If a customer cannot complete their top tasks quickly and easily on your website, why would they trust you to help them with other tasks?
You're in a giant shopping mall. You urgently need to go to the toilet. You go to the Information Desk. There's a big queue. After waiting for ages your turn comes and you ask directions. You're told to head down the hallway, take a right, go up an escalator, turn right, walk down to the end of the hall, take another escalator, turn left and walk down to the end of another hall where you will find the toilets.
You hurry towards your destination wondering why they have made it so difficult to find the toilets. When you finally get there you find to your despair that there are no toilets. You have been given bad directions. This sort of experience will color your whole view of the mall. And if you do go back a next time you're not likely to go to the Information Desk looking for directions to other areas of the mall you'd like to visit.
There are certain basic things your website needs to do really, really well. If it doesn't then the customer is likely to get a very negative view of the entire website. If you can't easily book a room on a hotel website, then you don't think much of the hotel website. For that matter, you don't think much of the hotel either.
If you can't quickly find contact details on a website then the brand is undermined. We need to reclaim branding. It has been hijacked by a very narrow visual interpretation, as if the essence of the brand was the logo and the graphics.
The essence of the brand is the experience customers have with a product or service. There is of course a visual component in branding but it has been vastly overemphasized. When we think of Google do we think of a colorful logo or a fast way to find stuff? Web brands, in particular, are functional. The successful ones help us do useful things.
When we arrive at a website for the first time we are impatient and highly skeptical. If we try to complete basic but important tasks on that website, and we fail, our whole impression of the website is undermined.
Every website has a small set of top tasks (usually no more than three, definitely no more than five). After getting off a plane I remember going down an escalator to the trains section of the airport. At the bottom of the escalator were three signs: Trains, Tickets, Toilets.
What are your Trains, Tickets, and Toilets? How easy is it to complete your top tasks? Branding is about how well you help people succeed. It is about how much time you can save them. It is about how easy and convenient you can make their life.
On your website there are top tasks that customers expect you to do extremely well. If you don't perfect those tasks, you lose your customers' trust. A brand that is not trusted is not much of a brand.
About the Author
Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994.