Last week, I covered the importance of Search Engine Optimization and Marketing. This week — site design.

How important is it? Critical. The vast majority of Web front-end initiatives have crashed and burned because of poor site design. Think “restaurants” — if you didn’t like the aesthetics, would you stay and eat or keep looking?

Remember — your Web site may be the first and only visual image a prospective customer or agent has of your insurance company or insurance product. Make sure it’s a great impression. The site should be clean and professionally designed. Consistency is important, so type-font and graphics should remain similar throughout the site. Images, flash files, and other broadband features are bad. They decrease SEO effectiveness and slow the site down. And colors and illustrations should support your message. You don’t have to have a one-size-fits-all site if you design the site correctly. “Templates” are your friend!

Navigation design can make or break the site as well. As an example, studies show only 10 percent of users “scroll” down beyond the information visible on the primary screen, so long scrolling screens are not good because ninety percent of users won’t see the content “below the fold.” Links should be recognizable, prominently placed and most often open a new window. If you have a large site, perhaps a site map should be added so users can easily find what they are looking for. “Bread crumbs” are helpful as well.

And most important, fresh, useful content is a necessity. For the online insurance sales industry, that includes:

  • a clear, concise description of the product(s)
  • dynamic educational resources including relevant news and RSS feeds
  • an agent locator as appropriate
  • a product quote engine available to the agent or customer
  • online enrollment with e-signature
  • and, behind an agent login, an agent resource center and a new-agent enrollment system

Remember, even the greatest site is of no use if it becomes too complicated, causing users to bail-out. And let’s not forget it all has to be tied in with an insurance carrier’s existing back-end system.

In addition, all good Web sites should include a contact telephone number prominently displayed on the home page, a “Contact Us” section, “About Us” section, copyright and privacy disclaimers.

Obviously, I am leaving a lot of important stuff out so as not to give away the store. And sorry for the lingo, but I’m crushed for time as usual. But know this:

  1. Site design is a lot more complicated than people give credit (the age of the brochure-ware Web site is long gone). And,
  2. the competitive playing field over the next few years will clearly be on the Web, especially relative to sales and marketing.

A warning: Many insurance carrier execs are misled into thinking they can just turn over the process of Web-enabling their sales and agent enrollment to their in-house IT departments. Be careful. While they may have raw coding knowledge, what about design experience? SEO (see previous post)? Aesthetics? eApp Workflow? Back-end integration? Security and e-commerce? It seems outsourcing to a company with a reputation for designing, developing, maintaining and marketing successful online insurance sites might at least be worth considering. There’s a LOT at stake.

Next look for best practices in converting the site visitor to an insured or enrolled agent. After that, e-applications and effective workflow design leveraging e-signature.