When you think of world's most successful businesses, what names come to mind? Most likely, consumer-oriented giants such as Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Sheraton, Disney, IBM, and General Electric. Not only have they spent billions on advertising to buy their way into your head. They offer convenient products and services that have made them a part of your life.
But when you think of most successful web sites, what names come to mind? Names like Google, Yahoo! Amazon, AOL, Kazaa (for better or worse), and Hotmail.
The late-1990s mantra about web being a disruptive technology that would destroy traditional companies may have been overstated. But a decade and a half into web's existence, it is clear that world's leading corporations have been sidelined on web.
The biggest shopping site is not walmart.com but amazon.com. The biggest map site is not randmcnally.com but mapquest.com.
Established companies have usually only been able to buy their way into this market through acquisitions (as with Microsoft's purchase of Hotmail, which it used as a base for creating MSN).
Why, with few exceptions, were world's most successful web sites not launched by world's most successful corporations?
Many Big Name Companies' Web Sites a Vast Waste of Time for Visitors
The McDonald's web site talks about food, but has no real menu. The Coca-Cola USA web site has no clear ingredients list or nutritional information, no recipes for floats or mixed drinks, no company history, and nothing else useful to people who like Coke. All that information has been inexplicably located on "company" page, which on every other web site is used for investor relations. The Johnson and Johnson web site has useful information if you can access it—when author attempted to open it, it crashed two different web browsers (Internet Explorer and Mozilla) before finally yielding (to Opera browser).
Many big-name companies' web sites offer lessons in what not to do in web design. The biggest lesson by far is not to sacrifice usability in an attempt to look cool, and never forget why your users came to your site in first place. McDonald's may be world's largest restaurant chain, but it didn't get that way because of its web site.
Why Big-Budget Websites Are More Often Bombs than Blockbusters
The web sites of many successful corporations (both B2C and B2B) are like big-budget Hollywood movies that spend millions on stars and special effects, and a quarter of a percent of budget on script. Worse, special effects of blockbuster web sites are far more annoying than impressive.
Special Effect that Bombs Number 1: Flash!
When web sites don't offer any content—any useful information to read—what do they put up there instead? Spinning Coke bottles. Chicken McNuggets and French fries that zoom out toward you when you position your cursor over them. Changing pictures of generic-looking office buildings and men in suits (on web site of real estate giant CB Richard Ellis—but that essentially describes generic look of many corporate web sites).