Find out what a pizza delivery service can tell your organisation about the future of your website.

Last night I fancied a pizza, I couldn’t find any menus, so googled for the nearest restaurant.

The top result was a place 3 blocks away from my flat, so I clicked through to their website. Now, let’s face it, small food retailers don’t really have a reputation for cutting edge web design, but I was suprised. It was a nice site, had some pictures of delicious looking pizzas, a map which gave you directions from your postcode, and tight marketing copy that invited me to treat myself without delay.

“Great,” I thought, “now where’s the link to their menu.”

After 15 seconds or so of searching, I gave up – they didn’t even have a basic PDF download.

Did I ring up? Did I write to them to get one? Did I use their interactive map to go and drive there to collect one? Nope!

I just went to another site that let me order online.

You see, web browsing habits are changing. When a client asks me the simple question “is my website good?” one of the many things I have to do to answer them is to itentify the tasks visitors might want to perform on their website.

For example, if I’m reviewing a newspaper website, one of the tasks will usually be “Read about the latest international developments”, and another might be “read reviews of a theatre production happening in the nearest city to where I live”. A great looking, well structured site is still not a good one if visitors can’t very easilly complete the tasks they arrived to perform.

This is called “task based design” and it’s one of the basic tools you can use to make your site more user-centric. One way this thought process is visible on many of the better charity websites are “Get Involved” and “Donate” links, usually in very prominent place. It makes sense that some visitors will seek out your site looking how they can help after all. It’s critical not only to think of which tasks users want to perform, but also the terminology they’re most likely to use to describe them. “I want to donate” is something you can imagine a member of the public saying, so it makes sense to use the word “donate” – you’d be suprised how many sites use the word “fundraising” instead. It’s easilly done, after all the team that deals with donations in your charity is probably called “the fundraising department”. Thinking about tasks forces us see things from an outsiders point of view.

Something interesting’s happening with tasks though. In the last couple of years, they’re starting to change. We’re seeing less “Find out how to volunteer” tasks and more “Apply to become a volunteer”. Less “see the ways in which I can make a donation” tasks, and more “donate now” tasks.

It’s a subtle difference, but a crucially important one.

Increasingly people expect services to be delivered right on the web, and if you don’t, your users will frustrate themselves trying to complete tasks are much more likely to go elsewhere. It’s not just a pizza at stake though, for those charities offering crisis support it can be a matter of life or death.

It makes sense if you think about it, you’re good at what you do, so your website needs to be the platform for you to take that good work online, not just shout about it, or signpost people to it.

So how can we meet the demands of service users with a limited time and budget dedicated to the web?

Well it’s not as hard as it sounds. Here’s the 5 key things you need to do to ensure you’re delivering what users want online:

  • Integrate your website into your service delivery strategy, not just your communications strategy.
  • Encourage wide contributions to your website, especially from operations staff, volunteers, and those involved in face to face communication with donors and the public.
  • The simplest solution is the best one. It’s amazing what you can communicate with well thought out words and pictures published on your site, or communicating with your users via e-mail. Online video and social networks like Facebook are powerful, but they’re only part of the picture.
  • Make sure you know what users want from your site. Find out by asking them, asking people that talk to them, putting a survey or feedback form on your site or running a small focus group.
  • Measure your sites effectiveness at delivering what your users want constantly by monitoring your web statistics, going into more depth at least once a year with focus groups or usability study.

So here’s the takeaway… if you’ll excuse the pun…

Don’t market your leaflet online, don’t signpost your advice service online, provide it online too. It’s cost effective, reaches more people, and makes for happy web users that may well click that donate now button. What’s not to like?

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