Ah, websites. In the early days they were a billboard to the world. Function over form and a sure sign that your company was at the cutting edge of technology. Back in the dark ages of 2005, youtube.com (to give it it's full title as we did in the day), looked like this. Retro huh?
Further back, in 1996, even Apple was an ugly duckling.
For those of us who've lived through the early evolution of the internet, websites have become the trusted face of a company, so it's easy to forget that a mere decade ago, while generation X were embracing the joys of technology, baby boomers were suspicious of this passing fad.
Earlier this year eMarketer ran an article showing the differences in behavioural internet usage by age range. The results confirm that those born in the age of social media are far more likely to turn to Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest for help and advice than they are to visit a company website. Web pages which once had a monthly and in some cases yearly shelf life, just can't keep pace with the immediate need for answers that visitors now have.
This all means that knowing your target audience is key when defining how your website looks and the content it contains. You can start by answering three simple questions, as you try to put yourself into your customers shoes.
1. What key problem is the visitor trying to solve or which burning question do they need to answer?
This might be as simple as finding the phone number, address or opening hours of your company if you're aiming at generation X.
2. Does your website tell visitors who you are and what you do?
Do the colours used engage or distract? Are you expecting your visitor to read text or providing the simplicity of a video? Does it load quickly and function correctly whether it's viewed on a tablet or a mobile or a laptop? (try it).
3. Are you making it simple for visitors to find what they need?
Each page of your website should have one clear call to action. Make it easy for the visitor to do what you want them to do. How many times have you clicked a link for a particular offer only to find yourself on the homepage scrambling around to find the offer all over again? Equally, if a discount code can be applied, take visitors not only to that page, but preferably pre-populate the discount code for them as well.
There are loads of great articles on designing your website from your customers point of view. These are some of my current favourites
How to design and build a great website (slideshare)
What does your website do to bridge the generation gap?