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What I Look For When Reviewing Web Sites

by Hank Barnes  |  March 13, 2018  |  3 Comments

A frequent inquiry request for Gartner clients is a Web site review.  This is a great idea since technology buyers tell us that they view vendor Web sites as vendor marketing activity that is most likely to get their attention.  Everyone expects you to have a Web site and that is where they go to learn your story (that is not the only place they go, though, they spend as much time, or more, researching products and categories on independent sites that they trust.

Source: pexels.com

Source: pexels.com

When we do Web reviews, operating within the guidelines of inquiry time limits, we offer to review up to 5 pages.  Now 5 pages is not a full Web site, but they are enough to really evaluate if the Web site is doing what it needs to do.

Sadly, that is rarely the case.  Most sites that I review fail in what I consider to be the fundamentals of an effective, useful site.  Here is what I look for:

  1. Who you serve/target:  When a visitor comes to a site, they want to know if it’s relevant to them.  Providing guidance on typical customers or even better some elements of your ideal customer profile helps the visitor know if the site is for them.What do I normally see?   Either no mention of anything to indicate a target customer or my least favorite phrase: “We’re ideal for companies of all sizes.”
  2. What problem(s) you solve: Visitors need to know why they should care about you.   Establishing very early in the site the problem (or problem group)   you have chosen to tackle puts the visitor in the mind of “they are thinking about me and what I am dealing with”.  This part of our standard recommended storytelling technique–starting with the situation that you address.What do I normally see?  No mention of the problem, just an immediate jump into what the product is and what it does.   Sometimes, I discover content about the problems that are addressed deeper in the site, but by then, it’s too late. 
  3. What you do:   Once you have the problem, you can talk about what you offer to solve it.   This needs to establish clarity if your a product company, a services company, or a solution company (mix of products and services).  It should also provide some level of definition of the category you play in (or, if you believe you are creating a new category, the traditional categories that you are an alternative to).   Visitors want this, be prepared, as you get beyond the home page, to give them detailed information, not surface level.What do I normally see?  Good news, this area is generally well covered.  The only short comings I see  are often services companies that dabble in products or use products to enhance their services, but don’t make that clear, leaving visitors to wonder–are they focused on their products or their services.
  4. What makes you special:  This is about differentiation.  Being clear about what sets you apart from competition (and, hint, it’s not your people) is critical.   You have create contrasts that lay the groundwork for preference.What do I normally see?  No comparisons, no terminology that starts to connect to differentiation.  Or, vague statements of differentiation (like the people claim) that are made with no context of what the comparison is. 
  5.  How Things Work:   These details may not have to be on the home page, but potential customers want to know what it takes to get value.  They want to know how they move from where they are today to a better future with your products and services.What do I normally see?   General descriptions of services and methodologies that feel like a feature listing for products.  But little to nothing that lays out the path to value.

Those are the 5 things I look for.  Overall, if you look at these, they are part of helping a prospective customer answer key questions:  Why should I change?  What do you do (what are my options for changing)?  How would change work?

Take a look at your Web site against these questions.  How do you stack up?   (For an example of a site that I think is doing a pretty good job (yes there are things they can improve), check out http://www.nuodb.com. )

Category: go-to-market  

Tags: buying-cycle  buying-process  differentiation  messaging  questions-to-answer  review  web-site  

Hank Barnes
VP Distinguished Analyst
5+ years at Gartner
30 years IT Industry

Hank Barnes provides research and advisory services on go-to-market strategies for technology providers. He focuses on issues related to positioning, storytelling, the technology customer life cycle, and customer experience. Read Full Bio


Thoughts on What I Look For When Reviewing Web Sites


  1. Ken R says:

    Seems like messaging 101 but…amazing how many miss on this…



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