What can you learn from looking at other websites?
Home | Blog | Keeping Up | 3 things you can learn from other websites

3 things you can learn from other websites

Knowledge Empowers YouLet’s start with defining “other” here:  I mean sites that aren’t library websites.  If you do nothing else, I want you to get out of the habit at looking at other library sites for inspiration.  No, really, I mean it. Why?

  • As a profession, libraries are too insular.   Quit looking at your peers; often, they’re struggling as much as you are.  I think there’s something to be learned from every kind of organization and business.  At least start looking at big nonprofit websites.  They, too, have often have great examples to learn from.
  • It’s all about expectations.  Those big websites (e.g., Amazon) have already invested thousands or even millions of dollars into figuring out what works.  No, libraries are not Amazon or big companies and, yes, I get that libraries don’t do what they do.  But, keep in mind that those big companies set the standard:  your website’s visitors uses those (probably a lot), and that sets expectations for how the rest of the Web works.  If Amazon suddenly had data to prove that the search field should go in the footer to be the most effective, it’d do it in a heartbeat…and so would everyone else.  Visitors would then wonder why your website’s search box was in the header.
  • Other sites have more to lose.  Whether it’s a business or a nonprofit that takes donations, those sites have to work, and have to convert visitors to either a financial transaction or to a concrete action of some kind.  A lot more typically rides on a website being successful for these kinds of organizations.  They can’t afford to just guess or work purely with anecdotes.  Frankly,  libraries really can’t, either…sadly, they do, often.

 So, what can I learn from other websites, Laura?

  1. Benefits are clear. Have you ever had a patron ask “how much does it cost to rent a book?” I’ve asked this question to presentation audiences often and, nearly always, more than half the group (sometimes all) will affirm that they’ve been asked this question or some variant. To me, this is an absolutely massive marketing problem. The best part of libraries?  THEY’RE FREE.  Yet, that purpose and benefit isn’t spelled out on any library website I’ve ever seen.  I constantly hear librarians moaning about competition from Netflix, Oyster, Barnes & Noble, etc…yet the biggest, best and most obvious thing, that could conceivably put libraries at the top of the heap, isn’t promoted anywhere on library websites.  Why?  Look at websites of nearly any other kind of business or organization.  The best ones don’t hide what their benefits are.  Why do we?  Just because we think it’s obvious?  Well folks…judging by the anecdotal data (and yes, the plural of anecdote is not data, I know)…it’s sure not.
  2. Logos matter. Library logos are often problematic. Is your library’s website logo the same as it on the sign in front of the library, library cards, the bookmobile, the delivery vans, the pencils, the stationary…you get the idea.  The point of a logo is to provide a visual cue when people see it.  If your library is using completely different logos in different places, that defeats the main purpose of a logo.  (For those of you who can’t believe this kind of thing happens, let me assure you that it does. Way more often than you’d think.)  Then there’s the problem of really awful logos.  It doesn’t matter how great the rest of your website looks (and looks aren’t everything anyway, granted) if the logo is a scan of a hand-drawn rendering of the library building.  Look at sites with clean, simple logos and compare those to what your library currently has.  This isn’t a matter of trends; it’s a matter of making the visual cue easy for the user.  If your library’s logo is on the delivery van, could people readily identify it, without reading any text, at 60 mph?
  3. Other websites are often good at removing obstacles. When many websites want you to do something (buy, donate, do), they typically have very strong CTAs (Calls to Action).  Often, a brightly-colored button will take the visitor directly to the desired action, with text such as “Register Now.” They don’t make you search around their website to take this action. They want the user to go directly there and will make it as simple as possible for the visitor.  If you’re promoting new items, don’t just list them.  Link them directly to where they can be reserved, and make it clear that the desired action is “Reserve your copy now.” Effective websites also don’t waste visitors’ time with silly, useless text like “Click here.”  Get to the point; ain’t nobody got time for that.


What do you find most useful about looking at other (non-library) websites?  Post your thoughts in the comments. Because, you’re smart.