Reviewer Bennie C. Taylor visits the "Rolling Meadow Kennels & Canine Training" who originally posted this request to WDR:
I have placed my website on the web as an advertisement to training, sale and boarding dogs. Please note my use of keywords and mets tags. Our colors are Forest Green and Gold, however I let it slip away with this last design. I Keep my own website with frontpage and I'm constantly learning about designing this site.
Suggestions for Rolling Meadow Kennels
Critique by Bennie C. Taylor
Because your business involves more than simply selling a product, it should look as polished as possible. If you prefer not to hire a professional designer to create a site for you, then try some of these suggestions for advancing beyond the homemade look.
It is possible to retain the friendly and personal tone in your writing, but rely more heavily on the newer style and design conventions used by most professional sites today. You will need to reorganize your content material and simplify the design and layout.
Provide Clear Structure
Training, selling of dogs, and boarding - I believe these are your three main services. But your mission is a bit more complex than that because you offer several types of training. The reader needs this information immediately. So your main menu should be precise and complete - maybe something like this.
It is important to make it clear right from the start that you have a business which offers many different services. State these services in a bulleted list and then tell a little about each in the introductory paragraphs of your content. Or you might devote a few words to each service under individual descriptve headings in the main content section. Then provide links to more detailed information.
If police dog training is the most important, then put that first. But don't risk losing visitors who might be looking for a pet or guard dog by failure to insure all of your services are listed. If you want to offer a little more information about the various services on the start page, it is okay to add a few facts, a photo, or a link in the sidebars. But you should refer the reader to these links by mentioning them in the main content paragraphs.
Layout & Design Considerations
Please omit the outmoded features such as scrolling marquees, white text on black, and links that change size.
When you use three columns in a limited space the text must be rather small or else there is not enough open space around the text. This makes it harder to read. The page is less appealing overall when too many items are crowded into a small area. Visitors do not mind clicking once to get to a subpage.
I would delete most of the hype and advertising. Visitors want facts. State your accomplishments, certainly, and include an article on the desirability of having a guard dog if you wish, but emphasize your points with news stories or interesting anecdotes about a dog's activities. This is a popular and subtle way to show the superiority of your dogs. The presentation of these articles, etc. is also important. Magazine articles and news items should be current. Either provide a link to the article if it appears on another site, or get permission to reprint the item directly on your site.
The left column is confusing.
It took me a while to see exactly what your business included. The underlined links are not active while the ones with no underline are active. The reverse is what visitors expect.
I do not understand what you intended with your use of the key words. They should be part of the META tags in your source code. They do not belong in the visible content portion of your pages. They preempt space needed for facts and links.
Simplify everything visually
Your banner is hard to read, and it looks a bit forbidding because it is so heavy and dark. The green and gold color scheme is fine, but use colors sparingly and lighten them up. And do not add a lot of colored links indescriminately. Yes, they stand out, but they also destroy the unitified look of the page.
Omit the advertising at the bottom of the subpages. This is not needed and takes up space where more interesting information could be placed.
Dogs for Sale
This section requires too much scrolling. The linear layout is not very effective. I would leave off all the side bars, use a simple banner and navigation bar at the top, and line the photos up more horizontally. If necessary devote a separate page to each type of dog displayed.
It is good to have one larger but optimized photo of each dog with its name and description beside it. Do not use the script to enable enlarged views of the various poses. This trick requires too much bandwidth (which slows the page loading). The effect is lost unless the photos are really high quality and show something new or more detail. Additional poses of the same dog should be smaller but of excellent quality and should show something about the dog which the portrait does not reveal.
Clarity is the key
If I have misinterpreted your services or misplaced the emphasis, it is because I as a typical visitor did not understand what you were trying to convey. Ask others to view your site and then ask them a few questions to see whether they have grasped all the points you want to make.
Several points occurred to us that I think need to be hammered in a little harder. This site really lacks unity. As you mentioned, the owner needs to do some serious testing. Dogs and training of this nature is big business. The owner really needs to tune this site up to its full potential. Consider:
- Squint at the arrival window. What do you see? Is there any prevailing visual that directs the eye?
- Assuming you see something, what does it say to you?
The series of thumbnail pictures are poorly rastered and all have the same visual "value" or weight. Other thumbnails trickling down the page also share a similarity that says they are all of equal value. This site needs one or possibly two good lead images that tell the story instantly and immediately upon arrival.
If this were my client I would be seriously concerned that the visitor spends a lot of time loading the page and looking at all its intricacy but never really sees a product. If this site sells police dogs and guard dogs give us a dramatic image to captivate the eye and the imagination. Find or create an image that makes the visitor say "I have to have that dog!"
Bennie, the small, gray type at the top of the content area is not supposed to show. I saw it to. This is the old trick of loading your page with keywords for search engine rankings. The search engines wised up to the trick ages ago, and Google (at least) puts a mark against you for that. Get rid of those right away! Bad dog!
- Make the content area align flush left. Thumbnails should be smaller, and if they are 'feature' graphic they should be bigger.
- Kill the 'decoration' in the header. Find one or two graphics that tell the story. Homogenize.
- Make the vehicles point into the text they relate to. Both vehicles should probably align="right".
- Make the headline and name of the site reverse out of the green rather than backing it with that white cloud.
- Use a better font. The Kauffman (or similar) script doesn't speak "Guard Dog" ... See: ITC Machine Bold, City bold or Rockwell Heavy. Use the fonts the police use.
- If these dogs are competent, then show it. No one wants a mediocre guard dog. They probably won't buy one from a mediocre web site.
Again, Bennie, hanks for the great critique,
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