Brandon first became acquainted with the very real horrors of Website Assault in Italy.
Having grown accustomed to the high standards and social graces of internet information sharing, he felt completely unprepared for the blows he sustained, site after incomprehensibly horrific site.
The color choices. The broken links. The poor layouts. The nonexistence of easy navigation. The complete lack of valuable information.
And worst of all, the translation to English that reminded him of the Sunday paper word puzzles.
A simple search for running races—a 20-minute activity that’d spanned hours—left him slumped in his hardback, clutching a near-empty bottle of limoncello, mumbling to himself, more confused than when he’d started.
“I don’t understand! I don’t frikken understand it! It shouldn’t be this hard,” he exclaimed during one of our phone conversations. “I’m not trying to disprove Game Theory here. I just want to go for a run!”
As he would learn over the next three months of living in the otherwise beautiful country, this wouldn’t be a singular experience. Running didn’t hold the monopoly on being difficult to pin down. Hiking, canyoneering, rock climbing, Autumn festivals. Apparently, all of his interests, outdoor and cultural, shared equal opportunity in torturing his nerves.
“It’s gotten to the point that whenever I have to look something up, I physically brace myself,” he said. “I literally feel as if my brain is being drawn and quartered.”
I laughed. “Come on, it can’t be that bad.”
“Jay, I’m not even kidding about this. It’s come to the point that I just don’t give a crap. I might just spend the rest of my time here eating pasta and drinking in the piazza downstairs.”
And eventually, that’s what he did. It just wasn’t worth the frustration, he told me later.
Of course, he did find a few beacons offering some solace. They were, however, the exception.
Brandon had the willingness. He had the time and money. But reliable resources? Not so easy to come by.
Why Should You Care about Brandon’s Difficulty?
You know what I can’t help thinking? What a wasted opportunity for all of those vendors. They didn’t just lose out on Brandon’s business, they lost out on his word-of-mouth marketing. Aside from online sources, this is where adventure travelers get much of their information. Think about all those family and friends who will never travel to Abruzzo to try their hand at caving.
And mind you, Italy is not alone. Not only do I hear it from fellow travelers, I experience it myself time and time again: the challenges of research. First world or third world, depending on the countries, there’s not much difference.
What’s most surprising about this is that creating a visually appealing and informative website isn’t all that difficult or expensive today. With a decent WordPress template and on-point content, I’ve pulled together sites over a weekend!
Granted, they’re not winning any awards or anything, but who cares? They’re easy on the eyes and give visitors the information to imagine themselves renting surfboards and swimming with sea turtles. Which, at the end of the day, matters most.
Because websites are so important, this isn’t one area you can slough off. You just can’t. Doing so will directly jeopardize your potential success.
So, that being said, after visiting hundreds of sites during my travels, I’ve pulled together a list of questions to help you determine where yours stands.
Questions to Ask About Your Website:
Design and Layout:
1. First and foremost, does your site resemble a 1996 throwback?
Come on now. Don’t kid yourself. This is the time to be honest. We both know what these look like. If you even have to consider this, please give the rest of these questions their due. 🙂
2. Is the site easy to navigate?
For basic sites, this really shouldn’t throw too many wrenches. But if you’ve got a complicated operation going on, make sure when I visit your website I don’t get lost trying to figure it out.
3. Do all of the links work?
I hate that I even have to ask, but broken links raise a lot of images and connotations in a visitor’s mind. None of them good.
4. Do your color choices represent your brand?
I know this should go without saying, but if purple isn’t part of your company brand, there’s really no reason for it on your site. (The only exception being as a small element of a graphic or photograph.)
5. Do you use color in a way that’s pleasing to the eye?
A great way to come to website development is from a place of creating art. Because truly, that’s what you’re doing…offering up an expression.
But for some, this perspective feels awkward, even scary.
“I lack that artsy gene, Jaylyn. I’m just not creative,” I’ve been told more than once.
I hear you. Really, I do.
Not everyone feels they’re artistic or creative. Not everyone has “the eye for style,” so to say.
So what do you do in this case?
In my humble opinion, exercise your right to use minimalism. You don’t need every corner of your website to go on the visual attack. And for the love of Crayola, we don’t need a reminder of all the hues that exist.
Stick to your brand colors, which should be at the most three. Pick one to be your main color and let the remaining serve as accents.
For example, I’ve kept it simple.
My colors are a muted blue, black, and white. White and black comprise 60 to 75 percent of my site. Blue makes a selective appearance with carefully chosen photographs, headers, and a couple of backgrounds.
The only deference from this exists on the blog, where I use full-color images.
If you can’t restrain yourself or just don’t know how to get started, seek out an actual graphic artist who can help you find a visually appealing balance. If you can’t afford to, seek the help of a friend who’s got an art background. Or at least the eye.
6. Do your graphics pertain to the content?
It’s the same as matching your belt to your shoes. You’d never put a brown belt with black shoes, right? (By the way, if you do, I’d recommend not. 🙂 ) A general rule of thumb to live by, whether its a website or an ebook: match your graphics to your words. Without congruency, you’re sending mixed messages and not presenting yourself in a uniform, well-designed package.
Ah, and that reminds me. Don’t let your graphics become prima donnas. All of your content, graphics and words, should play equal parts.
7. Is your site cluttered?
Clutter is overwhelming. This household rule extends beyond your threshold into cyberspace. Try to jam too much content and graphics into one area, and you’ll overload your users’ brains. Instead, take a lesson from art class and use negative space to your advantage. Allow there to be room between paragraphs and images. Separate your content using different backgrounds and pages. Give site visitors the latitude to breathe, to consider what it is your saying without forcing the next bit.
8. Does the site itself represent your brand?
At one glance, does it convey who you are and what you’re about?
Let’s look at my site again. Everything about my design conveys who I am. The gray font choice for my body copy is low-key and easy going. The blues reflect my calm, laid-back attitude, friendliness, and trustworthiness. The pairing of black and white, mirrored in select photos, speak to my artistic nature.
And that’s just after a quick look. Without reading anything, which only continues that mentality, but we’ll look at content below.
9. Is your text easily readable?
If 22-year olds have to zoom in to 200% to figure out what you’re saying, that’s a bad sign. I know you love them, but fluorescents are not your friends. Not when it comes to websites. No matter what they tell you.
Yellows should be used sparingly and NEVER as running text. That goes for lime, red, pink, orange….. In fact, stick with the basics. Gray, black, and blues on white backgrounds. White on black. For headers you can be a little more creative, but keep it looking sharp.
Also ask yourself if your text is hard to read. You may love Fatboy Slim as your logo font, but that graffiti-style script has no place for body text. Do yourself a favor and just let it go. Stick with sans serif fonts eyes glide over.
1. Does your content represent your brand?
I won’t spend much time on this, but I wanted to ask. Just to be sure each word choice, sentence length, imagery conveyed, and subject choices represent and fortify who you are. If not, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.
2. Do you provide a detailed description of the activities available?
If you run tours, excursions, activities, events, or anything in this scope, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to really detail what’s involved in your offerings. We adventure travelers have a lot of options, so we want to know what we’re getting for our time and money. We want to know you’re the right choice.
And as I explained in my Newgrange Tour post, it’s the little things that really matter. Things like:
- How many people can we expect to be with us on tour?
- How long will we visit each site?
- Will we have time on our own to walk around?
- What information during the event will you provide?
- If you’re a tour, how will people who are hard of hearing receive the information?
- Do we need to bring our own headphones?
- How much information does each location offer? I.e., plaques or brochures or nothing?
- What gear do we need to bring? What gear do you provide?
- What does your transportation look like?
- Are you handicap friendly?
3. Do you include event and package prices up front and in a clear manner?
I’m going to let you in on something my friends and I talked about, and we all agree on. Say we go to Bob’s Whitewater Rafting website, in an area where there are a number of outfitters. If everything about Bob’s seems great, except there are no prices, we’ll check out the next vendor.
And if that website registers on the same scale as Bob’s, well chances are we’ve already moved on. When one company puts themselves out there, and you don’t, it comes across like you’re hiding something.This makes you seem less trustworthy, when that very well is probably not the case.
Granted, some of us won’t. Some will take the time to call or email, but there’s a good chance we’ll be annoyed that we have to, especially when other options already make it so clear. That’s not the best way to start off a potential relationship.
So please, please, please just be upfront with us.
4. Are you providing all of the necessary contact information in an EASY-TO-FIND location?
I know. Another no-brainer. But you’d be surprised.
You can make life for everyone easier if you include the following on its own contact page:
- An email. Not a contact form, but a real email address.
- A phone number to a person who will return the call in a reasonable amount of time.
- An address. If I had a quarter….
- A map and directions of how to get to you.
- All of your social buttons.
5. When translated, does your website make sense to those native speakers?
When I was in China, I made a game of taking as many photos as I could of the Chinese-to-English signs I found hilarious. In fact, I built a whole collection around them.
That was all fine and good because the situation wasn’t dire. As I was with a friend who speaks Mandarin, I could float around Shanghai without too much of a care, as she kept me out of danger.
But when you’re trying to plan an activity, as Brandon above, being able to understand a company’s offerings is sort of critical.
I’d suggest hiring a native speaker to help you ensure your translation makes sense to users. This extra step could save you missing out of a lot of business.
How can we enjoy your services if we can’t figure out what they are?
6. Are you making the most of your bios?
More often than not, the bios I see are basic, despite however cleverly written.
“Tom has been an instructor for 15 years. His favorite route is the Devil’s Tail. When he’s not teaching, you can find him chowing down on tacos or wrangling his kids.”
What would be better is an article about Tom. Maybe 500 to 800 words detailing a specific event in his life, preferably in relation to your service, that endears us to him. Maybe it’s a challenge he overcame during a difficult climb. Maybe it’s the reason he became a rock climbing instructor in the first place. Something, anything, that develops rapport and convinces us this is the guy we should trust while we’re dangling 100 feet in the air.
If you’re beholden to the short bio, no worries. Include a “Want to Know More About Tom?” link or toggle button that opens to the longer profile.
This is such an easy way to develop connections with your site visitors, because you go from being a company to being a group of people doing cool stuff.
7. Do you include how-to articles?
Of the three types of adventure travelers, two-thirds aren’t high-level enthusiasts.
The Adventure Grazers and Adventurers are either just dabbling or continuing to improve their efficiency in an area, respectively. Either way, that means there’s a void in their minds. One you can fill with instructional and informative articles.
And what happens when you do this?
Well, one, you improve your chances of being found on the internet. So, that’s huge.
But the other benefit takes place when you go from being a random vendor to a trusted resource. When this happens, you step out of the faceless crowd and take your place on the pedestal in their minds.
And who do you think they’ll want to go with when it comes down to kayaking whitewater or running the back trails of the Appalachians?
The person they trust.
8. Do you include stories about the location, locals, other activities, and professionals?
Adventure travelers care about locations, activities, and culture, and normally their trips hit at least two of these.
In other words, we like a well-rounded, engaging excursion.
So the more reason we have to come to your location, aside from say surfing, the better. And if you give us that information? Well, hey, one more reason you’ll stay in our minds.
So here are four kinds of articles you can include on your site that will help you stand out.
- Location: You chose it as a place to work and live, so what’s so great about it? Why will your visitors love it too?
- Locals: We adventure travelers want to get to know other cultures by way of interacting with interesting human beings that we otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity. This doesn’t even have to exist in the form of great cultural divides. Simply telling us about some amazing graffiti artists in the area or businesses that split their sales with nonprofits will have us more invested.
- Activities: Unless your visitors are focused on engaging in one sport at a high level, there’s a good chance they’ll want to check out other options during their down time. What are those?
- Professionals: When I’m going to location for a specific activity, I love to hear about the pros’ experiences there. Why that place, how they found it, etc. It gets me stoked for my trip.
If you want to get more specific about what this looks like check out these posts or my free ebook:
Ok, that was a lot, I know. But I can’t emphasize enough just what excellent sites can accomplish.
Good luck on reviewing and revising.
Website Assault is a very real epidemic. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem! 🙂 🙂 🙂