Teaching, Promoting, Cheering UX and SEO Since 2002

The You-Don’t-Matter Website (A Look At Ego/Vanity Sites)

Last week I conducted a web site usability audit for a famous brand corporate web site. It never fails to amaze me why these companies don’t hire designers trained in search engine marketing and user experience design.

I won’t divulge who they were. I never do that with client work because for starters, they had the brains to find me and get help. But what I found illustrated what I often find on corporate, famous brand web sites. There seems to be this arrogance that says, “We have the brand. We don’t need to optimize.  Who cares if people come.”


Certain brands have an interesting way letting you know that you don’t meet their user standards. Take Prada for example. Unless you have Flash loaded and your computer has speakers, their web site is completely useless.

This is what it looks like without Flash installed.

This is what it looks like if you have Flash, JavaScript and sound.

It’s really cool. It loads a video with catwalk music, which immediately shows their new line being modeled. This is different than images with click to enlarge. Prada wants to create an environment. A vibe. A la-te-da. It does this beautifully. However, this is what Yahoo cached:

If I could afford a Prada shoe versus the ones I get at Famous Footwear for under $20, I would search Google with my perfectly manicured pink fingernails for “prada shoes”. And this is what I would get:

My pretty little head would be thrilled to find all the sites that sell them or have rip-offs or offer  them on sale. I never have to go to Prada’s web site – which by the way is somewhere down there in the SERPS. Google found the homepage but no inside pages. Certainly no shoes!

But hey, it’s Prada. It’s a select market. No dial-up user or sight impaired person buys from them, right?

Too Posh to Care

When searching for a place to hold a wedding or fancy gathering, this web site hopes to God you know about them before you go searching on the Web. If you have ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) or flickering movement will cause you to have seizures, do NOT visit this web site.

If you know the business phone number, you win their challenge because by golly, their domain IS the phone number. (Click the image to view.) If you don’t know what the site is about, join the club, but I warn you that if you click a link to an inside page, you may be stuck there. I couldn’t find the back “home”. Leave a comment if you found it.

Just for jollies, check out the source code. It’s an SEO’s nightmare. There is no title tag. No meta anything. No content. At all. The entire site is AJAX driven, so no matter where you are, the URL never changes. If you aren’t the type of user who has the latest computer equipment, you most definitely can’t afford the services of this gorgeous place. This is what you do get.

Thanks to a funny discussion in Facebook that began when I mini-vented about poor site usability, I was offered some leads on sites that are absolutely not designed for everybody to use. They’re targeted to those with the latest technology and which don’t need search engines.  If you need to control sound or are using JAWS, these sites must be frustrating.

For ChristianLouBoutin you must have Flash 7 installed.

For Versace please throw out your dial-up and set aside 5 minutes for the site to load up if you have DSL or cable. When it does, hope for a horizontal scrollbar if you’re using a wide screen monitor.

As one of my friends said,

“And then the brands wonder why counterfeiters are the ones in the top 10 of Google.”

What Makes It a Vanity Site?

If you need something to see, hear, load and install to use it, it’s a vanity site. If there is no text anywhere  it won’t have information for you. Rather, via images and video, you’re supposed to see and sense the aura and telepathically communicate with the navigation.

Artistic sites by graphic artists tend to love to break rules. They’re all about the art and the newer technology which offers them great freedom to express themselves. The site is all about them. “You” are secondary. If you come, thank you. If you don’t, you won’t be missed. It wasn’t designed for you.

One design fad are  Horizontal Websites (Discussion link). Here is an example of what it can look like:

VanityClaire –  It’s pretty clever but the bottom part of the site can’t be seen at all on a wide screen monitor. There are no vertical scroll bars on horizontal web pages. That defeats the purpose of the design.

With Flash and JavaScript disabled, it looks like this:

A cleaner, less jerky example that doesn’t depend on Flash, is one by Donna Fontenot aka “DazzlinDonna”. It’s a free slider launch template.

What Makes a Site Non-User/Non-Search Friendly?

Many web site owners try hard to make sure their web sites function for most people. For them, my site audits are filled with logical recommendations that often make them smack their head. It’s always the little things that make a big difference for the user experience and search engine crawling. The bulk of non-usability falls into the accessibility area. The plus of making a site meet accessibility standards is that it automatically pleases search engine “bots”.

My friend, Joe Dolson, writes on this topic. These two links may be helpful in deciding whether it’s “worthwhile” to include users who have health issues of various kinds that prevent them reading or ordering online without some type of software or other assistance.

http://www.practicalecommerce.com/articles/1417-Accessibility-How-Many-Disabled-Web-Users-Are-There->Accessibility: How Many Disabled Web Users Are There?

I often hear business owners claim that their sites aren’t used by people with disabilities, so they don’t need to pay attention to web accessibility. But there’s no basis for such claims because the merchant can’t possibly know this information. The tracked profile of a user with a disability, via a typical analytics package, is identical to anybody else using that browser.

United States disability statistics: Measurement and sources

Take the time to follow his leads on statistics sources. The number of disabled people is staggering. States such as mine (Pennsylvania) have laws for any state government website that  requires them to be usable by everybody, whether they are using assistive software,  older computers or have health issues that make using a mouse or page viewing frustrating. Why? Because the state wants to do business and provide services online to every citizen.

Doing Away With Basic Usability, Accessibility and Search Engine Marketing

A company that doesn’t care if its web site comes up for specific product searches is one that believes its brand name is doing the job just fine. They may be right. However, sooner or later, I hope they discover their competition is a user click or search result away.

It’s scary to keep finding web sites that most people can’t use or search for. I can understand new sites with inexperienced (but learning) owners and designers. We find them in forums and blogs asking questions. We rarely find anyone from big shot sites or who are willing to identify themselves as such asking for help in forums. At their level they’re expected to know what they’re doing.

The big brand site that threw me into a tizzy last week had no text on the homepage at all. With Flash and images disabled there was a big fat nothing. No textt, no links and no navigation. It’s an ecommerce web site with no signs of an order form.  The lead task was viewing their pretty pictures. There were no call to action prompts on the homepage. If you could figure how to add a product to the cart, you couldn’t continue shopping.  You could only order ONE product. That cracked me up. And finally, I’ve never seen a site completely change the entire homepage so that every time you load it you get a different design.

Sites like that one have gigantic egos and a funky way of creating brand loyalty. Nothing says “You don’t matter” more than a web site that won’t let you use it.

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