Companies of all stripes are working overtime to make their websites more informative and easier to use. Moog Inc. (www.moog.com), for example, is making documentation on its products accessible within three clicks from its homepage. Bosch Rexroth (www.boschrexroth-us.com) has an e-commerce button on its homepage for engineers ready to place an order. The company's linear motion and assembly technologies group has even developed specialized design software for aluminum frames that engineers can download from its website. And Enidine (www.enidine.com) has recently redesigned its website to reduce the number of required clicks while providing more detailed information to site visitors.
The detailed information becomes increasingly important as the number of products an engineer can choose from grows—and as application needs change. Well- designed websites provide at least initial answers to most questions engineers might have about products.
Of course, some questions are easier to answer than others. Just ask Enidine Applications Engineer Christopher Osmond. He is used to fielding tough technical questions from engineers struggling to find ways to solve vibration problems. But sometimes, the questions cause him to pause. For example, recently someone wanted to know if they could use Enidine's wire-rope isolators—stainless-steel stranded cable threaded through aluminum-alloy retaining bars—as coat hangers. The answer, of course, was "no," though the fact that someone asked the question might indicate a possible new market!
Perhaps the coat-hanger question should become part of the new Frequently Asked Questions page that accompanies each product page on the company's website. Enidine added the FAQs as part of a recent site redesign. Web Designer Brian Plecas led the redesign, which, he says, was the product of intense brainstorming among Enidine sales staff, product-line managers, and marketing personnel. "We tried to look at our site as a customer would," he says of the ten-person brainstorming group.
Team members also checked the history of web activity they had been keeping. They saw that one of the first things engineers looked for was just what each of Enidine's products—shock absorbers, rate controls, air springs, and wire-rope isolators—could be used for. And, they documented that downloadable CAD drawings and deeper product information were important too. They redesigned the website to help engineers find the answers to such questions.
"We decided to make the website application-based," Plecas says. Now, the homepage includes links to each of the product types the company makes. Click on any one of the product types and you get to a page with a description of what the product is and what it can be used for. At the bottom of that page, you can click on the FAQ page, or click on icons for CAD drawings or PDFs of catalog pages.
One benefit of the redesign: fewer clicks. "It used to take four or five clicks to go from the homepage to any product-relevant data, and more to download CAD drawings or PDFs," says Plecas. Now, it takes one click to get to the CAD drawings and PDFs.
Of course, the quest for easy-to-use websites continues. Moog plans to add downloadable CAD drawings to its website, while Enidine will add on-line sizing software. But, there are no plans to add anything on wire-rope isolators as coat hangers. It may be an idea whose time will never come.
Reach Teague at firstname.lastname@example.org.