When I ask for website submissions for this column, the very first thing I want to know is what is your goal for your website?

"My daughter says I need to have one", or "everybody has one so I should too" definitely don't count. I'm talking tangible, profitable goals. And these goals ultimately come down to just one question: what do you want people to do on your website? This is the most important question you need to ask yourself when building a new site or revamping an old one.
Do you want people to buy something? Do you want them to contact you? Do you want them to subscribe to your news feed or blog? Or do you just want to educate people about your organization or service (aka page views)? These are the basic, tangible, bottom-line type of goals you need to determine ... and then focus your content, navigation, and design in that direction.

rc-home.jpgThis week's website for review is The Riding Centre, which has just recently undergone a redesign. The goals of the organization for the website are to educate and solicit support (financial and volunteer) through contacts. While the new site is definitely better than the old one, it doesn't display these goals or paths to reaching them in the content, navigation, or design.

Drive Visitors To Your Goal Through Strong Content
As website owners, it's very easy to get hung up on a "pretty" design. We focus too much on what our homepage looks like and too little on what our copy says about us. The backbone of every effective website is its content. Before you even begin to think about coming up with a navigation scheme or design, you need to draft your content.

Comprehensive Content
The content on the Riding Centre website is basic. While it covers a lot of the key areas of the organization, it is not in-depth, complete, or particularly compelling. Before you begin writing content for your site, make a list of all of the topics you need to cover. For the Riding Center I would suggest:
  • About: include information on location, facilities, philosophies, non-profit status, how it is run/supported. The mission statement can be incorporated here.
  • History: biography of Louise Solberg, the founder, as well as information on how it has grown and changed over the years.
  • Staff: bios of Carolyn, the manager, as well as key staff and instructors so that visitors can learn who is caring for the horses and instructing and what their experience is.
  • Lessons: explain disciplines, levels, class size, when they are offered, a yearly schedule, and cost, while emphasizing that there is a waiting list. Part of the purpose is to educate potential donors of the program, so this information is necessary without advertising for more riders. Be sure to include how people can get on the waiting list.
  • Camps: need more details on the types of camps, the schedule for the upcoming summer, what is covered in the camps, an example of what each day looks like (even just a bullet list), costs, times, required attire, etc. Let people know how they can sign up.
  • Therapeutic Riding: what it is, why it's beneficial, how it works, how you can get involved as a student or volunteer.
  • Testimonies: from therapeutic riding students, regular lesson students, camp students, horse show participants, volunteers, and donors. Sprinkle these throughout the website on the appropriate pages. They are one of the easiest ways to add a compelling message.
  • Volunteering: need a page just for volunteers. Provide lists of ways they can help with descriptions of those activities including leaders and sidewalkers, horse care, facility maintenance, fundraising, etc.
  • Financial support: explain why you are worth supporting financially and how people can do so.
  • Adopt a Horse: create a separate page with pictures of the horses and cute bios of each. Give potential donors something concrete to latch on to. It doesn't even matter if more than one adopt the same horse, it's still providing the support you need.
  • Riding Facilities: the Riding Center has great facilities between the large outdoor ring, the cross-country course, and the availability of trails in the Glen Helen. Use pictures and descriptions of each, and include information for people who may want to trailer in for the day.
  • Horse Shows: dates for the year, schedules, classes, entry fees, and info for competitors on trailering in, parking, etc.
  • Contact: you need more than just a phone number! Be sure to include address, phone number, and an email where you can be reached. It's also a good idea to incorporate a contact form right on the site that visitors can fill it out and automatically generate an email to you.
  • Special Events: Always be sure to add pages for special events that answer the who/what/when/where/why questions potential participants will be looking for.
This is just a list of content to include to get started. There may be more that I am missing, but this is more than is currently available on the website. When your goal is financial support particularly, you need to have very good information about the organization and how it is benefiting people. Your donors and volunteers want to know how their money and time are making a difference.

Call To Action
If you want your visitors to reach your goal, you need to ask them! "Contact us today to adopt a horse." "Call us at _____ to inquire about volunteering." "Email _________ for more information about the Riding Centre." There needs to be a call to action on every single page of the website, and it needs to be obvious. Tell them what you want them to do, and make it easy for them to do it.

Logical Navigation
Part of driving visitors to your goal is creating a navigation scheme that is logical, descriptive, and easy to use. Once you've made a list of all of the content pages you are including on the site, organize them into logical sets. You will want to use a top level navigation and a subnavigation, and neither should be more than 5-7 links in a set. The key here is that it needs to be easy to scan so that visitors can get an idea of the content available on your site; if it's longer than 5-7 links it's too difficult. For example:


About the Riding Centre
  • About
  • History
  • Staff
  • Facilities
  • Community Bulletin Board
Riding Programs
  • Lessons
  • Camps
  • Therapeutic Riding
  • Horse Shows
  • Event Calendar
Support the Riding Centre
  • Donate
  • Adopt a Horse
  • Volunteer
Contact Us

It's simple, easy to scan, and makes sense based on the information your visitors will be looking for.

In addition to your main navigation, be sure to incorporate links to other website pages throughout your content. If you mention therapeutic riding on the donate page, link to the therapeutic riding page. This makes it even easier for visitors to get to relevant information.

Principles of Good Design
Now that you've got solid, compelling content and a logical navigation scheme, it's finally time to look at your design. The most critical reason to pay attention to good design practice is that studies have shown that a professional looking design makes a website seem more credible to visitors ... and this will make them much more likely to reach your goal.

A few issues I see right off the bat are:
  • Color scheme: While the mixture of bright colors and pastels are the right shades to work well together, they appeal more to a younger audience instead of a more mature one that is most likely to be your donors and volunteers. The Riding Centre blue would be better complemented with earthier, more neutral colors to reach that older audience. There are also too many colors in general. 3-4 different colors used in consistent ways will be much more effective.
  • Search box: because the website isn't all that big, the search function is not really necessary. In addition, it doesn't work very well. Visitors much delete the words "search this blog..." to type in their own query. Then, the search terms aren't always included in the list of results, so it's difficult to determine if you found what you are looking for.
  • Website name/logo: one of the most important elements of a website design is the name or logo. Visitors may not always enter at the homepage, so it's important that it be very clear whose website this is. While having the horse jumping the logo is clever, the logo itself is much too small to be noticed. It really needs to be one of the most prominent elements on the page. The logo should always link back to the home page.
  • Events and bulletin board: first, check spelling! You lose credibility very fast when "bulletin" is spelled "bulliten" on every page of the website. Secondly, these are great features to include, but they have very little information. How can I post to the community bulletin board? The horse show is listed as an event, but if I click on it, there is no additional information. Make sure that your extra functionality adds to the website and is easy to understand and use.
  • Footer: add basic contact information, including your address, to the footer along with links to several key pages such as "about" "donate" and "volunteer" (there I go with the calls to action again!).
  • Missing calls to action: if getting visitors to contact you about donating or volunteering is your main goal for the website, make that very obvious and easy to do.
Make your calls to action very obvious. Incorporate them in your navigation and your content as we've already discussed, but also make them an integral part of your design. Instead of using that right hand column to display the local weather, use it to drive visitors to your goal. Use graphic buttons that grab attention and ask people to donate or volunteer, and link to the appropriate pages. Make sure the request is compelling and appeals to visitors' logic and emotion; for example "Adopt a horse today and put a smile on a child's face tomorrow."

Are They Reaching Your Goal?

Not everybody who comes to your website is going to do what you want them to do. But a good portion of them should if you are helping them along. If you haven't already, determine what the actionable goal is for your website - exactly what do you want your visitors to do - and then focus all of your content, navigation, and design efforts on driving them to it.

September 5, 2008

Jackie Baker is an internet marketing analyst with SiteLogic Marketing (http://www.sitelogicmarketing.com) where she focuses on auditing websites as well as SEO, social media, usability, and information architecture consulting. She comes to the industry from a marketing/PR and website development background. Jackie maintains an active presence online through her blog RegardingHorses.com (http://www.regardinghorses.com) where she shares her love all things equine, particularly therapeutic riding.


I think it's also important to consider what site visitors are most likely trying to accomplish. Every visitor site comes with some sort of goal in mind, and if they can't readily see how to achieve that goal, they hit the Back button.

Your goal for your site is secondary (although not unimportant).

Would you be interested in looking at winery Web sites? I was thinking of publicizing your Site Clinic on my blog.

Hello, Jackie, thanks a lot for your points you made here. The colors for the older public is something too many designers forget about.
I agree with the Mikes notes too though.

Mike - If you've done your homework, though, your goal for your audience and their goals for your site will align. These aren't necessarily opposing questions. In any marketing campaign you have to provide a call to action and have a specific goal of how you'd like people to respond while providing the information or actions they want. You're right though; if a visitor can't find what they're looking for easily, they will hit the back button. And that's about the worst thing you can have happen.

Yep, I'd be happy to take a link over some winery sites if you'd like to submit one for review in this column. Email the URL, your main website goal, your unique selling proposition, and your target audience to me at jackieATsitelogicDOTcom.

This is the first question I ask my potential clients. In the main i get a good reason and suggest other possible reasons too.

Hopefully your goal and the visitors goals overlap or you have no business!

Often the visitors goal is the starting point for the site content and the aim of site is to move qualified visitors to the site goal.

@ Jackie: Agreed. I would think that if your visitors aren't trying to accomplish what you would like them to, then possibly your website doesn't attract the desired visitor. Or you simply don't understand your market?

This is great advice and essential practice prior to any web project. Also, aligning your website to your goals and what you want your visitors to accomplish will be important should you want to run a paid search campaign or even an SEO campaign.

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