When the Rochester Business Journal launched its annual Best of the Web competition in 1996, few could fathom the changes coming to online business, from search engine optimization to mobile applications.
As the Internet has evolved, so have the websites of area businesses and non-profits. Not only is a website now considered a given in virtually all industries, but it’s only one part of an overall strategy to use the Internet to reach customers and supporters.
The original idea of the Best of the Web competition remains the same: to draw attention to the best websites produced by organizations in the Rochester area. But for the first time, one category focuses solely on mobile sites.
Readers submitted hundreds of nominations for the 2014 competition. The screening committee also reviewed dozens more websites from previous years and other lists. This year's finalists range from multinational corporations to small non-profits.
Judges evaluated the finalist sites based on navigability, usability, functionality, content, art and visual design, and standards compliance.
This year's judges were:
- Molly Cappotelli, online editor, Rochester Business Journal;
- Matt Dana, director of Web and instructional development, National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology;
- Mike Johansson, lecturer, department of communication at RIT;
- Lisa Kribs-LaPierre, co-founder, This Good World;
- Mike McDougall, president, McDougall Communications;
- Eric Miltsch, founder, Command Z Automotive Marketing Inc.; and
- Laura Segave, president, Digital Rochester.
Banking and finance
Canandaigua National Bank
Dana: Three-tiered tabbed menu interface works well and is sensibly organized. Page load times are good. Most importantly, it does seem to be reasonably easy to find the information you need. That says to me that this site has good bones, but could use some work in other areas. Good use of social media, though it could be more prominent on the site.
The home page isn't terrible, but it is somewhat cluttered and hard on the eyes. I’d recommend a redesign (evolution, not revolution) with a grid-based, responsive layout. Red header area is very cluttered. News page looks more like a spreadsheet than a news site. Header/logo isn't sharp because it's a JPEG (seems like a minor thing until you see your site with a sharp logo). Also on the logo: Give it some space and let it breathe. Right now it doesn't stand out; it's lost in the clutter of the header.
Regarding mobile: No mobile strategy is apparent. The layout is not responsive, and there's no mobile device detection. Drop-down menus aren't usable at the third tier on mobile, so all third-tier pages are inaccessible to mobile users.
There's obviously some good thinking that went into this site in terms of information hierarchy and section/page titles. For a desktop/laptop user who visits regularly, this site is perfectly functional, and that may well be the vast majority of the users this website serves. I would, however, encourage the developers to consider two audiences who seem to be somewhat neglected: mobile users and prospective customers, who may be turned off by a website that at first glance is roughly five years out of date. I should also note that I don't have an account, so I was unable to review the online banking center.
Segave: CNB's website provides information about CNB and its banking services for individuals and businesses. CNB promotes community news, investment and education. The site provides access to online banking and links to Facebook and LinkedIn with robust content. Site search and ability to submit your own photo are provided.
Five Star Bank
Dana: The color scheme is nice, and I like the slightly frayed aesthetic. Good page load times. Menus are simple and well-organized. Branch locator works well. It has a well-organized, very comprehensive collection of financial calculators.
The contrast is very low in the menu—white on light blue-gray is difficult for many users to read. Page background looks broken on widescreen monitors. Links on the home page are the same color as other text, so how do I know they're links? The "select a product" dropdown under Apply Online is clunky to use. The URL is very strange to me: five-starbank.com? Why not fivestarbank.com or five-star-bank.com?
There's a mobile site, so that's good—at first glance. But then you realize that the only functions on the mobile site that are actually mobile-friendly are "contact us" and "about us." The location finder—arguably the most important mobile component—redirects you to the desktop site.
Make sure to test your website on a variety of screen sizes and devices, including smartphones.
Segave: FiveStar Bank's website provides information about personal banking, business banking, investment services and community information. Access to online banking is provided. The mobile aware version, with limited functionality, is easy to use.
Genesee Regional Bank
Dana: The overall feel of the website is very personal and very Rochester. They've done an excellent job of humanizing themselves—we're not a bank, we're your neighbors. Menu is easy to use and the content hierarchy makes sense.
However, in the center of the home page is a large promotion area: "Growing our mortgage team..." The text there is somewhat hard to read, and it's inaccessible to vision-impaired audiences; the alt attribute reads only "GRB Mortgage." Accessibility is lacking throughout the site; most images are inaccessible to the vision-impaired, though they did make the top-level menu items accessible. The design in general is OK, but a little cluttered and 2007-ish.
Comments on mobile: There's a mobile site, and it's quite good. It includes most of the information that mobile users will be looking for. There were some formatting/layout issues on my (Android) phone, but it still worked and they weren't a big deal.
Overall, this site works very well. There are some formatting, design and accessibility issues, but the site works. The mobile site is far better than most in this sector.
Segave: GRB's website provides information about the bank’s personal and business banking services. GRB has some community information. The site provides access to online banking and includes secure email. Links to LinkedIn and Share are provided. The LinkedIn link was not working during testing period. Site search is provided. Has mobile aware navigation.
Business and professional services
Kribs-LaPierre: From the perspective of existing customers, the segmented login experience is efficient, but it would be nice to have it integrated with the home page vs. the additional click through to the portal. The home page user interface appears to be a seamless experience for existing customers. However, for those not yet receiving services/prospects, it is difficult to find out what exactly Globalinx does. Prospects need to click the About Us link, buried within the footer, for information on Globalinx capabilities and team.
The footer also hides the social channel buttons and search bar and requires clicking through to the more informational sections of the site.
Globalinx takes a very confident and simple design approach, but with around two seconds to engage and keep user attention, it risks missing a valuable opportunity with potential prospects as it is not easy for them to find the information they need.
Miltsch: The home page portal design helps steer visitors to the key areas nicely. Each section is organized and flows well. I'd like to see call-to-action buttons with more contrast against the blues (like the orange submit button in the sliders). Pages seem very text heavy and could use more images/rich media. For example, the How to Get Started text would be more helpful as a diagram. The CTA's may also be more effective at the bottom of the page content vs. in the side bar column.
PICS Telecom International Corp.
Kribs-LaPierre: The LinkedIn button appears twice on the home page—an additionally missed opportunity with LinkedIn because very little company information appears upon click through. Profile needs to be updated.
The Sales Rep page is a plus, an excellent way to humanize the sales experience with the business. Nice placement of ISO certification; users in this industry look for that validity front and center. The navigation is also concise and organized nicely.
Miltsch: The home page layout seems better suited for a blog layout rather than an international telecom site; I'm not sure where my eyes should go and what I need to focus on. The navigation bar appears as if items are missing; the open space to the right could be used for additional lower level pages that don't belong under their current parent, or the Search box could be incorporated. Nice use of call to actions in the top slider and the orange quote tab. Language icons help usability—easy to connect with them via LinkedIn (but only LinkedIn). The rest of the pages appear to be digital brochures—no prominent calls to action and very text heavy. Every page could benefit from a stronger CTA to help the user convert to an action.
Kribs-LaPierre: Heavy black background makes the site feel less welcoming. Easy to use navigation and clear call to action. The carousel includes screenshots and likely longer view time; consider disabling autoplay.
Nice use of client logos above the footer. Avoid using exclamation points on the home page—or anywhere on the site—no matter what.
Miltsch: I like the simplicity of the large home page hero images. This is a very visual product/service and this helps show the quality of its examples. Also like the CTA's displayed in the slider, at the top and the bottom, including the fraud alert buttons for additional helpful info. (I'd prefer the buttons to be red vs. the hover effect to give even greater presence.) The pages are organized wonderfully with large images and short, direct content that's easy to scan. (Stronger CTA's at the bottom of the content could help even more.) Navigation bread crumbs, drop down indicators and large lower navigation bar make the site easy to use and helped me find my way around quickly. The home page images really helped me understand what the company does and how it can help a business with its supporting content.
Dana: Love the big, bold photos throughout. Putting your performers front and center is a no-brainer with this kind of website. The AJAX loading of pages is unnecessary and contributes to some serious lag issues, even on a fast computer. Donate Now and Contact Us look tacked-on in the menu area and detract from the overall look and feel.
Comments on mobile: The mobile site took a while to load, but then it worked quite well.
I like this site, but I think it would be more effective if the AJAX-based structure were ditched and replaced with lightweight HTML + CSS. The AJAX stuff tends to cause more problems than it's worth, especially for users on older browsers or slower computers.
Segave: FuturPointe is organized by About, Events, News, Gallery and Connect. Social media links to Facebook and Twitter with robust content are available. Graphics are very interesting. Site has great video links; they’re very compelling. Simplified mobile aware format is available, still offering video. Secure donation option is available.
Spectrum Creative Arts
Dana: Love the colorful, airy design and well-written content. Good, active social media usage. Page loads are fairly sluggish. Way too much information is crammed into the About menu. I’d recommend reorganizing the menu because some of the most important content—information on the actual services provided—is four levels deep. I’d also recommend putting contact info and address in the footer.
Comments on mobile: No mobile strategy apparent, but the site works OK (for a desktop site) in a mobile browser.
Segave: Spectrum Creative Arts is organized by About, Events, Blog. Site has significant links to social media and provides very deep pages with lots of content. Student access is available.
Writers & Books
Dana: Social media use is very strong. But this is a very busy site with a cluttered feel. There's a lot going on, and while there was obviously some attempt at using a grid-based layout to control the chaos, it's simply overwhelmed by the sheer amount of content on the home page and in some other sections. There are contrast issues in menu drop-downs—white text on light green. Sloppy formatting in some places: images aren't floated properly, the footer has issues, there's a mishmash of all-caps text and lowercase in some places, <p> and <ul> use different fonts for no apparent reason.
I'd recommend an assessment of what needs to be on the home page. It's also worth considering stretching the page vertically; rather than packing everything in tightly, spread things out. A long page isn't a bad thing—see the approach taken by www.harvard.edu.
Regarding mobile, it looks like some attempt was made at responsive design, but at this point it actually does more harm than good. I'd recommend disabling the responsive styles for now until a more full-fledged approach is taken.
Segave: The Writers & Books site is organized by Classes, Events, Writers, Readers, Youth, Books, Gel Center, About and Giving. Links to social media with robust content are available. Site includes secure giving, site map and shopping cart.
Cappotelli: The site uses a scrolling effect where the image is static and the framed type boxes scroll. The fixed image and moving content sometimes worked excellently and in other cases was distracting. On the home page, a dominant (rotating) image bleeds over entire page. In some cases, it is effective (faded image below the menu), but with one of the images (the sheet music, specifically), it was distracting. The music notes were too dark and competed with the type in the header. The Harley School has a bounty of links to social media (Facebook, Twitter, even Pinterest, etc.). I liked the link to the private LinkedIn group, which I’m sure is a great alumni networking resource.
Segave: Harley organizes its site by Admissions, Academics, Harley Life, Parents, Alumni, Giving and Harley as an org. Options for search, calendar and secure giving are available. Lots of social media links with robust content.
Our Lady of Mercy School for Young Women
Cappotelli: I liked the moving “Circle of Mercy,” which broke down the tenets of the private school. As the wheel turned, the image and type rotated. Very helpful is the full-month calendar at the bottom of the home page. Our Lady of Mercy High also links from home page to Facebook and Twitter social media pages. A nice addition to the home page would be a search function.
Segave: Mercy organizes their site by academics, admission, alumnae, athletics, counseling, curriculum, giving, middle school with access for students, teachers, parents. Site includes calendar, news, and secure giving. Links to Facebook, Twitter, Share with robust content are available.
Monroe Community College
Cappotelli: The clean design is not only visual appealing but also aids in ease of use. There aren’t a ton of frills, but it is concise and user-friendly. It’s logical and includes a clear search function and rotating diverse images that appeal to all the diverse audiences the site serves (faculty, traditional and nontraditional students, community, athletes, etc.). The dominant photos chosen on the home page were excellent images. Other highlights include robust social media activity on links from home page. The usability is excellent; you can register then apply online, as well as check a schedule of all courses offered by semester. It’s very interactive.
Segave: MCC organizes its site by About MCC, Academics, Admission, Student Life, Workforce Dev and giving. Access by role: student (secure), parent, visitor, employee (secure). It has “quick links” and tons of content. The site provides search and social media links to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr with robust content and large following.
Government and community
Fairport Public Library
Kribs-LaPierre: The Fairport library appears to be built on a CMS, which can be necessary for a busy facility and community hub—a great way to stay relevant, update and participate with limited technical resources.
Because of the amount of information this library offers, the "quick links" section is crucial. I'm not sold on its placement, but I do think this is something that is/can be very helpful for users (adults and children). Consider taking the current five-link layout and letting analytics to define what they should be. These should be the top destinations users typically visit and want to reach.
McDougall: Evaluating the site in the context of community libraries, it serves its purpose: delivering a significant amount of information to residents. Dynamic front-page elements for news and updates are welcomed. The site lacks true social media integration except for outbound links to its SM platforms. Design is functional but runs counter to the library's "inspiring" tag. The mobile experience is acceptable.
Kids Out and About LLC
Kribs-LaPierre: With such an extensive database of events and information, kids out and about needs to be creative with the user interface. In this instance, visual appeal and playful design are present, but the overall user experience suffers with inconsistent navigation and content hierarchy.
Consider creating a simplified navigation that incorporates tagging. Users can then search tags for activities that interest them. Use the home page to highlight the best of the best—for example, "hot events,” “trending blog posts,” etc.
The ads bog down the page load time/bandwidth. Consider a third-party ad-serving solution.
McDougall: This site is a Rochester institution among parents, but it is beginning to show its age in terms of design. Content is extremely deep, which requires more attention to site architecture and curation. The use of seasonal highlights is a welcome technique. SM integration is non-existent (and the YouTube link in the footer is inactive).
Kribs-LaPierre: Rochester Subway is refreshing content for the Rochester community. The site’s navigation is simple and intuitive. Social buttons are frequent across the site. Its "blog-esque" layout may become increasingly challenging as the site and its content grow. The categories and topics on the right, along with the commerce items crowd the all-important page center. As RS is a frequent article, blog-writing local go-to, it makes sense to keep it feeling as such; however, the current overabundance of content is a bit cumbersome.
Still, the user is emotionally connected immediately and the navigation has been nicely implemented.
McDougall: While arguably a blog, it's a well-maintained site that takes pains to regularly update compelling, relevant, custom-crafted content. Design is a bit crowded but conducive to long-form reading. SM integration is basic: outbound platform links and a Facebook friend-roll. E-commerce is straightforward with the simple incorporation of the PayPal store.
CURE Childhood Cancer Association
Cappotelli: Excellent links to social media, including Facebook, Google +, Twitter and YouTube. Prominently featured and effective Donate link. I also liked the archived library of links to newsletters. The featured video was powerful.
Johansson: A warm welcoming site that, given the nature of its likely clientele, is an appropriate blend of functionality and friendliness. It is well-organized and its navigation works well. Its organization of services into Educational, Emotional, Financial and Social likely reassures the primary clients, parents of children diagnosed with cancer, that this site can help in multiple ways. Perhaps it’s a limit on resources or perhaps it has to do with some client confidentiality, but as a viewer I wanted to see more faces and success stories displayed more prominently. Yes, there are such things in the Newsletter section, but it seems a shame to “hide” them there.
Regional Primary Care Network
Cappotelli: This nice, clean and comprehensive online resource includes plenty of information. It has a functional “Find a Center” interactive map and simple design. I very much enjoyed the rotating health tips. The patient portal links to an external site that is for registered users.
Johansson: This is a well-organized site with an inviting home page. The home page features the expected index but also three quick access buttons to click through to what are likely the most important areas for a majority of visitors: Find A Center, Sliding Fee Scale and Patient Portal. There is a wealth of information available through the site, and it seems likely that it serves as a “one-stop-shopping” location for people seeking everything from specific medical or dental help to more general health information. For a first-time visitor, the horizontal site index and clickable sections may not be quickly seen (they seem to recede into the background in their present location, font and color scheme). I’d also prefer to see the “Regional Primary Care Network (RPCN) is …” statement more prominently displayed on the home page.
Logical Images LLC
Cappotelli: It’s a clean and clinical site, as you would want your doctor’s office to be. VisualDx is a Web-based clinical decision support system designed to enhance diagnostic accuracy. It also has a mobile app. You need a username and password for the portal for diagnostics, but the portion to which I had access was very informative and detailed in its ability to tout its benefits.
Johansson: This website is a clear, precise and well-organized portal that aims at two audiences —professionals and institutions. It has multiple ways for visitors from either group to find the content they are seeking. While perhaps less warm and more clinical than others in the category, it reflects a tidy, all-business approach. The site features all manner of content relevant to likely customers and makes it easy, from the home page, to conduct any type of business with VisualDx.
Bivona Child Advocacy Center
Kribs-LaPierre: The site appears to be built on the Drupal CMS, which would explain the tight left/right margins. Because of the breadth of Bivona's information, consider widening the ratio of the site. Much of the content on the home page is necessary, but it affects the usability of the site. This would also make the right sub bar not hang as far down before the footer.
The "report abuse" block is a great use of space. This area may also deserve its own area in the primary navigation.
Many nonprofits still choose to use PayPal, but there are many other third-party payment/donation processing apps that may be worth exploring. These provide ways to connect with donors and own your data, often with really simple customization.
Miltsch: Unfortunately, the current design and layout is past its time. Content appears to be continuously added to the overcrowded theme with little preference as to what's truly important. Less than prominent navigation links, multiple text links in the page copy and several calls to action in the body and the sidebar tend to confuse rather than help. I would strongly recommend a simpler approach that focuses on driving attention to the most helpful items for the organization.
Regional Center for Independent Living
Kribs-LaPierre: Very clean and concise, with bold imagery. The center-aligned logo is quite large and as a result hijacks much of the home-page real estate.
RCIL's logo is text-heavy—which was probably a concern when considering its placement. But a call to action should ideally be placed above the fold (especially within this sensitive sector). At the very least, consider adjusting the carousel images to fit above the fold so sub-navigation is apparent.
Miltsch: Excellent site with a very inviting theme (which is also responsive) and helpful navigation that includes the expanded drop down links. Very personalized content touches on emotional elements. Nice touch with the font sizing to improve the usability, subtle social connections, newsletter signup in the footer and highlighted donate button to call out another important element for the organization. Stronger calls to action in the lower-level pages may help improve conversion activity. Very easy use, especially the Contact page. Very well done throughout.
St. John’s Senior Services Inc.
Kribs-LaPierre: Consistent branding. Messaging is welcoming and relevant. Images on the home page appear pixelated.
I recommend updating the navigation. If I don’t know what Meadows, Brickstone and St. John’s Home are I may not know where to click. Use housing descriptions instead; for example, instead of Brickstone, the navigation tab is Contemporary Living.
Rethinking the hero image carousel or using automatic transitions would help maximize exposure to messaging.
Miltsch: This is a nice design with a purposeful navigation and overall layout. It has simple content containers on the home page and the lower pages. Great images and short content items. The lower pages may benefit from an end content call to action rather than the global CTA in the footer. The Schedule a Visit button could be used throughout, including the phone number. Providing the font size selection is also a nice touch.
Hiscock & Barclay LLP
Dana: This site has a modern design and fast page load times. Thumbs down: The Case Studies page is so important but deeply flawed. Get rid of the “Complexities Managed” headlines and focus on the facts. Your customers aren't idiots; don't treat them like they are. (Here's an example of an effective Case Studies section: www.campaignmonitor.com/customers/.) The home page carousel has 10 items - no end user clicks through 10 carousel items. Links on subpages are often indistinguishable from normal non-linked text with the same color and no underline, etc. All the light blue lines in the design could be scrapped and it would be a much more attractive website. Seriously, what's with all the blue lines?
Comments on mobile: Responsive design works relatively well. The design gets a little sloppy here and there, but it works perfectly well, and that's far better than the status quo in 2014.
Other notes: This site has a modern feel and works well on mobile, but it would benefit from some real-world usability testing.
McDougall: The site is informative, yet its overuse of stock photography strips the firm of its personality. Between the copy-heavy pages and flat images, clean can be interpreted as austere. Some elements I expected to be interactive, such as the office locations map, were not. Linear expansion of news on the home page was well executed, although six feature stories are pushing the limit with this layout.
Nixon Peabody LLP
Dana: The site is bold, but not blinding or overwhelming. Very well-designed menu system. Intuitive sidebar menus on subpages. Excellent faceted search functionality on sections such as News, Events, etc. The design aesthetic carries over smoothly from the website to its social media profiles.
Page load times are longer than they should be. Some users might be confused by the non-traditional layout of the home page.
Comments on mobile: Not so good (on Android, anyway). On the home page, the top menu floats down over the content, blocking it. Most second-level content does not appear to be responsive. The site is pretty much unusable on my Galaxy S3. Other notes: On the desktop, this site is very effective. More testing needs to be done on mobile.
McDougall: The Nixon Peabody site is the embodiment of smart architecture, solid design, timely content creation and usability. The user experience is not entirely expected, yet intuitive, and remains consistent across all pages. Attorney photography is done with care, and conveys personality. Font selection—especially for page headlines—shows some readability issues because of smoothing (or lack thereof).
Underberg & Kessler LLP
Dana: Excellent, simple navigation. Fast page loads; very lightweight theme aside from the large home page images. Clean code; first site I've seen in the competition with compressed/minified CSS/JS. Very nice attorney profile pages.
Thumbs down: Contrast/legibility issues with some text—white headers and gray subheads on light green textured background. Home page images weigh in at over 200k each—not an issue for high-speed users, but users on slow connections won't be happy. Not very active on social media.
The full-page image of one person on the home page was almost startling, and my first reaction was, "Who is that?!" The image is chosen at random, but the visitor doesn't know that. Is a huge, high-res photo of one of your attorneys, chosen at random, really the first thing you want a potential client to see? Wouldn't it be better to use a group photo?
Comments on mobile: Very well-implemented responsive design—A+. Overall, a very effective website and one of the best law firm sites I've seen.
McDougall: The site is well-crafted, informative and clean in its design. The visually lush home page isn't necessarily carried through across the site -- not necessarily detrimental to the experience, but an opportunity to enhance the brand. The FB link jumps within the browser window to a page that hasn't been updated in nearly a year, which may drive away more SM-savvy prospective clients. Attorney black-and-white-to-color rollover feature doesn't function on an iPad, creating a dated look.
Carestream Health Inc.
Johansson: This is a well-organized, if very busy, site. Perhaps it is the wide array of products and services Carestream offers or its global reach, but the home page feels busy and slightly overwhelming. The carousel of three rotating panels and accompanying links brings some life to the home page, but the six smaller modules below that make the site seem crammed.
Navigation is not very intuitive because there is no overall index or site map. Aside from the slide carousel and the six panels the only other navigation from the Home page is limited to Key Topics, Popular Links and About Carestream. And then under About Carestream at the bottom of the page the clickable link Social Media takes a visitor to a feature story about a “…Proposed Medicare Imaging Rule…” The site does have obvious social media buttons (bottom left) and its internal pages are businesslike and straightforward.
Miltsch: The lack of home page hierarchy makes it difficult to understand what's important. I feel as if the user may ask why am I here and what do I need to do? The lack of a traditional navigation bar also makes it difficult to know where you are (missing bread crumbs—getting from Toll Coating back to home is next to impossible). The inconsistent design theme between the home page and the dental page is a tad confusing because I wasn’t sure if I left the website. (Slide on the dental page didn't work for me.)
Hammer Packaging Inc.
Johansson: A beautiful and inviting site that shows off the wide variety of products Hammer makes and shows them in the best light. Navigation is logical and easy. Of the many sites reviewed for this contest this has some of the best use of images. The organization of services into Products and Markets areas makes finding the right service straightforward. One small concern is the lack of interactivity on the site. Limiting opportunities for reaching out to Hammer to the Contact Us form seems dated in 2014.
Miltsch: Wonderful site! Excellent use of single column, long-scroll page (which is also fully responsive). Navigation is easy to find and use; high-quality images, large fonts and strong calls to action throughout every page, and each section make it very easy to flow through the pages/sections. Middle content sections offer helpful info in small bursts, while large sections are organized exceptionally well with their large images, large titles and even more CTA's. I really like the dynamic header that resizes the navigation items depending on my position in the page. The secondary nav bar is also very helpful in letting me know where I am and to find even more content. Little touches like the home jump tab in the footer makes it easy to get back to the top of the page. And finally, a contact form that doesn't require every field to be filled in in order to submit! Great site that executes strongly on design, usability, mobile and offers helpful content as well.
Klein Steel Service Inc.
Johansson: This is a well-organized and useful site. It has good navigation at the top and bottom of pages and multiple entry points to the key sections of the site. The sheer volume of material can be overwhelming though and some sections are two and three clicks into the site. A visitor might be surprised that when they click on “News & Media” from the Home page they arrive at another index that lists, in this order, employee newsletters, the Klein Steel YouTube page, Awards and, eventually Klein in the News. The site could use more images to bring it to life and when those images are used they need some explanation in some places. For example, in the Our Mission section there is an image of a group of what appears to be six employees, all standing on one leg (without any explanation as to why). Overall this is an attractive site that needs a some aesthetic and explanatory additions.
Miltsch: Very strong and purposeful site design that reflects the nature of the business well. The design elements also personalize the company and its people very nicely. (Nice touch with the employee spotlights.) The navigation is organized well, and the simple category nagivation boxes eliminate any guessing because of the context they provide. Center column content is easy to scan; sidebar navigation links helped me find more helpful paths easily. A very nice site that also shows the attention to detail given by the company and demonstrates its culture nicely. My only recommendation is a more direct CTA for the next action on pages such as "on-time delivery in action." A More Info button is lacking, and the phone number is listed only at the bottom of the page. (The "We value your opinion—drop us a line" CTA is helpful, but is that really used as a conversion tool?)
Real estate and construction
The Reserve on the Erie Canal
Cappotelli: The well-developed design does a good job of showing the whole experience of what the Reserve on the Erie Canal has to offer. The YouTube video is professionally done and delightful. And the live camera and slideshow are excellent. There’s also a Facebook link, and an FAQ section, of which I’m a huge fan. I think this site does a great job marketing its community to potential residents.
Dana: Simple, sensible navigation and layout. Putting the canal in the background is a nice touch. Some of the photography on the site is very nice, though it could stand to be higher-resolution—640px wide is very low-res by today's standards. Facebook page is used for property updates, which works, though more frequent updates would be nice.
The header on the home page is very blurry. Some image links don't work: Try clicking on any of the images on the "The Area" page, for instance. Overall design feels a little tired and uninspired. The webcam would be a useful component if it weren’t so slow to load. No mobile strategy is apparent.
Broadstone Real Estate LLC
Cappotelli: From a content perspective, this site is jam-packed with information. I enjoyed how this site marketed its people as a resource with headshots of executives and a nice group shot of the entire staff. It made the site feel very personal. There’s an excellent log of its news releases, plus a prominent form to request an investment kit.
Dana: Great color scheme. Very good contrast and legibility throughout. Left-side menu on subpages is very clear and does a good job of helping the user understand where he is in the site.
The overall layout on subpages feels disjointed. Nothing lines up with anything else. Page loads are sluggish. One weirdness with the menu: It's unclear why some items are bold and others aren't. (I get why, but it took some studying to figure out. Indenting the third-level menu items would help people understand the hierarchy.) Not very active on social media.
Regarding mobile: Good start on the responsive design, but it needs testing. Some images get screwy, and the menu button on the left didn't work on my phone.
A few tweaks are all that's needed to make this a top-notch site. Look into caching in Wordpress to improve performance.
Rocket Commercial Real Estate LLC
Cappotelli: This organized site serves its purpose with few bells and whistles. Visually, the site conveys the impression of no-frills real estate listings of rural commercial real estate. It is intuitive and logical. The gray typeface throughout the site is sometimes difficult to read, and the 9-point type at the footer of the home page with contact info and links to social media was easy to miss.
Dana: This site has a nice logo, distinctive colors and clean layout.
Dead Ringer Hunting
Kribs-LaPierre: The Dead Ringer site is an excellent example of what Wordpress can do for a growing business. The bold user interface and upfront communication style will appeal to this visitor.
The e-commerce area of the site appears to use WooComm, which is a newer forms toolkit. Really nice integration and implementation.
Since the top nav is sticky, the footer navigation is not necessary. Consider using a second color or divider to differentiate the footer from the page.
Try adding retailer logos to the home page just above the footer so visitors can easily find out where to buy.
McDougall: The site is nicely focused on highlighting its product lines and driving potential customers to purchase, whether via the well-crafted ecommerce platform or dealers/retailers. Incorporation of video and a plethora of product photography is ideal. Navigation is intuitive, and content is deep without being overwhelming. The News page requires some refreshed content, and the About section could use a little more attention to bring it up to the standard of the rest of the site. Load times on some page pop-ups were slower than anticipated.
Iron Smoke Whiskey
Kribs-LaPierre: Iron Smoke Whiskey is a nice parallax implementation. Navigation is straightforward. Branding is consistent and the logo is tastefully present throughout the experience.
As the site lacks "pages" due to its style, the "but wait there's more" graphic at the end of each section serves as a great transition between page elements.
Using another (minimal) photograph on the load page vs. the textured background may bring it together even more.
McDougall: The site has a rich design element—a good base from which it can be further enhanced over time. The parallax scrolling layout is adequate yet exposes a lack of secondary, drill-down content that the whiskey aficionado might desire. Most on-screen elements are not live, requiring more use of header navigation than in some other parallax-oriented sites. E-commerce functions well via a third-party store and PayPal. Photography is well-done; video could bring it up another notch. SM incorporation is via outbound links.
Kribs-LaPierre: Muesli has a clean, user-centric design. The navigation is simple, and the hero image slider messaging is clear and concise with brand-conscious voice. Muesli's blog activity is very active, definitely a plus (and a requirement) for the health and wellness space.
Consider featuring a call to action or offering ecommerce options on the home page.
McDougall: This site knows its audience, but might make the company look unintentionally small because of its basic functionality. Content is good, with the recipes providing a nice touch as well as blog posts. I encountered a few hiccups with ecommerce and page loading—perhaps a quirk, but illustrative of the need for constant monitoring of site performance.
Tourism and hospitality
CB Craft Brewers
Cappotelli: I love the vibe of this site; it accurately conveys the feeling of the brewery. I love the graphics and theme, especially the bottle caps used as buttons for social media links. I liked reading about the staff and brewers. It’s a very personable website; the writing is conversational and fun. There was a lot of information and an online retail presence.
Johansson: This is an attractive and very well-organized site. From learning more about the varieties of beer produced by CB Craft Brewers to the people behind the brews to information about the brewery itself and where to buy its products, it is comprehensive. The home page follows many best practices, including making it easy to find almost anything from this one page. The inclusion of the Untappd (CQ) social feed (indicating who is currently enjoying the company’s products) is a nice touch.
However, also on the home page there are some issues with consistency: The top left rotating feature panel has four features where the fourth (“Meet the Heads”) is not clickable, but the other three are. And in the What’s Brewing? panel there were four beers listed; three of the clicks took me to the appropriate beer, but the fourth took me to one of the three already visited. Overall, a very well-done site.
James Brown’s Place
Cappotelli: The food photography is excellent; it was like the food was jumping off the screen. The site designer clearly understands the power of great food photography. Also love the full menu complete with prices. The link to GoogleMaps was nice.
Johansson: This is a warm and inviting website that seems to reflect the personality of the restaurant. It has all of the basic information a first-time visitor might want. It loses some opportunities to impress potential customers because it offers limited interactivity. The Gallery section, while having some nice photos of customers, etc., has them displayed too small and they are not clickable for larger versions. On the home page, the Yelp badge is a clickable link to the JB page on Yelp, but the Urban Spoon panel next to it is not. Why? Typos and poor grammar are sporadically seen throughout the site. For example, clicking through from the Weekly Drawing panel, visitors are presented with “Everytime you login, you will be enter for a chance to win!” And in the FAQ the owner is at one point is referred to as “ames” instead of “James.” These are relatively small things, but sloppy spelling and grammar cause visitors to pause (and not for a good reason).
OnCell Mobile Tours
Cappotelli: This site has high usability with its clear and easy-to-find hierarchies of information. It has prominent links to social media, including Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. I liked that on the “Meet the Team” page, several employees are pictured with their smartphones. I also liked the interactive free demo I could dial into; it’s a very good sales tool. And I love that I could search the site with a prominent search tool.
Johansson: This is a well-organized site offering visitors insights into both the company and its products and services. It likely does a good job of piquing a visitor’s interest in OnCell products. However, the slide show on the home page is not interactive—I could not click on one of the four rotating panels to get more information—and that is the expectation of visitors today. The interior pages are mostly static, which seems a shame given the nature of this business. One thing that would likely make the site more useful to visitors would be some “how it works” videos. As a visitor I can figure it out, but why not just show me?
Best Mobile (smartphone)
Intrinsiq Materials Inc.
Johansson: A beautifully organized site that is clean and efficient. It displays well on a smartphone and the navigation is easy to follow. The site displays well and the clean design works well on both Android and IOS systems. One small thing: It would be useful to have a “Home” or clear “Menu” button to avoid scrolling back up through multiple screens to the navigation. It might also be useful and make the site more attractive if there were some images of finished work using Intrinsiq products.
Intrinsiq did a great job of organizing a lot of technical content into its adaptive solution for the phone. The simple home page layout gets me to the core of the company message while the navigation drawer organizes lower pages nicely. I would consider more home page contact options rather than pushing the user to the Contact Us page. The contact form may also provide improved results by reducing the mandatory fields from eight to three or four fields.
Johansson: This is a beautifully organized and presented site. Unfortunately it is confusing for a first-time visitor. For example, the home page does not spell out what L-Tron does. If a visitor goes to the Who We Are section to learn about what the company does or if it is a good fit for their needs, they will find talk about company values and team principles but nothing about exactly what L-Tron does. It’s only by clicking on the Products tab that a visitor understands. A sizeable issue for smartphone users is that on clicking through from “Offering Solutions For:” the viewer is presented with a list of industries that fills the screen. When one is clicked on—“Food & Beverage,” for example—the list does not change, and in fact nothing indicates that the information is off the screen below. This leaves a user tapping the “Food & Beverage” button again and again. The same issue occurs under Products, Industry and Partners. The home page headline and image did not display correctly on Android but were fine on iPhone; the image didn’t fill the width of the screen, so part of the “Whether You Want Custom…” headline crept up to the right of the image, making it hard to read.
Miltsch: Very nice fully responsive solution. Organizes the content nicely. I like the navigation drawer on the phone and the side navigation once you land on a lower page. Strong, easy to find contact info, social links and other CTA's. I'd like to be able to navigate through the home page products via gesture controls vs. the left/right buttons. Overall the content flows nicely. Good use of white space and plenty of ways to connect with a lot of technical info. Recommendation: Add the YouTube videos to the home page and other sections where appropriate so you're not pushing customers off the site. The "What is L-tron?" video would work well on the home page.
Seabreeze Amusement Park
Johansson: Clear navigation, appropriate display of the product (the theme park) and a logically organized first screen with the most-needed information at the top. The site displays cleanly and efficiently on both Android and IOS systems. Social buttons at the bottom of each page are all appropriately linked to mobile versions of Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. The Facebook link, however, redirects to a full Web version of the Facebook page. One small issue is that in the Admission Rates page, the links inside the section (Special Offers page and Park Hours) take a smartphone user back to the full site rather than redirecting to another mobile-friendly page.
Miltsch: So simple! Excellent adaptive layout that organizes each section and category on the phone; finding anything about the park is quick and easy. Tablet version looks great, is organized nicely with large drop-down navigation links as well. Contact, click to call number and social connections work well and are easy to find. The most important items—rates, hours and buying tickets—are prominent and helpful.