Can you tell a company by its website?

I’ve been looking for a new job of late, so I’ve been looking at a lot of company websites to get a feel for the company. I know the saying is you can’t tell a book by its cover (even though a cover can catch your eye and make you buy it anyway), but can you tell much about a company by its website?

I like to think you can.

The following factors tend to weigh heavily against a company in my mind (especially if they create web applications):

  • Site looks ugly or broken under firefox (I know most people use IE still, but come on. This also indicates they may be writing IE-only webapps)
  • Messy javascript
  • Poor HTML- no css, lots of inline css
  • Bad information design

I understand that a lot of these companies probably outsource their web presence, but I would think that if there were some talented designers at a company, one of them would raise some concerns about or fix the issues above, particularly poor information design.

Here’s a case study. One of my recruiters told me to take a look at Outstart which appears to be in the business of information delivery (e-learning etc) via the web. So it was especially alarming that they didn’t seem to be able to deliver information about their product line very effectively. Take a look at the screenshot below (taken from here). I’m willing to bet that a large percentage of visitors to the page try to click on the product names (in blue, bolded) next to the short descriptions before figuring out that doesn’t work and using the menu at left. Talk about misleading information scent. (Click the image for a larger version)

Lame info design

Other strikes here (besides the different order of the products in the page and in the menu):

  • Parts of the site don’t render well in Firefox. (like the country drop down box) I don’t want to work on an IE-only app again. Ever.
  • The url is ugly and complex. It contains at least 100 characters, many of which are in hexadecimal. They break down into three coordinates on the menu to decide which page to show. Only each id is a 32 hex characters, which means there are 10^24 possible menus, and the same number of possible items per menu, and the same number of base menus. I guess they’re thinking about growth, or adding the entire internet to their menu structure. At 10^72 combinations, they might be able to have a page for every atom in the universe. Way to plan ahead for growth.
  • The HTML is broken. There’s a chunk of CSS before the html tag. No Doctype.

I’d expect more from a company that builds web apps to deliver e-learning, wouldn’t you?

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