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Judges in this year's RBJ Best of the Web competition evaluated the finalist sites based on navigability, usability, functionality, content, visual design, standards compliance and use of social media. In addition to selecting winners in each category, the judges submitted written comments on each of the finalists.
This year's judges were:
Banking and Finance
Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Rochester
Eric Miltsch: Website content is organized neatly within the four primary sections. Content is easy to find and a primary home page call to action is in place. (Including the phone number at the top may be even more helpful.) The user knows what to do when arriving here - simple educational elements and plenty of ways to "get started." This makes it fast and easy and is handled nicely.
Peter Platt: From an overall marketing standpoint this site is very well presented and offers clear understanding of the options and information available (For example, the drop-downs on the main nav are very useful.) I also appreciated the links in the featured area with friendly/clear call to actions (Say Hello, Get help, Start Now, Take Action, etc.). The two negative comments I have are that there are perhaps too many drop-down choices; a lot of reading is required to understand the choices. The other minor issue is that the Let's Get Started link takes you to a page with a much different look and feel and introduces a different URL (rethinkingdebt.org). It almost feels like you've left the site you came to.
Eric Miltsch: Cramped design and theme; very little contrast provided with the images and font size/colors selected. Text-heavy pages with few graphics other than the header image limits the focus. Also, nearly every page is a dead-end page with very few calls to action in place. The phone number isn't prominent, and the testimonials are buried in a lower-level page.
Peter Platt: While this site is very easy to use and well written, the large background images ghosted behind copy make the site somewhat hard to read.
Eric Miltsch: This site is refreshingly easy to navigate. I found the items I wanted easily without being loaded down with excessive text. Simple to scan and locate - no fluff. Plus, the expanded drop-down navigation is extremely helpful with the content extras such as the location, phone numbers and hours info. The graphics within the drop-down help make them extra sticky as well. I like this site, would visit them again and made me want to open an account—very effective. (The only item I felt was missing was customer testimonials on the home page.)
Peter Platt: This site is nice, clean, easy to navigate and easy to use. Pages are not overly cluttered; content is straightforward and easy to scan/read with larger type. The only negative I saw is that the top navigation isn't obvious to the first-time site visitor - perhaps a visual cue—like the down arrows that appear on the subpage when rolling over the words Bank Borrow— would help a visitor quickly recognize the main navigation.
Business and professional services
Rory Burrill: Visitors to the Ovation Payroll site are greeted with a very attractive and unique homepage experience with a prominent content cycler highlighting several key messages about products and services. One minor quibble is that while the images and messages were attractive and descriptive, it wasn’t overly obvious where to click to learn more about the specific messages. Beyond the home page, the site takes advantage of Web video to introduce and explain product features and services. Further, the site includes an extensive online training program, helpful forms and content for current customers. Ovation is also engaging in efforts to deliver key client features via native mobile apps; as more and more business activity is conducted via mobile devices, this type of mobile web development will become increasingly important.
Mike Johansson: This is a very clean and attractive site. There is a humanity to this site that matches the “Payroll With Personality” slogan displayed so prominently. Perhaps oddly on the day of this review there were three splash screens rotating on the home page, and two of them were for the same thing, a new mobile app. A concern: The only information about Ovation’s services is in a couple of videos, neither of which is captioned or has titles meaning anyone who is hard-of-hearing or deaf will not be able to get any information from them.
Rory Burrill: Fibertech’s site employs ample whitespace and a clean design that uses real photography, a welcome change compared to the overuse of stock images on so many sites. The overall feel is appropriate to the technical nature of the business—the site design speaks well to the intended audience. Text on the site is clear and concise. Additionally, case studies are readily available in html and pdf format – a smart option to go beyond just pdf’s for ease of browsing and search engine optimization. Beyond the text content, there is good use of video at key points on the site to introduce company leaders and core business concepts. One unique function on the site is NetMapper Utility – designed to provide online service mapping support for customers. Fibertech also engages in a range of search engine marketing tactics with strong organic search placement for local terms and a robust paid search campaign around more profitable search terms like “fiber optic systems.”
Mike Johansson: A clean and well-organized site with multiple ways to get to its critical content. The site is logically organized and visitors can quickly find the information they need. The site’s home page is a compact and user-friendly presentation. One issue is that the main slideshow cycles through five slides, each promoting a different piece of Fibertech news, and moves a little too quickly; there is not enough time to get the gist of most of the slides.
Rory Burrill: One challenge of commerce sites is featuring key items, yet delivering this information in an organized and understandable fashion. The L-Tron home page design attempts to tackle this challenge across a wide rand of product lines. At times the amount of content and products on the site felt a bit overwhelming, but a well-organized content structure and accessible menu navigation helped to overcome this challenge somewhat. The site includes a very active blog, and content seems to be indexed by Google and well-positioned for search engine optimization. Many times corporations will launch blogs and not keep them current – L-Tron should highlight this content on its home page. This blog presence is enhanced by an active social media presence on Facebook and Twitter – as well as a presence on LinkedIn with a focus on corporate description and recruiting. The site also employs powerful search functionality and live online support – critical for winning and keeping customers.
Mike Johansson: Has the look and feel of a traditional e-commerce site. The slides demonstrating the products and services scroll at an appropriate pace. The site offers multiple ways to connect, although Twitter is limited to one-way broadcasting of blog headlines and Facebook seems similarly one-way. On the day of this review the LinkedIn button was not able to connect with the site. The blog is a nice touch and gives a visitor some solid insight into how L-Tron products are used. It is, however, not well-displayed and its engagement level is extremely low (1 tweet of each post and no visible comments in the recent past). A better practice might be to highlight a headline, image and first few sentences from the latest post on the home page. The About Us is not easy to find (although a user later learns that it can be reached via the Why Us? link). However, there is no clear explanation of what L-Tron does; there seems to be an assumption that anyone finding this site can “figure it out” – perhaps not the best approach.
Mike McDougall: NextStepU has a wealth of information, but its design and interactivity suffer from being dated—not the message an organization of this type wants to send to its teen users. In too many instances, there is simply too much information; it needs editing as well as general clean-up (for example, outdated newsletters). While functional, it does not define "best."
Troy Smith: There wasn’t a lot of information on the home page. However, the site was very informative and very easy to navigate, using different ways to engage readers. The choice to use videos in the financial aid and career planning sections, as opposed to just listing tips, was a good one. The videos were strong and compelling. The interactive map in the college search section was very innovative and easy to use. It gave students more than enough options in terms of search criteria to help in their search for the right college based on choice of study. I also liked the fact that Next Step had a digital version of its magazine available to users. The Next Step Academy was also an excellent tool and clever way to get the attention of students, which can be a hard demographic in terms of attention span.
University of Rochester Meliora Campaign
Mike McDougall: The Meliora campaign site is the embodiment of a program rooted in strategy: clear story lines, intuitive navigation, use of existing content across the U of R universe, crisp and highly visual design, and multiple entry points that steer the user back to the central objective: giving.
Troy Smith: This was one of the most visually attractive websites in this year’s class of nominees. The colors, fonts and imagery were all well-chosen and well-placed. There was a perfect balance between text and images on every page, with a neatly organized list of drop-down tabs at the top of the page that made the site easy to navigate. It represented the institution as something that was refined and innovative. The production quality on the website’s videos was top-notch, especially the “A Day in the Life of the University of Rochester” feature. There were a lot of faces on each page when it came to photos, which has been statistically proven to draw more eyes. The website also clearly displayed links to its social media pages at the bottom of each page.
Mike McDougall: The site is well-intentioned but not ready for prime time. Some social media links are inactive, and by trying to overpopulate the site with information, the organization's story becomes muddled, if not buried.
Troy Smith: There was a lot of information on this website, for better and worse. It was clear what the organization stood for, but all of the information seemed cluttered. Some of the drop-down menus were overloaded, which made the website hard to navigate. Overall, the site lacked ingenuity. For example, the training materials section seemed like a place where there could be some more innovative content. Instead, it was one of the leanest pages in terms of content. Same goes for the Press section on the About Us page, which contained only one press release. One stronger aspect of the website was the placement of its social media links, which were right at the top.
Monroe County Water Authority
Mike Johansson: This site presents a vast quantity of information in a clean and well-organized way. Given how much information is here it is perhaps surprising that the site isn’t more confusing to use. It has the most-often-sought information accessible from high on the page and deep lists of labeled links at the bottom of the home page. Given the overall high quality of the site it is therefore puzzling that some areas seem to have been ignored for some time. For example: the News page has only four items and the most recent is from May 2011. No news in almost two years?
Peter Platt: My initial reaction to this site is a feeling of fresh, clean water. The design reflects it and the use of the graphic navigation is nice without being distracting. While the image does flow behind content areas, the content takes center stage as it overlays the image. I appreciated the use of images in the featured section that support the core message of each feature instead of just being placeholder clip art. However the mobile experience for this site is not well executed (although I expect mobile would not be a primary use of this site).
Rochester Young Professionals Inc. www.r-y-p.org
Peter Platt: The overall look of this site is pretty basic and feels like a simple templated site. I like the featured upcoming events on the home page, but as that appears to be the core focus of the organization, it seems like events should be more prominent on other pages (instead of just being part of the bottom navigation). There's no Home button, which is OK as the logo works for this, but there's no visual trigger on the icon (whereas the other navigation buttons change color when rolled over). My biggest complaint is there is no definition of the requirements of what constitutes a young professional. It looks easy to join and register, but do you need to be younger than 30, 40, 50? The blog link to the Democrat and Chronicle is a little confusing to a visitor as well; an interim page, or some form of notifier of why you're going to the D&C site would helpful). The mobile experience is pretty good but should probably lead with Events instead of Contact Us.
Mike Johansson: A very clean and practical site with multiple ways to understand what the organization does and how people can connect with it. The top of the home page is not used optimally and may mean that some of the very useful content farther down the page is not seen on a first glance. The four-slide rotation on the home page does a good job of showing what the organization does. What is surprising, given the great content deeper in the site, is that more of it is not teased to from the home page. For example, this is a group of young people celebrating and getting the most out of Rochester, and yet the home page looks far more serious and businesslike than the inside images would indicate.
Rochester Genesee Regional Transit Authority
Mike Johansson: A nicely organized site that has many things going for it—from the Trip Planner to the explainer videos on things such as the new fare boxes and how to read a bus schedule. With options to buy bus passes and the schedules and the individual route maps everything would seem to be optimized. However, the large and unwieldy RTS System Map is neither useful (it is oriented on its side) or printable (unless it is to be used with a magnifying glass). Also, both times I tried to let it finish completely loading it locked up the site in both the Chrome and Mozilla browsers. This one area needs work.
Peter Platt: I appreciated the fact that the site is highly focused on visitor needs and functionality. Bus maps and schedules as the leading feature of the site aligns with what I expect meets the needs of most visitors. Online sales of bus passes is easy to use, although there are a lot of choices and it's not easy to quickly understand the differences - needing to view a second page to see the options makes it somewhat challenging to find what you need.
The mobile site provides easy navigation but should feature Where’s My Bus information to help mobile users take advantage of an excellent user opportunity.
Eric Miltsch: The site is organized nicely, and key items are easy to find. The cover slider showing Shirley's story make a nice connection; showing more of these personal stories can really help make the process of using the site's resources even easier. This is one of those unique destinations where leveraging social content would extend the reach and push the message even further.
Troy Smith: The site was very basic, but that was good, considering the organization’s goal is to be informative and make thing easy for its users. The information on the website was very diverse. Overall the site was easy to navigate, which was important, because the site is directed at a few different kinds of users, from health care professionals to patients to families of patients. All of the sections were very well written and easy to understand. One that stood out was the Our Stories section, which was very moving and designed in a way that made it inviting and easy to read. The site’s events calendar left a little to be desired, while some of the pages had not enough content and too much white space. Overall the site could have benefited from a little more innovation, be it videos or a more elaborate calendar.
Bausch & Lomb Inc.
Eric Miltsch: So much information contained and it's difficult to locate anything specific. Very text heavy, small thumbnails and very few calls to actions. This site reads like a giant brochure.
Troy Smith: The website certainly did a good job when it came to branding. The site’s decor and message matched Bausch & Lomb’s overall vision as a company. Whether a user finds the site easy to navigate or not may depend on why they’re visiting it. The Products section was very detailed, though to get to a specific products page required several click-throughs. If you’re looking for information on the company it could be a bit confusing. I was also a little disappointed with the Technology and Innovation video, which took a little while to buffer and load.
Eric Miltsch: Uncluttered, easy to navigate and very helpful with regards to the content. Nice touch with the videos. The design and style aim to make a connection—a trusting connection.
Troy Smith: The website was a perfect match for the company. It was clear, right on the home page, what the company was about. Each page was informative, useful and easy to navigate, especially the Recipes section. The videos were the main draw. All of them worked properly. They were imbedded well and had a solid production value.
Harris Beach PLLC
Rory Burrill: The Harris Beach website is grounded in an intuitive, organized structure of information, coupled with excellent aesthetic design. The navigation centered on the key tasks a visitor would need to perform; the content organization is enhanced by powerful search and filtering capabilities that provide access to all parts of the site, including the employee directory. Key content areas are easily accessed from the home page and expose well written, thorough content. The site pages often include a PDF version of content for download and printing. In addition to Web pages about the practice itself, the site includes practice-specific blogs with active content posting and excellent use of social sharing. So much of social content has moved to Facebook and Twitter, but given the subject matter, a blog is a more appropriate outlet for such information and expertise. Social posts them direct visitors to the blog content. Overall the site is well SEO’d for local terms like “Rochester Law Office” – a key aspect for drawing in new visitors and customers. One of the most notable features is a well-designed mobile site. Having a website that functions well on mobile phones is extremely important given the shifting patterns of web search activity – especially with corporate customers. Many sites can now be viewed on mobile browsers; few are designed as well as the Harris Beach site to function on these smaller screens.
Troy Smith: This was a very simple and clean looking site. It was very easy to navigate, though some of the pages left a little something to be desired. For example, the Industries and Practices page featured a lot of text. The site, overall, could have featured a little more media in terms of videos and images.
Harter Secrest & Emery LLP
Rory Burrill: The HSE site employs a logical organization of key content and an intuitive menu system; the menu was easy to use to navigate to and between important topics and resources on the site. Practice area content was extremely thorough; at times the amount of text was almost overwhelming for the reader. From a design perspective, the HSE’s home page really focuses on presenting the company employees – a critical factor for potential clients looking to partner with a law firm. In addition to the core site, the HSE Web experience includes a well-designed dedicated mobile site that included a helpful feature to install a link to the site right on your mobile device home page. Also, the mobile site included a feature to “send a pdf” about practice details – helpful for potential customers looking to forward information about the practice to themselves or others.
Troy Smith: From an informative standpoint, the site was great. It was simplistic and got right to the basics of the things a law firm does, from who works there to what practice areas they cover. There was a bit too much text on the home page and I though the photos that dropped down at the top could have been used better. Also, there wasn’t much distinguishing this website from most others. The images looked like stock photos you could find anywhere, which they may have been. The site did do a good job of plugging the company’s social media pages and RSS feed.
Nixon Peabody LLP
Rory Burrill: The NixonPeabody.com menu navigation is very intuitive and extremely powerful - one of the best menu systems I have seen, wherein the menu itself provides access to key functionality like employee and news search. The site organization and menu provide access to excellent Web-friendly content. Nixon Peabody has done a good job of writing content appropriate for the Web both in terms of length and presentation. The content provides enough text to inform without overwhelming the audience. From an appearance perspective, Nixon employs a crisp design with ample white space and a very logical presentation of information. The home page was clearly designed to convey information about the core values of the firm. That said, I was left searching for places to click to learn more about each of these topics and current news items without having to scroll down in the browser. Of special note is Nixon Peabody’s commitment to and delivery of information via social outlets. Nixon excelled in its social presence. From LinkedIn to Twitter, Nixon created an engaging and consistent brand and feel. Each of the major social outlets had hundreds of followers and regularly updated content and info.
Troy Smith: The site has strong images and a clean look. I liked the search feature on the People page. Once I located the location of the office I wanted, it was very easy to navigate through to the people who work there. The services section was very informative. However, it was one of several sections that had too much text in it. Users would probably have to use their browser’s Find function if they were looking for a specific piece of information. There wasn’t much innovation on the website, which made it look very basic. However, the company’s social media links were clearly displayed at the top of the screen.
Mike Johansson: This is a highly organized and attractive site that easily directs visitors to its four main product categories. It makes it easy to find any product and to connect with the company via social media. Slightly puzzling on the home page are the two references to what appear to be trade shows without any explanation as to why they might be highlighted there. There was also at least one page that was not displaying at all: the Leadership page seemed to be locked in an endless redirect loop on multiple browsers.
Mike McDougall: Parlec's site is clean, functional and certainly designed for its audience. Its visual search functionality for parts and support navigation is well thought-out. Some interior pages lack for rich content – for example, trade show listings. Overall, it's above average for the category.
Mike Johansson: This is a well-organized site that helps both business partners and the casual non-business visitor understand what the company does and how its key products work (something not enough websites do). However, once a visitor gets away from the home page and the key product pages the site quickly becomes visually flat and sometimes daunting. The great swaths of type are unrelenting. This could be remedied easily by providing images of the directors and key management people, and by carrying the energy and style of the home page into the rest of the site.
Mike McDougall: Like other top choices, Torvec's beauty is in its simplicity. It understands the purpose of the site, presenting the bigger-picture story of company and product on higher level pages while allowing visitors to dive in for more detail as necessary. Online ordering is not yet available, so that tab should be disabled, as today it only disappoints when presented with a "coming soon" message.
Rochester Technology & Manufacturing Association
Mike Johansson: This site is incomplete – with multiple sections listed on its home page simply not being clickable links to anything. The home page itself does a good job explaining the purpose of the organization. However, the links are in red on a grey background (a terrible contrast) and the type is too small to be easily read. On the pages that a visitor can click through, the content is very uneven. For example, under News some of the stories have no date on them and yet refer to things that happen “today.” Overall, this site looks like a work in progress rather than a completed project.
Mike McDougall: The RTMA site is a good effort but lacks in too many places for content. For instance, an events calendar (on the home page) with no listed events infers a static organization. Navigation is rather straightforward, but visual cues could be stronger. Member search is functional.
BOA Editions Ltd.
Eric Miltsch: I wasn't sure what the purpose of the site was upon arriving and I wasn't sure where I needed to go or what was important. Even for someone who knows what the organization is, it may be somewhat confusing for the user.
Peter Platt: From a design perspective, all three sites in this category use a common templated format that's surprisingly consistent across the board. This type of site structure is easy to use and navigate.
While BOA has a nice overall site, I was surprised to find no examples of poetry or excerpts from literature on the site. I also spent some time trying to figure out what the site was about (and what the name meant). It would have been nice to see a positioning statement prominently on the home page (fostering readership and appreciation of contemporary literature) so a new visitor could quickly understand what they can find here. I liked the bookstore setup; it has a nice layout to promote new titles plus the ability to easily search for a book or author.
Genesee Country Village & Museum
Eric Miltsch: I liked how simple the site's framework is: simple calls to action, visuals and activities. It could definitely benefit from having even more visuals (pictures and videos). This is another site that should be leveraging social activity to share user experiences.
Peter Platt: I appreciated the level of detail provided about the historic village buildings. However, the interactive map didn't load on Google Chrome. (I did open Firefox and was able to see the content, which worked great.)
For Plan Your Visit, I expected to find information about how to best experience a visit to the village, not a set of links to other parts of the site. The subhead for the navigation choice suggested the events list would be presented, but still required another click.
Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra
Eric Miltsch: The RPO site unfortunately seems out of date. The Buy Tickets function failed to load properly. I would think this link would be the most important function and also be given even more importance within the navigation. There is no hierarchy between top level navigation and side bar navigation. This is another organization that could serve its user better by providing a visual experience rather than text-heavy pages with tiny thumbnail images.
Peter Platt: This is a very functional site featuring upcoming events and how to buy tickets. The site has a lot of information. I particularly found the Now Before You Go section to have a lot of useful information that is often not included on a site.
Non-profit (human service)
Rory Burrill: The site embodies a clean design, intuitive navigation and ample click targets across the home page. These features made it easy to explore and interact with the site. There is easy access to donate and to register for the organization’s newsletter, demonstrating Holy Childhood’s understanding of the importance of making these functions readily accessible. Beyond design and navigation, the site includes rich content written in a concise, Web-friendly format. There is limited use of pdf’s, which aids access and search engine optimization. One point of note: Many teachers maintained active blogs of classroom activity – a welcome view into life in the class. These blogs were hosted externally from the site, which makes maintenance a bit easier, but also loses some of the SEO benefit of having them reside on the HolyChildhood domain itself. Overall, the site design truly helps visitors connect with the organization by including pictures and images of real people involved with the organization – no stock photos to be found! I especially liked the image-based Program navigator on the home page, which provided a quick path to key areas on the site using images of the staff and students at Holy Childhood.
Mike McDougall: The site's "Donate.Volunteer.Participate." omnipresent footer reinforces its call to action - an ideal approach for a non-profit. Copy can be inconsistent from highlighted program to program, making for some layout/design challenges. Featuring the children served by the organization - graphically - delivers a much-needed dose of humanity.
RochesterWorks! Virtual Career Center
Rory Burrill: The RochesterWorks! Virtual Career Center is full of content, resources and tools designed to help individuals in Greater Rochester. Given the volume of content on the site, the menu navigation and search tool helps visitors quickly locate the resources they need. The site is well optimized to appear in a number of localized searches for employment assistance. RochesterWorks also maintains a very active presence in key social outlets, including Facebook and Twitter. Staff use these outlets to communicate key information about a range of topics, including community events, hiring opportunities in the area and simple inspirational messages.
Mike McDougall: The site is dated in its design and suffers from a lack of editing. Instead of guiding job seekers down a certain path, it makes them work to find the information.
Women's Foundation of Genesee Valley
Rory Burrill: The Women’s Foundation site is an excellent example of beautiful design coupled with helpful information and content. The site’s navigation is simple and straightforward and quickly connects the visitor with content of interest. Content on the site is well written and presented in a web-friendly format that is easy to read and comprehend. Of special note is the design of the site home page, which helps to engage visitors and draw them into different areas of the site. Not only did the site include a content cycler highlighting the organization’s current “What’s in a purse?” campaign, it implemented this content in a way that encouraged interaction. With interesting graphics and statistics, coupled with large click targets, I found myself exploring many areas of the site without the frustration of many other sites that require you to search for small text links to navigate through pages.
Mike McDougall: The site is well-designed and has instant visual appeal, drawing the visitor in. It left me wanting more in a few areas – for example, more visuals (it's extremely copy heavy) and more pull stats (the same 64% stat is populated on every page). It's a good site with even more potential.
Real estate and construction
Mike Johansson: A very busy but surprisingly easy to use site. Whether you’re a buyer or a seller, as a visitor you’re quickly directed to the information you need. The volume and range of information is impressive, and the multiple ways a user can interact with the content makes this an extremely useful site. Captioning on the Nothnagle TV portion of the site is also worth noting. The site displays well across multiple browsers.
Troy Smith: This was a very traditional-looking real estate site. The search feature, which is what most people will use on the site, was very easy to navigate. The website did a good job highlighting the company’s innovative features such as its TV show, mobile app and market trends graphics. However, I had some trouble loading the TV show video. The website was very informative when it came to two of the most complicated things people deal with in life – buying and selling a home. The website deserves bonus points just for trying to make those two things easier.
Mike Johansson: An uncomplicated but highly functional site. It does one job (locates open houses) and does it well. The interface is easy to figure out and easy to use. The site does have its glitches though. In some listings hitting the Back button takes a visitor back to the top of a listings page and not to the previous point of reading on that page. Also, the About information is presented as a video. This is fine except that the only captioning option for the deaf and hard-of-hearing is the YouTube auto-caption; these are accurate only about 75 percent of the time and sometimes are comically off-base.
Troy Smith: This was my favorite website of all the categories I judged. It wasn’t overly complex. It simply focused on what people would use the site for, and that is searching for open houses. There was nothing confusing about the site and it was very, very easy to use. One thing it had that a lot of the other sites did not was a clear line of links to their social media pages. Also, using a video instead of text in the “About Us” section was a good choice. If I had to say one negative thing, it would be that the top tabs that had drop-down menus didn’t need them.
Mike Johansson: The site has an interesting, if unusual, horizontal layout. This is a very busy site with a lot going on. This layout works well in the Firefox and Internet Explorer browsers, but initially gave the Chrome browser fits. It also may not be intuitive to a Web audience well trained to scroll down and not west-to-east. Overall the site seems slightly dated and not as useful as it could be. For example, under the Residential Property click, prospective tenants would likely want to see pictures of the inside of the apartments/lofts and floor plans, rather than just an exterior shot of each building.
Troy Smith: This website was overly complex. Having to scroll to the right to get more information made it different, but also was kind of annoying. It took me a few seconds to figure out what I had to do to get more information. Once you did scroll to the right, there were some interesting pages that were well-organized and informative, but the scrolling made it hard to navigate. Sure, the sidebar at the left took you right to a specific section, but the move there was a little jarring. The website also could have benefited from more colors to set apart some of the content, such as links.
Mike McDougall: The Max Rochester site is purpose-built and fulfills its mission of courting potential patrons extremely well. It's visually rich, and even comes close to teasing the visitor, making them want to explore through its non-traditional navigation. I'd love to see it connect to Open Table for true online reservations booking, and the forced slide show load-in can become annoying. But overall the site ranks high on this year's "best" list.
Peter Platt: While the site offered a great set of images and way to navigate across Max's properties, the user experience was disappointing. At first I thought I had browser issues because I couldn't find the navigation for each site. When I finally realized I needed to wait until the last image loaded lin each to view navigation choices I was frustrated by the site. I also clicked the reservations link only to find a phone number - which should have simply been prominently displayed rather than requiring me to go find it. Also while there are maps for the locations, it's not clearly called out on the site.
Finger Lakes Visitors Connection
Mike McDougall: While providing some guidance to potential visitors, the site reflects more of a traditional tourism catalog approach. The mobile site has decent functionality but could use more real-time editing – for example, having the top 10 leaf-changing experiences as a top listed choice in February shows missed opportunity.
Peter Platt: This is a great site from a user experience standpoint - and the mobile content is outstanding. On the desktop version, featured partners have a prominent position, and the Refine Your Search is excellent. The only negative I experienced was on the mobile site when I clicked the top 10 list and found leaf changing (too late in February) and where to have a picnic.
Mike McDougall: The new Strath site reflects the cool, urban brand of the hotel and is a welcome departure from the stock Doubletree Web convention. It misses the chance to truly integrate its graphical elements on primary pages, instead relying on the dated Gallery approach favored by hotels. For the true boutique experience, I expected listings of local attractions to provide a curated narrative from the Strath staff - not a simple outbound link. Good effort, but I was expecting more!
Peter Platt: This site portrays beautiful imagery of the hotel and makes the visitor want to come and stay. Prominent reservation tools are nicely integrated without taking away from the site content. The only negative experience is that the large images push content down the page pretty far on the sublevel pages.
Beau Monde Salon and Spa
Eric Miltsch: Nicely organized and inviting. The design is very modern and appealing, but I would have liked to have seen even more images; it's a very visual product/service and could benefit from showing more of its offerings. Navigation is effective with the images with the lower-level links - nicely organized – and all prices are listed and easy to find, which is very helpful.
Troy Smith: What made this website appealing was its vibe. The colors and rotating tile at the top made me feel like I was at a spa. It was comforting. The site also did a great job focusing on the key aspects of its business, like the services sections being very detailed with its pricing information. Viewing this site would make it very easy for someone to make a decision as to whether or not to visit Beau Monde.
Go Buy Rochester
Eric Miltsch: The site's shopping functionality was simple and worked well. The design and overall organization seems dated with its tight grid. One thing that stood out to me right away was the lack of customer product reviews. These play such an important role in e-commerce today. Shoppers want to know what other people have to say about the products they're buying.
Troy Smith: The site’s slogan is “We make shopping local easy,” which it does. It gets straight to the point and does a good job highlighting products. It was also easy to search for products based on categories. With a shopping site in this day and age you would like to see a little more innovation, but overall it was solid. The live chat feature worked just as well as it does on some major national sites. The site could have benefited from some better organization; it bordered on being cluttered. I thought the website had a very informative and readable blog.
One World Goods
Eric Miltsch: The design made me want to browse the products and categories. Very inviting images; they load quickly and include the Pinterest sharing button - smart move. I would have liked to have seen larger images on some of the items, but the quality of all of them was high. More descriptions and even customer reviews would nice to see as well.
Troy Smith: It was a little hard to tell what this website is about at first. However, if you go into it already knowing what you’re looking for, the site is very informative and has some strong features. The Artisan Stories section was easy to use and the placement of the Fair Trade video at the top right of the home page was a good idea. The site also clearly displayed its social media pages. I liked that I could get to higher-resolution images of some of the products just with one click. It was kind of weird that the Events section had only one event; there was very little amount of content to which to devote an entire tab.
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