participants are experienced Marketing professionals looking to increase their Digital – Interactive Marketing knowledge.

Tonight was the first round of Student presentations for the course, where the students had to team up and do a comparative Website analysis. Simply put, they choose two Websites, compare (the good, the bad… and, of course, the ugly) and then give recommendations for improvement. They are graded on both a paper that must be submitted and a fifteen minute oral presentation highlighting their thoughts.

I love to teach. This is my third time teaching this course and I love it more with each passing. I love watching the students go from shuddering to understand RSS to glowing with pride as they start their own Blogs. But tonight, when they do those first comparative Web analysis’, I’m reminded of why I am (and you are) in the business of Digital Marketing.

It’s always hard to explain why you like something, but it’s super easy to explain what you don’t like. Watching these students shred through every kind of site of you can imagine: brochure ware, e-commerce, Government, informational, etc… always makes me realize that with all of the talk about usability, functionality, understanding who your consumer is and what goals they are trying to achieve when they come to your Website, and on, means little. For the most part, Websites still suck (according to these people who are not yet drinking the Kool-Aid).

Bryan Eisenberg (co-author of Waiting For Your Cat To Bark and Blogger over at GrokDotCom) summed up best what my Students were saying when we had dinner the other week. While chomping on some pizza and discussing the miserable conversion rates that most e-commerce Websites face, he simply said, "why de does any button say ‘submit’ on it? Besides an IT department who uses the word ‘submit’?"

Sidebar: Bryan’s first book, Call To Action, is now the only required reading book for the eMarketing course.

After nearly two hours of watching people present comparative analysis on Website after Website, it re-reminded me of how many roadblocks Marketers create for Consumers when we develop Websites by committee, or by trying to please both the Marketing and the IT people. It made me realize that these silly corporate turf wars -that still take place – have only one casualty: profitability. Profitability is forfeited because most companies are letting their internal fiefdoms get in the way of creating a truly engaging brand experience for their consumers online. Instead, consumers are leaving Websites in droves and tonight, my Students tell me why.

It’s tragic.

As Marketers we need to do a better job of explaining to the whole company that most people’s first interaction with our brands happen through a Search Engine. No matter how little or large the price tag, and regardless of whether it’s a BtoC or BtoB model. Consumers and potential consumers are finding us by a Web search. Tonight’s class was like that movie, What Women Want. Only instead of suddenly being able to hear what women are thinking, I had this amazing power to hear what everyone is saying – aloud – about Websites.

For the record: it wasn’t pretty.


  1. I would have loved to have been there and seen the presentations. Are there any plans to extend these courses to other Canadian cities?

  2. i think rrs, google reader (my reader choice) and facebook are changing the way we use websites and what we expect from them. flash, unless its just brilliant, usually just clutters and slows things down. i want information fast and fresh. content and micro content all the time.
    see you in a couple days in montreal mitch

  3. Gerry McGovern’s advice:
    Websites should be designed from the outside – in perspective, not the (typical) inside – out.

  4. Hi Mitch
    I liked your blog and am experiencing a tragic tale of two websites, in overhaul mode, and they are making lots of mistakes and are not listening to us (the marketing arm). Really frustrating.
    What is it that students say “sucks” about the websites they focused on?
    Thanks and teachers rock!

  5. Overall, it was the lack of “human voice” and expectations that people will “figure it out.”
    My overall understanding was that people click, and if it’s not immediately there will spend little time (with little patience) trying to figure out exactly what you want them to do.

  6. We have been suggesting they use screencasts which will give it a human touch and teach the users as soon as they appear on the site, if they NEED the help. This is what we like about it. If you don’t need it, don’t turn it on. If you do, like maybe your eyes aren’t so good today or maybe your head isn’t either, you have a voice guiding you through the site. Some of the users have, believe it or not, never used a computer so if they’ve made as far as getting on the site to get the licenses they are after, we have to make it simple

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