Choosing The Best Tool For The Job: A Website Analogy
You wouldn't use a hammer to tighten a nut, would you? Likewise, you wouldn't use a flashlight to cook food, right?
There exists the right tool for the right task, and in order to get maximum effectiveness out of a tool, you need to know how to properly use it. After all, blindly using power tools can be costly.
The same goes with websites.
Choosing The Right Tool
Why are hardware stores so expansive? There aren't just screwdrivers; there are many different types of screwdrivers for all sorts of different sizes, lengths, and heads. There are also many different brands of screwdrivers; some more reputable than others.
Many screwdrivers come as sets, with interchangeable heads, shafts, even handles; all so it can adapt to be the perfect tool for whatever specific task is at hand. And of course, even if some situation arises where all these selections don't apply you can always buy additional heads. Some screwdrivers are fancy with interlocking parts, magnets, and rotational settings. Others are as simple as a metal rod in a handle can be.
Websites are just like this. There are plain and simple websites (straight HTML code). There are sets with interchangeable and additional parts (content management systems); there are big name proprietary brands and off-brands that are cheaper in price but potentially also in quality.
Some websites have too little options, some have too much. Some websites exist as "platform solutions", paraded about as "all-in-one" tools that can do everything. And in many everyday situations, they work just fine. Many websites and their plugins are adaptable, while others are specialized. Some are cheap, other expensive; some worth the cost, some not.
Instructions Not Included
There are also different levels of complexities in tools. A hammer really doesn't need an instruction manual. A quick demo at most, but really it's quite intuitive to just pick up and use. Everybody uses hammers; they are ubiquitous.
Then you have power tools. Capable of far more power, often with many more moving parts, some of which are modular. Generally, these don't need too much more instruction, but some certainly do. It depends on the level of complexity and the nature of the task of why the power tool was originally needed. A power drill? Fairly standard. A table saw? A bit more uncommon and definitely needing more know-how.
Realistically there are no more "hammer-simple" websites anymore. They just don't cut it in today's more powerful, robust Web. But at the same time, not every website needs to feel like operating a heavy crane.
A website should be like a well-designed power drill. It needs to fit within certain assumed parameters so anybody can approach it and get a feel for its basic operation. For example, as all drills have a trigger, all websites need basic navigation. Its user interface should be crafted intuitively; so that anybody can quickly grasp what goes where and what button does what.
A website should be simple enough for anybody to begin using, and then comprehensible enough that users can figure out its advanced capabilities. Just as how a power drill can have modular sections and it should be easily apparent that those pieces are interchangeable. But at the same time those pieces must be reliable; they can't just break off while the drill is in use. Likewise a website should be structurally resilient, so that it does not fall apart while somebody is using it. And especially strong enough to not break when a user is tinkering around with it.
A website should be like a well-designed table saw insofar that it keeps users from hurting themselves. Just as those tools have plastic guards that automatically swing into place when not in use, a website should have safeguards to keep it from crashing the user's browser, or leaking information to unwanted parties, etc.
Now this isn't to say that all websites ought to be dumbed down. If anything, users demand greater complexity in today's websites. But that is no excuse to leave pointy circular saw edges exposed when they're idle.
A website should provide greater capability when necessary, and as that brings about greater complexity -- and therefore risk -- there should be measures to help mitigate that potential risk when appropriate. If the user needs to saw through wood, fine; but make sure there are measures to cover that blade before and after.
A website is a tool, and tools ought to be designed to be picked up and used effectively by most everybody.
Not everybody will know how to use a website to its maximum potential, just as not everybody will have mastered all one-hundred uses of a good ratchet. But they should be able to intuitively grasp its basic use to "get the job at hand done"; it should be immediately effective. Whether that job is tightening a bolt or filling out a registration form.
More complex tools are best left to the hands of more complexly-trained personnel, like a software-as-a-service (SaaS). But such a web-based platform isn't meant for everybody or for everyday tasks anyway, just like a table saw. Nevertheless, those same tools should be designed to facilitate basic use with relative safety measures that leave both the tool -- and the user -- intact.
All Tools Have Purpose
If I want to hang a painting, I can't just lay down a hammer and stare at it, hoping the objects will just "do" the "work" by themselves. It takes manual effort. There are specific steps to be followed out. Get the nails, line them up, pick up hammer, hammer nails in, and set the picture. And there's maintenance too. Check for cracks, fill in cracks, etc.
Likewise a website left to its own devices will not lead to sales, conversions, or increased exposure. It takes work. You wouldn't get a pair of pliers when pliers are not what you need. Likewise you shouldn't get a blog when a blog is not what you need. And you especially shouldn't have a blog when you're not willing to write for it.
A website, whether it's an eCommerce store, a blog, or a social media site are all tools. Getting a tool and just plopping it on the table does nothing; it's a waste of money and time.
You get a tool because you need a tool, but you can only get the proper tool when you truly know what the problem is. If the problem is plumbing, you get plumbing tools. If the problem is a lack of user engagement, you employ methods to increase user engagement. And then you properly use those methods, just as you should properly use a tool.
Misuse a hammer, and you get sore fingers. Misuse a comment system, and you get overflowing troll/flame and negative comments.
A website exists because you need it to address a problem. The clearer you know the problem, the clearer you know what tools to employ. You don't just need a ratchet, you need a set, and not just any shape and size but in Metric. Otherwise you're just throwing money away and adding more clutter to the garage.
And what is this clutter? In your company you have many assets; and by assets I mean expenses. Every thing costs money. Even if your main product is a website; that website costs money. You spent time and money on it, so if it's to be of any use to you there better be a clear-cut and well-understood reason for its existence.
The reason doesn't have to be complex or overly grand, but it must be understood. The website is to aid in sales leads, or in selling product, or in gathering user-data, or in aiding product exposure. Whatever that purpose is, the website better reflect that purpose and be evocative of it at every turn (tastefully, of course).
Otherwise you just wasted money on another unused tool that you probably don't even know how to use; more clutter.
And if your website is your company's main product, then you need people to use it. So you need to make sure that people can find your tool, but most of all they must value using your tool.
Because people like their tools, especially ones they use every day. A good tool builds trust and brand loyalty. It builds brand awareness. And when a tool breaks, or hurts its wielder, then people get mad. And then they start thinking about a similar tool from another maker.
A website is a tool, for both business and consumer. A website is a tool, to both business and consumer. So as always, use tools wisely.
Vince Ginsburg is a web designer and blogger for Corsair Media Services, which specializes in online marketing strategies and development. He doesn’t just look at the current state of the Web to figure out what’s going on, but tries to understand why it’s happening.
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