Web turkeys for Christmas

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Here are some turkeys for Christmas: things to be thankful other people did on their websites. We have been collecting these for years and have put together a collection from which most of these are drawn. If you have any responsibility for a website, I expect you will see clearly what has happened and have a smaller shudder – there, but for the grace of God, go you.

Many of the problems we see come from poor handling of international audiences. Have a look at Rockwell Automation (www.rockwell.com) and click the Contact link at the bottom of any page. Select a country, as the dropdown menu asks, and choose Greece. The form that appears starts in English then switches to Italian. Try Latvia and you get Danish; Romania and you get German. This is not the stereotypical US company with no idea what languages Europeans speak, but rather the result of a Rockwell-centred view of the world. In this, Italy is the hub for a region that includes Greece, Denmark includes Latvia and so on. I can see why it happens, but it doesn’t make it any more sensible.

Intel (www.intel.com) has much the same problem. Look for products on the Belgium site, and you find yourself directed to retailers in the UK; the same for South Africa. If anyone should be getting this right, surely it is a master of technology such as Intel?

If AIG, the insurance giant, is wondering why it is not getting too many recruits from much of the world, we may be able to help. Click the Careers link on the home page (www.aig.com), and choose the region where you live – it could be the UK, Australia, or China (pretty much anywhere except the US or continental Europe). You will be presented with a list of group companies headed by American International Underwriters. Click its address (www.aiu.com), find the Recruitment link – in About AIU – and you get sent right back to the AIG Careers page. The great thing about round-and-round games, of course, is that you can start anywhere in the cycle. What fun, unless you happen to be one of AIG’s recruitment people.

Anyone who writes or edits knows that spelling mistakes have a habit of surviving the most rigorous checking. But it was still surprising to find Boeing launching a shiny new site (www.boeing.com) with two bloopers in its navigation links. If you go to About us, then General information, you will now find a link to Boeing Corporate. But at the beginning of this year it was World Headquaters [sic], a mistake repeated in the breadcrumb trail at the top of the page. I wonder why Boeing gave up trying to spell the word properly and changed the label completely: is there such a thing as company-wide spelling failure?

Even odder is the website of Small Business Opportunity Center, part of Northwestern University School of Law – or as the site used to say, the ‘Schoool of Law’. It’s been fixed now but it stayed like that for at least a year, even though the content was regularly updated. How could they have missed that?

These are typographical errors – they are not exactly excusable, but they happen. A couple of years ago we were looking at the travel insurance page of Sainsbury’s Bank, the financial services arm of the UK’s biggest retailers. In two paragraphs it managed to miss two apostrophes (‘travel agents prices’ and ‘whether its a luxurious summer break’) and to make a spelling mistake: ‘oppurtunity’. These were more than typos – they were a sign that the bank was not running its site properly. Allowing someone to publish copy with such basic mistakes showed a lack of proper control – if even one vaguely literate person had checked the copy before it went up, it would surely not have got through.

The last two turkeys show what happens when the site’s designers forget that business websites are there to be used, not admired as graphic masterpieces. Racing Post is a leading British sports and betting newspaper that relaunched its site (www.racingpost.co.uk) earlier this year. The aim was apparently to reflect the print daily more closely, which is why it mirrors its two column format. As few stories fit on one screen, this means readers have to scroll their way down to the bottom of the first column, then go up to top of the next one and down again. It may look pretty, but it breaks many rules of usability (and common sense).

Designers have always loved Flash animation, and it is the job of their boring business colleagues to make sure they do not have too much fun with it. I’m happy to say that VNU, the Dutch publisher, has not succeeded. Click on the About VNU link on its site (www.vnu.com), select Organisation, and marvel as little business ‘cards’ emerge from the left margin margin and edge their way across the screen. As many as seven are on show at any one time: clicking any of them and you get a static page on the business the card represents. This animation is a nonsense for any company; for one that sells itself as an information provider, it is positively bonkers.

For more turkeys, go to www.bowencraggs.com/turkeys.html. David Bowen is a website effectiveness consultant for Bowen Craggs & Co. dbowen@bowencraggs.com.

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