Web Watch: Simply Successful
On a typical day, you’ll probably see hundreds — if not thousands — of marketing messages by the time you get to work. You’ll see ads on TV or in the newspaper. See them on billboards and hear them on the radio as you drive. See them on hats as you walk. Hundreds more await you in your mailbox and e-mail inbox. So how can an organization with a wide array of programs and services cut through the clutter and grab attention?
One way is for it to present what it does as clearly and quickly as possible to make it easy for potential supporters to understand what it is and find what they’re looking for.
Sheltering Arms Senior Services, an organization that works with seniors in the Houston area, does this on its Web site. First, Sheltering Arms puts its main navigation elements along the top using colored tabs, and its secondary navigation down the left side of the screen. So when visitors click on the green Services tab along the top, they’re taken to the Services page, and the sub-navigation column on the left turns green (a subtle reminder of where they are) and displays a list of contents in this area (such as Case Management and Home Care).
Web site usability studies have shown that most people’s eyes move in a clockwise direction as they review a Web page, and that this navigation approach (main on top, sub on the left) often is the easiest and most expected. As an organization targeting a general and aging population, Sheltering Arms is wise to use traditional navigation structures so its visitors can focus on content instead of trying to figure out where the information they’re looking for might be.
Lots of good stuff
There are a lot of positives to point out about this Web site. A grid design that is consistent across all pages means that no matter where visitors go, they always see the Sheltering Arms logo in the upper left-hand corner, its tag line at the top of the page, and the main and sub-navigation elements along the top and left of each page’s content. However, it would be nice if the logo was a bit larger and clicking on it took visitors back to the home page.
In terms of cutting through the clutter, if I were a potential supporter of an organization (e.g., a community-relations manager at a local corporation or a foundation officer reviewing its letter of inquiry), I would want to understand the bigger picture of what it does before diving into program details. Sheltering Arms’ tag line, “The Source for Senior Services: Preserving dignity and independence of Houston’s elderly since 1893” says it all. While it might not be as sexy as, say, “Just do it,” it tells visitors everything they need to know: The organization has a defined approach, it’s focused on seniors, it’s in Houston, and it’s been around a long time (perceived credibility). The tag line rotates at the top of every page, so as visitors move to different areas on the Web site and learn more about Sheltering Arms, they’re constantly reminded of the bigger picture that unites its work. This might feel heavy-handed, but it actually helps keep audiences focused.
Including a downloadable video clip of a client’s story and newsletter on the home page reassures visitors that Sheltering Arms is a credible, competent organization.
Some room for improvement
As for improvements, I’d like to see more real content on the home page. Right now, it provides a list of links to other areas (for instance, Home Health Care), but since many visitors never go deeper than the home page, this is a good place to draw them in with recent news, the mission statement, an opportunity to sign up for the newsletter, etc.
And while the simple, no-nonsense style of this Web site suits Sheltering Arms’ mission and target audience, integrating bright, cheery, large photographs with the bright, cheery color palette could add more of a human touch. Adding a column for announcements or ads for its services, and making tabs and type on the main navigation larger so it’s more obvious where to begin are other simple ideas that Sheltering Arms can implement to enhance its site.
Sarah Durham is founder and principal of Big Duck, a nonprofit communications firm in New York City. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.