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Most Credit Unions That Are Online Long Ago Moved Past Giving Much Throught To The Design of Their Web Pages. Many Need To Go Back And Take Another Look, According To One Person, Who Suggested That Many Sites Make Simple Mistakes That Cause Great Aggravation. (And If You Don't Fix Them, He Said, You'll Find Yourself Featured On Sites Like This)

The design of a credit union's web page may seem so 1990s as credit unions leap into interactive functions, but one person said that many CUs need to go back to page one. Literally.

Glen Christopher, a Raleigh, N.C.-based Internet design expert, teacher and consultant, told the Midwest Technology Symposium here that many institutions continue to fail at the most basic of Internet functionality and design. The first- ever conference was sponsored by the Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin leagues,

The three key questions for any credit union's website, he said, are does it work, can people find it, and will they leave never to return or will they return in the future and recommend others to your site?

Most credit unions can be found in a search engine by entering the CU's name, or approximate name, noted Christopher. But what if someone is just searching for checking accounts or a mortgage, he asked, or what if they don't know about your credit union but fall within your credit union's field of membership.

Another problem he demonstrated by using audience-members' websites is that search engines don't read graphics, meaning if the credit union's name appears only as part of a graphic, the search engine crawler won't find it.

"People aren't looking for information about you. They are looking for solutions to the problems they have," he suggested. "And we don't spend any time thinking about what ticks people off. What's involved is this area of useability analysis."

Christopher spent much of his presentation concentrating on the area of website usability. From the outset, he claimed that one of the most frustrating things a credit union can do is not know the membership and build a page designed for broadband users.

"Eighty percent of your members have dial-up access," he noted.

Another problems pages too wide and too deep "Research shows that pages that require more than three screen scrolls are too deep."

Logos should appear in an upper-left-hand corner and then "leave it there regardless of the page people are on," he advised. In the upper-right-hand corner, he added, web-users are also beginning to expect to be able to a search tool of some type. And, he added, people have also come to expect privacy policy links to be available, even though less than 20% of users actually link through them.

According to Christopher, graphics and multi-media should be limited to 15% of the screen real estate, as he noted that many people look to move faster by turning off graphics. "And music and animation are a no-no," he said. "They don't add value to the experience."

Christopher told the meeting there are six marketing avenues to add value: Search engines, e-mail, chatrooms/discussion groups ("Often offer an opportunity for a member of your staff to become the resident expert"), traditional venues and advertising, link exchanges or banner swaps, buying banner ads.

"The robotics (searc engine) is really the one you want to focus on, and to rank high you've really got to focus on the text," said Christopher.

He noted that the names of credit unions are often embedded in a graphic on the home page, but appear nowhere in the text.

Communication is the purpose of a credit unions' site, Christopher said. "How effective are you at communicating your site so that people feel comfortable in what you are?" he asked.

With content, he noted, "There are ways you can manage the text in your website that will either enhance or take away from your visitor's experience."

"The things that people come to your website to do are the things that should be featured in the middle of your page. Eyes should naturally gravitate toward them," he advised, adding that one rule of thumb is not to make the link "Home" the first button, as members will click on it and it will take them right back to where they were.

A concise tagline also needs to be included, as does emphasis on user-centered values.

In addition, he said high-priority user tasks should be highlighted, and the homepage should be designed to be different but consistent will all other pages.

In terms of language, Christopher said, "People don't want CDs, they want to secure a financial future. They don't want statements, they want a summation of financial activity. Wherever possible don't use clever phrases. Don't use three font faces, limit it to two. Use member-focused language. Use consistent capitalization and other style standards. Avoid single-item categories and single-item bulleted lists."

When it comes to content writing, Christopher advised using non-breaking speces between words in phrases that need to go together in order to be understood. Moreover, he cdalled for using imperative language for mandatory tasks. "People like to be told what to do. They like to put it on auto-pilot in a lot of areas," he said.

Regarding links on the site, Christopher said links must be differentiated and be scannable. "People don't read web pages, they scan them," he suggested. "They need to be the kind of thing people's eyes can land on."

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