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Are Australian Web Designers Incompetent?

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Not at all, according to usability expert Jakob Nielsen here, who most recently gave a comprehensive analysis on the problem of localised country websites that fail to provide usability features.

After noticing the odd trend of low quality local websites in Australia, Nielsen reflected on the problem that the worst local sites seem to be designed not by small, local SMEs, but by multinational companies that created country websites without giving so much as a thought about usability.

Nielsen cited Sony Australia’s category page on its website, which users had the chance of navigating through as part of a usability test. As good-looking as Sony Australia’s category page is however, test users failed at performing the very simple task of locating a suitable Sony television they desired. One test user even expressed frustration, saying that he felt ‘stupid’ because he just couldn’t seem to figure out how to accomplish the task of finding a TV.

Needless to say, this is the last thing potential customers should feel when visiting a website.

In Sony Australia’s case, Jakob Nielsen demonstrates how the country site’s web designers seem to have a knack for using vague words and phrases to describe the brand’s series of HDTVs. This is where Sony Australia’s designers got things wrong, as describing products with the words ‘breathtaking,’ ‘vibrant,’ and ‘superior’ hardly says anything about what makes them different or unique from each other.

Sony Australia’s copywriters make the crucial mistake of depending on superlatives, which pleasant as they may seem, do nothing to help customers narrow down their choices. When you think about it, what is the difference between a TV described as having “breathtaking images” and one described as having “clear picture output”? If a series of products are all so great and excellent, why bother having different products in the first place when they’re all the same?

This is the question that consumers will only ask themselves when they see such sites. Consumers want information they can use to make purchase decisions, not words and phrases that practically all mean the same thing. Copywriters naturally want to hype products to entice buyers, but hype without substance will only turn people off.

Does this Mean Australian Web Designers are Inept?

While it’s true that Sony Australia’s website is far from great, this doesn’t automatically indicate widespread incompetence amongst web designers in Australia. In fact, more than 1,700 web professionals attend Nielsen’s Usability Week Australia training events. Compared to the United States and taking into account the country’s size, that’s more than twice the number of attendees in similar events in the US. Moreover, Nielsen points out that Australia boasts of a large number of local sites that pack great usability features. In fact, 5 percent of winners at the Intranet Design Annual Awards are actually companies in Australia, an impressive feat considering that Australia has just 0.3% of the global population.

So the Question is, Why are Many Country Sites Designed by Australians Terrible at Usability?

Nielsen opines that the fact that many Australian-designed country websites are so bad has nothing to do with Australia or the skill of Australia’s designers. It has more to do with the tendency of multinational organisations’ country sites to fail at usability. Nielson points out that this is consistent with other country sites that also fail usability tests.

A number of key problems arise when delegating the task of designing a multinational company’s local site to a country office. Nielsen enumerates the following:

  • A misdirected focus on sales, which takes away from the importance of understanding the product strategy of a company and understanding the purpose of varying products and services, thus leading to a ‘half-cooked’ presentation on the site.
  • A lack of understanding of online marketing, with the process of designing a site left to the hands of the closest advertising agency. The problem however, is that most advertising agencies stick to glamour-based design, which doesn’t work in web design as well as it does with traditional media.
  • Local country office breaks away from HQ’s more thoughtful site design in an effort to retain semblance of independence. This is a common problem not just in multinational companies but also among a wide variety of organisations, whose web team’s desire to remain independent causes an inconsistency in design.

The Solution to these Problems

First and foremost, give the customer what they want. Strange concept to some but is in fact the very reason we exist as brands and or as product and services providers.

Enform maintains that the core requirement for a web site is to offer your customers what they are looking for. That means using language that they use, words and terms that describe what they are looking for rather than what you might like to call it. This is what CORE SEO is all about .

Cultural and geographic differences add another layer of complication made worse when centralised marketing or online development departments deploy solutions from afar.

Multinational companies can avoid these problems if they take a more active role with their country sites and address the needs of that market and the subsequent causes of bad web design. Localised sites have to be viewed as pieces of a larger Internet strategy while still acknowledging the local market.

Enform belives that all web site should start with a proper SEO or on-page search engine optimisation blueprint to identify the best language, terms and words to use to capture your customers interest and create a sales or enquiry funnel.

Sites for different countries or markets make this even more important