Wednesday, August 3, 2011

How Not to Design a Manufacturer Website

Manufacturers, please don't ask me this.
If any of you have spent as much time as I have browsing products on manufacturers’ websites, I think you’ll agree when I say that many of them are nearly impossible to navigate. It’s baffling how much effort it takes to find what you’re looking for. Large manufacturers seem to be the worst offenders. Here are a few of the most frustrating usability issues I see on a daily basis. Hopefully this will help some manufacturer web designers to avoid the same mistakes.

1. Their website contains NO master list of products.

This seems like a no-brainer, right? Each company should have a list of every product they make (hopefully it’s alphabetical, but hey, I’ll take what I can get). There is no easier way to provide your information to the people who need it. Each product should have a link to its own page if possible.

If there is no master list, products should at least be easy to find. Very often large companies will have entirely separate websites for different categories of products. These "organizational" schemes seem to reflect the corporate departmental structure of the company more than the way people look for products. It is very confusing if you’re looking for a wide range of products.

2. Search bars rarely work the way you want them to.

Search bars have caused me numerous headaches. Ok, so the manufacturer doesn't have a full list of products, but at least I can use the search bar, right? Not likely. Most often the search either (a) brings up no results or (b) brings up every link or document that contains ANY of the terms you've searched for. At that point you just have to open up each link hoping it will lead you to product data--not exactly helpful to someone who is trying to spec your products.

3. Not all documents can’t be found in the same place.

This can happen with any type of document, but I see it most often with MSDS’s. So you've finally found a product and see that it has a product data sheet, but where is the MSDS? After scanning the entire page, you realize there’s a link to an entirely separate MSDS document library. So you have to do go through a whole new search for one document.

4. Document Request Forms.

This is probably the worst problem I've seen. Some companies don’t even provide their documents, or they make you fill out a “Document Request Form” before you can access their data sheets. Some companies require you to fill out a survey before you can see them. Again, this is not exactly encouraging people to spec your products. It's a good idea to make the information as easy to download as possible.

I could go on. Searching these websites daily has given me a greater an appreciation for what we do. We try to streamline the process as much as possible and give you the option to search for construction materials the way you want. I am not exaggerating when I say that a majority of our support calls come from people who found BuildSite in a Google search after they were not able to find the product on the manufacturer’s website. They’re happy to have crossed our path and find out there’s a better way to search for construction products.

Hopefully you are too.

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