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What Does Your Web "Front Door" Look Like?

Let people in immediately. Don't make them knock or ring or look for the doorbell. March 11, 2006 

Synopsis: In a recent search for a shipper to deliver a pallet of my repetitive strain book I was once again knocking on web front doors, this time of truckers, and found a profound B&A comparison.

In one of the earliest things I wrote on this site, in March 2000, I showed the difference between two online loan sites and how one catered to the web visitor's need for instant information with "no strings attached." Recently I saw that same comparison played out five years down the road. How much do you think has changed?

I needed to find a shipper for 600 pounds of books from Allentown, PA to Chicago, Illinois. The key was learning the magic phrase, in this case, "LTL" which stands for less-than-truckload. (Have you, too, found that many web searches are totally fruitless until you learn a secret word?)


After learning the secret word LTL, I quickly found this website:, image below. If I gave you ten-to-one odds would you bet $100 on how to get a quote in one click? After all, it says in big red letters, "One click does it all!" Try their live site before reading any further. I'll wait here. Hopefully it still looks like the screen capture below.

Maybe it wasn't as hard as I suggested. There is no "one click" of course. That's just marketing. But to even enter the site you have to click the (Freudian?) circle being penetrated by an arrow. Even then you don't see a quote form. Is it obvious where to click on the second page? Not as obvious as it should be.


I had to try a few other top hits on Google before I found one that is what I want as a visitor and makes my point: the link on Google takes you directly to the page shown here, prompting you for the job specifications! Here it is:

(It turns out that the link on Google isn't directly to their home page, but it's the result that matters.) Now certainly the "After" site still makes all other paths and purposes accessible, but it puts the key task---for me at least---foremost. Do you doubt that MY(!) key task is representative... that it's the most important thing to put at the front door? I don't. Consider for instance, after I've used F&S for my shipment. I'll want to track a shipment or reprint an invoice. Will I care if they're not the front door tasks? Of course not.

I don't have a lot more to say on the subject. Of course the "acid test" is which site (or company?) is ultimately more successful. There's a lot involved in that, isn't there? But is there any question which design will ultimately prevail in a customer-driven world?

"My interest in usability arose from the pain and tears of patching the wounds of suffering interface designs with the inadequate bandages of help files and user guides." — Daniel Cohen

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