Case Study: Portfolio Site Review

This review was prompted by a request by David Crowley for feedback on his website. (Note this website was built with Dreamweaver and not WordPress).

Firstly, your architectural woodwork looks truly excellent, but it's on your website you want constructive feedback, so here we go....

THE BASICS: A good website, should have a professional appearance, your business name and and contact details, all good there.  Most importantly it should have clear calls to action, primary and secondary.  This one is a little trickier.  When I viewed the site I wasn't sure if I was meant to view or download a brochure, or call you.  The brochure wasn't downloadable but all the work was viewable. Contact you it is then!

Since I was looking to download the brochure why not let me?  Wrap it up in a simple pdf, and make it a complimentary gift.  That way people can have something to take away with them as well as a positive impression of you as generous while at the same time you can put in all your sales message with the images of your beautiful work.  If they stepped into a bespoke furniture store, they'd expect to be able to take a brochure away with them, so why not do the same?

LAYOUT:  Due to the layout, it took me a while to realise I was meant to scroll down.  The long wide font of the buttons under the giant image, give a very horizontal feel, which looks well but the downside is you have no feeling that there's more info beneath.  This is compounded by having your contact details and copy-right notice there, which is usually info in the footer of a site, so for many it's a cue that you're already at the end of the page.  Most sites have visual indicators to scroll down.  Many websites are made to look beautiful by quality graphic designers, but unfortunately with less focus on user experience.  The old battle of form versus function may result in a significant numbers of your interested visitors missing some of your most key information about who you are and what you can do for your clients.

Have a look at foldtester.  This shows how much of site most people can see in their browser before scrolling and is a factor in how people see your site and often how fast they leave.  The average visitor on the average site spends more than 80% of their time above the fold.  The standard thinking is to have only your most important stuff above the fold.  One solution for you is to have the key information appear in several places on your site to increase the likelihood of it being seen, for example you could put it under the What We Do tab.

The Black Background: Doubtless many find it 'a bit dark'.  Generally most web designers move away from black as it's stylistically limiting for secondary colours.  But it is a stylistic choice and I think it's quite acceptable for a gallery site.  Many excellent photographers' and other portfolio websites use black as background, but there again, like yours, they're very light on text, heavy on showcasing imagery and the black makes it an automatic light box which is both stylish and convenient.

For many it's uncomfortable reading white text on black for any significant length of time, but I think you're coming toward the maximum as your site isn't text heavy, it's shorter and to the point.  It could be an idea to soften the text to a light grey.  (Which I see after my initial thoughts, you've already partially done!).  The contrast of the white on black is a lot harsher than black on white, and the grey could make more comfortable reading to those more sensitive. Keep in mind, you wouldn't have that issue at all were you to use a white background.

The black looks atmospheric and brooding, reflects a sense of age and history and the wood itself.  It echoes that sense of 'legacy' as you say.  Have you viewed the inverse, the same image display, buttons and layout, but with white background? It would be very open, clean and fresh with more room to breathe.  A small percentage of people will leave your site earlier than they would with the dark background than with the light as some instinctively just don't like it.

The text layout looks stylish. But centrally justified feels odd to many,  it reminds of a menu in a fancy restaurant, which people are used to scanning rather than reading. Classy, but maybe not so good for user experience.

CONTENT: Your text content is pretty good.  It's explains what you do and doesn't rely too heavily on 'you' and your past work, but balances well towards the client, but could be more so.  Many businesses talk about themselves too much rather than how they solve or improve things for customers.  Conversion rates usually reflect this.

Benefits are the emotional benefits to the client, whereas features are factual attributes of the business. You mix the logical argument for your services nicely with the emotional benefits, using evocative words like 'legacy'.  However you switch from addressing your clients as 'you' in the first paragraph to 'them' in later paragraphs.  I'd suggest continuing to address them as 'you', and the things 'we can do for you', it's more direct, immediate and involving.  Even framing something more engaging by asking a question, such as "Do you have an idea for a space that our bespoke custom design could work to uniquely improve your living environment? Contact us to discuss it". Question followed by Call to Action.

SOCIAL PROOF: Get short written statements from past clients, telling how very reliable and easy and innovative you are to work with.  How accommodating were you? We know your work's great, but what about you and your service? The best testimonials come with a full name, city, and if not a photo then a link to their business.  Obviously you'd need a different font and colouring than the example above, but the point is the same.  It says you worked with architects as well as private client, so it would be excellent to a mix of comments too.  Also make them prominent.  Maybe display them in rotation in the top corner of your home page or put them in the About Us or What We Do sections.

Good luck and I hope that helps!

Readers out there, what other thoughts would you add?


About Alistair McBride

Al is the non-techie of the SelfAssemblySites' founding duo. His first businesses were in cultural tours, then later art dealing and consulting. He was SelfAssemblySites' first user and believes if he can do it, anyone can.

He has a wide and diverse range of interests and passions, core of which are usually art, psychology and innovation, and works on both profit and non-profit projects.

Alistair truly believes that a website can be a catalyst to making any idea reality in the 21st Century. You can create all sorts of non-profit and for profit projects take-off with a good website as your launch pad.

Follow him on Twitter at @WebsiteCoaching.

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