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Q: Review of website ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: Review of website
Category: Business and Money
Asked by: veteran-ga
List Price: $65.00
Posted: 17 Nov 2002 07:34 PST
Expires: 17 Dec 2002 07:34 PST
Question ID: 109323
We are looking for an incisive outsider review and critique of our
website –

We would like your critique of our site to come from the viewpoint of
1) what makes a successful website for users, and 2) what it takes for
the successful conversion of users to consumers for us. How in your
opinion does our site rate on both of those scores, and more
importantly suggestions for us to improve on both fronts.

Subject: Re: Review of website
Answered By: mosquitohawk-ga on 17 Nov 2002 08:43 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Greetings veteran-ga!

This is an interesting question and I'd be glad to give you a hand.
I'll qualify my answer by letting you know that I own a web hosting
and services company and have been designing websites for over eight

One of the biggest issues with newly developed websites, is how do we
let our customer know we have a new website? (Or if you're a brand-new
business, how do we let our potential customers know we exist.) On the
internet, this comes down to a very few factors. The two biggest
factors are:

Direct Advertising (print or other websites)
Search Engine Positioning

The first is the easiest and most commonly understood. You can market
your new website in all your print and media advertisements, and
electronically advertise your website through the use of banner and
other ads on related websites or any website where your potential
consumers might visit (ie: major shopping sites, search engines, etc.)

The second, search engine positioning, requires a knowledge of the
methodology of current search engines and how they catalog their
information. Your website should be developed with that in mind, or if
already developed, your IT staff or web developer should be able to
implement this. I notice your site makes use of meta tags which many
search engines use for cataloging, and I also notice from your source
code, the use of the 'robot' meta tag which is also good. You should
have an aggressive campaign to not only get your website registered,
but to keep it in a high position. Research shows that most search
engines users do not go much past the 2nd page of search results.
Also, arguably, the more relevant information your site has in it, the
better off you'll be with search engines. You can accomplish this by
providing plenty of textual information in the body of your webpages
that is relevant to the content that you are trying to sell. Write
helpful articles for your customers and clients, and include good
keywords within the document as well. I just noticed your links page,
very good use of this tool.

You can compare your site to other similar sites and get an idea of
your search engine saturation by visiting

Okay, I guess now I'll address usability and ease of finding the right
information. This is accomplished through site design and layout. I
notice one error right away on the front page. The blue text in the
middle column says--"Do you need money from your IRA, 401k, or other
retirement account For ".  The word 'For' should be lower case and
should be followed by a comma, colon, dash, etc.

You state in the first paragraph, "minimize the tax bite". So far as
my experience goes, everyone is interested in this, so you should
definitely make the text stand out by making it bold, a different
color or both. You could also have some graphical elements designed to
make this stand out by itself on your page and link to another page
that describes this in detail. The same goes for the second paragraph
when you mention your firm's expertise: retirement plans. If that's
the case, that should be the first thing someone knows about you!
Develop a graphical element to advertise this on your index page.

I like the fact that interested individuals could sign up for your
newsletter on the first page. This is good in attracting people back
to your site if they sign up, particularly if you advertise something
in your newsletter that interests them. Newsletter are a fantastic
resource once you have people signed onto them. Write a weekly,
bi-monthly or monthly article that would interest your clients that
relates to a service you provide. This would attract repeat or new
business from your newsletter recipients.

Your color scheme is light and nice, with cool colors that says to me:
competence, professionalism and trust. Your site graphical elements
are designed nicely and fit with the overall layout of the site which
is very good and lends support to your professional image. (Your
'Request Application' page could use a little more professional layout
of your form elements. The form is functional, but just looks kind of
jumbled. Consider using a table to make this look more crisp, and make
your form text elements of the same size or consider a small and large
size depending on the type of input, but uniformness in size looks

You need to communicate with your customers and visitors. I've noticed
after visiting a few pages, that your site tends to have 'just the
facts'. It's important to be conversational with your customer and be
easy to read and understand. Many site owners and businesses will hire
a creative writer to rewrite their site content. This can sometimes be
pricy, so if you're a smaller company or have a limited budget, call
your local college/university and talk to the head of the creative
writing department and ask for the names of some students who would be
able and willing to do this for you. This would be less pricey and
also helps out the student with their resume. Site visitors don't like
to have to search for information. Highlight key words and phrases to
make it easier for a visitor to skim and find the info they're looking
for without having to read 5-6 paragraphs of information they don't
need. The more your customers/visitors have to search, the more likely
they are to get discouraged, get bored, etc. and leave your site.
You've done a good job on some of your pages by providing quick links
at the top, but there are some that need work. I would rate your
overall content as highly useful and informative.

You provide a lot of resources for your customers in your site and
there is a wealth of information which is all great. But rather than
make your customers fill out a request and wait for it to come via
snail mail, why not create PDF documents of your paperwork so that
your customer could print them out right away? In some cases, you will
lose people because we as humans are impatient and don't want to wait.
If another site offered me a printable version of the application, I'd
probably go with them first (all other things being equal). I really
like your use of the java calculators as this would be very helpful to
me as a customer if I were considering some of the services you offer.
Why not add a link from your index page to these calculators? It also
adds customer confidence to you and gives a good, helpful impression.
The best way, in my opinion, to convert site visitors to customers is
to sell them with your content. Many people and business offer the
products you do, so why should I choose you over them? What can you
offer me that they don't? You're doing a good job with this approach
already, continue to develop articles and tools for your customers and

I really like your Career Advice/What to do if you're laid off
article.  Very helpful, informative and nicely laid out. I also like
the fact that you could print this off easily by use of the print
button at the bottom of the article. As a side note, your Articles
button only takes me to one article. You should have more relevant
articles to your site's content and provide the customer the ability
to choose one that best fits him or her. Although the 401k article is
nice and relevant to me personally, it obviously wouldn't be to
everyone. So write some more articles, you've done a great job with
those you have.

My biggest suggestion to you, is rewrite the content of your pages.
Make it conversational and entertaining while holding on to your
professional image. Take a less "Just the Facts" approach, highlight
your keywords or phrases and consider laying the pages out with more
of those nice blue headers to identify the information you are
presenting in each paragraph so your customers don't have to read
every paragraph if they don't want to (mostly because they won't). I
know I've had a lot of constructive criticism, but I do want to say I
love the layout of your site. It is very professional, the colors are
coordinated well and it is pleasing to the eye and not jumbled up with
overloads of information. Your site navigation is extremely clear,
easy to read and understand. I had absolutely no problem with it and
think it really is good. Your content is relevant, and informative as
well as useful for anyone interested in your product. Definitely make
use of your newsletter potential if you're not already and continue to
offer your current level of services with your calculators and
articles and add more! Give the impression that you're always adding
new articles and tools to give your visitors an incentive to return!

For future consideration:  A customer only area where your customers
can view and make changes to their policies and investments.

I hope this has helped you, and if you need clarification on any
point, please request it prior to rating my answer. Best regards and
good luck to you with your business and website!


Request for Answer Clarification by veteran-ga on 18 Nov 2002 04:08 PST
Your comment " But rather than make your customers fill out a request
and wait for it to come via snail mail, why not create PDF documents
of your paperwork so that your customer could print them out right
away? In some cases, you will
lose people because we as humans are impatient and don't want to wait.
If another site offered me a printable version of the application, I'd
probably go with them first (all other things being equal)."  
When the customers fill out a request they receive the PDF documents
not snail mail. I don't know how you got that idea that they would get
snail mail, but maybe we need to highlight that point a bit more.
Frankly, I was expecting something more specific than generalities
about search engine positioning and rewrite the content of your pages.

Clarification of Answer by mosquitohawk-ga on 18 Nov 2002 09:08 PST
Dear veteran-ga,

First of all, my apologies for not being more specific. I was also
unaware that by filling out the forms this would generate an email or
other means of obtaining access to .pdf documents. I would definitely
make that a little clearer on all pages where it mentions receiving a
kit. Okay, I will get more specific and give a page-by-page review of
the content. Of course, if you're not happy I will continue to respond
to any clarification requests.

You asked in your original question: What makes a successful website
for users? and What [does] it take for the successful conversion of
users to consumers for us?

.::. What Makes A Successful Website for Users? .::.

I would opin that what makes a successful website for its users is its
ability to satisfy the current and potential future needs and desires
of the customer. It must also, like any other marketing tool, be
created and updated with up-to-date information and resources for your
clientele and potential customers. It must be easy to use, navigate
and locate pertinent information.

Having said that, I find that your site is very informative in regards
to the types of and information about your product lines, being
retirement planning and savings via securities investment through
specific types of accounts according to the customers' needs and
current situation. I myself am a state government employee and decided
for the point of this review to seek a rollover of my 457 plan. I was
able with relative ease to find information regarding a rollover I
needed on page "faq_p4.html" at anchor "#thrift". In viewing this
information, I asked myself, did this inform me regarding my 457 plan?
My answer was yes, it did. I found out that I can transfer my 457 to
another IRA (which I truly didn't know!). From there, I wasn't exactly
sure what I needed to do, although a little though and I realized I'd
have to go to the top to the Move/Invest Your Money link and fill out
the application. My suggestion regarding that is in the FAQ page, I
would suggest adding a link to your application at the end of each FAQ
that says something like "Transfer my ___ to". This is
one simple way you would easily be able to transfer a site user to
your customer. The easier it is to accomplish something on a website,
the more likely a person will be to use it.

I next wanted to fill out the application but didn't want to submit it
because I don't want to cause you or your employees unnecessary work,
but I did fill it out and then click on one of your Financial Profile
links to the 'Approximate Net Worth' calculator. This calculator was
very helpful, but when I hit the back button to take me back, I
noticed the SSN fields were blank. I expected this because your form
treats them as a password field and replaces the numbers with ***. I
understand your reason for doing this, and that's great, but in order
to prevent that from happening, my suggestion would be to code the
hotlink so that it opens in a separate window. This is accomplished by
adding--  target="_blank" in the <a href=""> statement. So it would
look like this:  <a href="yourpage.html" target="_blank">

From your application page, I followed a link to your privacy page
(privacy.html). This page is very informative and its layout is
structured and well-organized. You include your 800 number which is
good for questions or concerns, as well as information and a link to
NASD Regulation, Inc. This page is obviously very current with its
information regarding the USA Patriot Act. This page is great!

As a small business owner, my next step was to find out what options
were available to me. Moving to the navigation bar on the left, I was
able to quickly find a link that took me to the Solo 401k pages.
(financing.html and the other financing_.html pages). What an
incredible resource. I found a tremendous amount of concise
informative information that answered just about every question I
could think of, plus more!  I appreciate that at the bottom of each
page, there were links to the next pages, but most importantly that
there was a description of what was coming up on the next page. I like
that. I also agree with having a link to the application at the bottom
of the page, very good for converting site visitors to customers. The
only issue with this section, and I emphasize that it's a small one,
is the FAQs on financing4.html are not linked to their answer. I had
to manually scroll down the page to find the answer. This isn't a big
deal, but is a slight inconvenience to the customer, particularly if
they're used to being able to click the question and be taken to the
answer directly. This page is also inconsistent with your other FAQs
mentioned above because in that instance, I could hotlink directly to
the applicable answer. Again, overall, the small business owner
section is outstanding in its content and layout, navigation is simple
and easy to use as well as conveniently located at the top and bottom
of pages.

I've returned to the Why Do A Rollover on page faq_p1.html. This
page's layout is also very good and nicely structured. The content is
very informative and having read the information regarding why I might
want to do a rollover, I am convinced that if I were in the market and
fit the criteria mentioned, I would most likely select your company
for a rollover upon reading the informative answer to this question. I
and most people appreciate thorough yet concise answers that are well
though out and brief.

.::. What Does It Take for the Successful Conversion of Users to
Customers for Us? .::.

There are some basic service areas that greatly improve the likelihood
of a site visitor selecting your company to manage their retirement
options. You must attract your visitors attention and provide them
with solutions for their needs and information to assist them in
decision-making regarding their retirement options and issues that may
be or will affect them in the future. Some of those issues I addressed
above and in my previous answer and you may see them again below.

F R E E  tools!

Did the word 'free' get your attention? If so, why? Most likely
because I typed it in all-caps, used extra spacing and placed only one
other word beside it on a line by itself. Of course, with HTML I could
have made it a lot more fantastic, but that'll have to do for now! The
point of this was to demonstrate the attention getting power of
special formatting, which you definitely

You already offer a good number of free tools in the form of
calculators, articles, newsletter and more. Why not again consider a
customer-only area where customers can access their account
information online? You may already have this in place, but I haven't
located any mentiono of it. If site visitors were aware that they
could access their account information online, without having to call
and possibly have to wait on hold, you would attract a significant
portion of your tech-savvy visitors as well as regular internet users
who are comfortable that their information would be secure, which of
course you would do.

I just signed up for your newsletter, and received a response email
requiring me to verify that I signed up for this. Bravo! This prevents
unauthorized signups and negative reaction from those who could have
potentially been signed up without their permission. I've also
received the acknowledgment email indicating my signup was successful.
As soon as I receive my first newsletter I will post a followup and
give you my input on that as well.

My next visit took me to the Career Advice pages (advice.html,
advice2.html, advice3.html, advice4.html). I got the distinct
impression from the 'What To Do If You're Laid Off' pages, that your
company cared for the estranged employee. There were many very good
tips in here, and they were written in an informative and caring tone.
If I were a person in this situation, I would feel like I had an
advocate in your company and this would influence my decision-making
regarding your company vs. another. My suggestion for the Career
Advice section would be to write or find more articles you could place
in this section for your site visitors, trying to cover as many bases
as possible. You've covered very well the laid off individual, you
might also consider articles tailored toward: employees expecting
retirement very soon, new employees just entering their career field,
transitional employees, part-time employees, mid-career employees,
executive employees, etc. If you could supply articles as thorough and
well-written as the laid-off employee for these others, I believe you
would be successful in converting site visitors who fit one of those
molds into future customers. By providing this information to your
site visitors, you are giving them confidence in your knowledge and
experience as a company and imparting to them a feeling of solidarity
with your company as well as the feeling that you care for them as
individuals which is very important to most people and a strategy that
many large insurance and banking companies are switching to.  My only
neutral comment about this section is that at the bottom, it's not
clear that there are more pages to this article. You have a
right-arrow button to go to the next page, but I almost missed it. I
would suggest adding a text reference as well so that when your
visitors reach the bottom of the page, it will be apparent there is
more good information coming on the next page as well.

Your Fees section is very intelligently presented by not emphasizing
specific fees at first, but informing the reader of what they're
receiving first, fees later. Very well done from a marketing
standpoint. My only suggestion regarding this page is to place spaces
between items in the sub-heading 'Services We Provide Our Clients"
row. Otherwise, this section is informative and presents the pertinent
details without emphasizing cost.

I'm always interested in looking at site maps, because that's where I
always go after the FAQs if I can't find the info I'm looking for.  I
applaud you for having one to begin with, so many websites don't and
end up losing visitors because you can't find what you're looking for!
Your site map definitely doesn't suffer from this problem, just be
sure as you add articles to also add them under the Articles header of
your site map. My only neutral comment here is that the first link to
Advice For Being Laid Off does not match the color scheme of the other
Header Links on the Site Map. Not a big deal, but unless you had
another reason for doing this that isn't apparent to me, I'd change it
for uniformities sake.

In the Withdraw Your Money section, I appreciate the fact that you
emphasize the fact that withdrawing money from retirement accounts
should be a last resort, and then provide an alternative solution to
withdrawing everything by rollingover to an IRA and withdrawing as
much as needed to lesson the tax burden. Again, this is a good example
of selling your product while also imparting a sense of caring for the
customer or site visitor. In this section you provide relevant
hotlinks to applications for the purpose detailed in the section.
Excellent use of your resources.

Your About Us page is concise and informative as well as impressive.
If you've got highly qualified people, it can only help to mention it.
I would like to see this area have perhaps a nice group picture of
your principals or perhaps a picture of your offices or both. This
would convey a more personal side of the business and site visitors
who are more reluctant with transacting business via internet would
perhaps be swayed by a sense of familiarity from the faces in the
picture. If you implement this suggestion, I would encourage that you
have the picture altered with perhaps a fade effect and not just put
up the square image.


Overall, your site is very well developed, appears to have a very
significant portion of relevant, necessary information to sway site
visitors to purchase/apply for your services in the field of
retirement planning. I have made a few layout suggestions that would
ease navigation through the site, but even those suggestions really
are minor improvements. It's easy to say that you've got a great site
going. If you outsourced your site design, then the designer did a
great job, if you have your own web designer they deserve
congratulations. This site has been obviously thought out and planned,
and not just thrown together. You have a statement on the index.html
page "To more or borrow your retirement money...." which clearly
identifies the purpose of the site as soon as the visitor's page
loads. It is displayed in a prominent place for quick notice.

My biggest suggestions would be to add more articles as outlined above
and make use of your newsletter to talk about new products and go into
detail about current product offerings. I'm glad you're making use of
.pdf documents, they are very professional and look nice even after
printing. I've tried to be more detailed than my previous answer and
more closely answer your original question. If you still feel my
direction is off, please allow me to clarify again by posting more
specific examples of what you're after in a clarification.

Again, best regards and good luck in the future,

veteran-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Very well done. Your second try is what I had hoped for. Thanks

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