So What About Volvo? Does Your Site Suck Too?

Yesterday I wrote a blog post about SAAB. It obviously created some sort of attention since I almost had a new unique visitor record. Among the commenters were official SAAB representatives, positive even though I had quite a strong tone in my post. Another commenter, a bit surprising, was David Holecek, Interactive Marketing Manager at Volvo Cars. In his comment he wrote – “Sticking my neck out a bit, it would be interesting if you would do a similar exercise on our site (or rather, as we do not have all the shopping tools on our international site). We may be asking for a potentially harsh treatment :-), but feedback is always important.”

I was planning to do a video on the Volvo site as well, but due to kids at home I’ve not gotten the possibility to record something yet. It’s just to noisy! But, David, I decided to give you some feedback anyway.

I only walked through the XC60 part of the site since I’m more or less looking at buying exactly that kind of car right now. (Probably the new BWM X3, but I do like the XC60)

It’s sort of two-faced but here we go.

  1. You’ve done your lesson when it comes to usability. Most things work the way they should part from minor things when I’ve already chosen a car and then have to re-choose it once I wanna testdrive for example. I like that I can have a PDF mailed with my built car.
  2. The ‘closed’ interface forces me to navigate to much. Create less pages with more content instead. People don’t care about scrolling if they’ve come to the right place. Especially not in iPads and iPhones.
  3. Drop the link structure and implement a more SEO friendly structure and taxonomy.
  4. I’d implement a lot more links between the sections. Such as moving people from the ‘What XC60 should I choose’ into the configuration tool for example.
  5. It’s all built in Flash. That sucks from several known reasons.

Volvo Cars on iPad

How Volvo Cars look on the fastest growing internet platform in the world…not good.

And probably lots of more things. But…time…kids…

What if it looked like Apples website?

So, how should it look then? That’s of course a big thing to give feedback on and it would take some time, on the other hand, it’s sort of interesting to have a look at Apple, then swap all the content for Volvo Car content and see what happen. Hmm, why not try it? Said and done. I sat down for an hour and overlaid Apples Macbook Air section with XC60 content just to see what would happen. Here’s the result.

XC60 First page in an Apple Costume.

I’ve more or less just swapped content except for some copy that I quickly wrote to convey the right feeling. Don’t mind the top nav, it’s just there to get that Volvo feeling into the site. Click here to get the full view

An alternative XC60 Volvo website based on apple

Note. The design above is only produced for teaching purposes. Not to be used commercially

Volvo XC60 – The Design in an Apple Costume (excuse the mega long image)

By building the entire design experience, with designer videos, galleries and more, into one single page, you’ll award the visitor by letting him explore everything about the design without having to open new pages. You’ll also ensure that every link to the new Volvo XC60 design section delivers the exact same experience. You’ll have seconds to get people to stay, dont waste them on endles menus. Click here to get the full view.

Note. The design above is only produced for teaching purposes. Not to be used commercially

So, with that said (or designed…copied… in an hour). I think the Volvo Cars site features some sweet content and nice functionalites, but I’d repackage them into HTML5 based websites, lesser menu options and a bolder feeling to it. Obviously I’d spend more time than this to really work out how it should look in the future. Cars are beautiful objects made to be used by people so their sites should be too.

Thanks David for reaching out and I hope I’ve give you something to think about!

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  • Well, thats a wrap up – great feedback on all points, not at least insights on the importance of constant re-evaluation of your Internet presence… nothing is constant…

  • It’s not just Saab and Volvo who have problems. Almost every car maker have the same kind of site: a tiny flash box, no scroll. Strange. Time for change!

  • Great article!! I love the tall feature view of the XC60. Think you’re on to something that most people tend to forget because of the urge to give the user as much information as possible.

    Usually I’m not fond of Flash, but I don’t think your fair in your conclusions. Flash is installed on pretty much everyones computers:

    And as a sidenote, I don’t think that a regular website cuts it when it comes to the new platforms. A regular point-and-click (javascript based) GUI isn’t good enough for the iPad and other tablets. Touch and swipe gestures is what were getting used to.
    As for the iPhone and smartphones alike. I doubt that anyone will order a car through that tiny screen UNLESS you provide a customized mobile experience that makes it easy (and tasty) as cake.

  • Hi John,

    Really appreciate that you took the time to look at our site, and on top of that even created some very interesting design ideas!

    The iPad/noFlash/HTML5 issue is one of our main headaches right now, and a lot is planned for 2011 (agree that this should have been dealt with already, but large corporations don’t always move as fast as they need to).

    I notice that you used a black background in your design sketches… whereas we have gone for a cleaner white background. This is a constant discussion, and I would love to understand your view on this.

    Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,

  • – Johan it is…

    I didn’t spend to much time thinking about black or white this time. However, one of the smarter thing with the design is the fact that they’ve separated the ‘top nav’ from the rest of the site. That way they can pretty much work with any background within their site design. They’ve also made sure not to get stuck in a specific link structure which leads to unique sites for every product, something you should look at too. Today you’ve aimed to align the look and feel on each and every subsection which I think is bad for your products. Instead, build the subsection and the content based on the product and how it optimally should be portrayed. In a VOLVO costume of course.

    White isn’t necessarily cleaner just cause it’s white. In a digital environment it’s contrasts, almost not visible gradients and structures behind images that supports your products best. That decides what’s clean or not.

    Black, white or grey – they all serve as neutral canvases for your beautiful products. Work with them all.

    See how Apple has build and and differently yet all on brand.

    I think as you move forward. You, as other brands, should get away from that website building process you’re used to where you create specifications, then wireframes, then designs and then technology. Swap that for a new interface with minimalistic rules for navigation and an open canvas where your designes can play freely in a prototyping phase. Make sure you either got designers that can write conceptual copy on the go while caring for usability. They’ve gotta be down with HTML5 / iPad functionalities. Of course you’ll do good with some apps. But after having used the web with my iPad since the first day they were launched, I’m still looking to surf websites when it comes to cars, not apps.

    Then, once you’ve outlined your prototypes, just like your industrial designers at volvo prototypes their visions, take what looks best, specify it and build it.

    In a perfect world you’ll never create printed catalogue first. Digital should lead!

    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you too 🙂

  • Hey Emmanuelay and thank you 🙂

    When it comes to Flash the problem is this. With flash you can create fantastic interactions. However, they come with a price – loading. The more cool things you create, the more the user has to load the darn thing. I’ve built some of the worlds biggest sites in flash, so I’ve learned the hard way ( adidas World Cup 2006 among others ).

    Basically, the interactions you can create with Flash if you don’t wanna loose your audience while they’re waiting for the site to load, that can all be created in HTML4 or 5. Most things you can create if you want people to load more can be created in HTML5 and it loads faster.

    If you leave Flash for HTML5 preferably, you’ll end up serving multiple platforms while caring for SEO aspects. It can’t be stressed enough that people wanna share deep links in social networks, you’ll search for sites and end up in the right place etc etc..

    If you do this right, HTML5 will on the contrary to what you’re saying serve the new platforms like iPads etc. We’ll have people swiping sites in iPads while clicking them in their computers.

    Of course you’ll hear brand people say that Apps are the future, and I believe they are for many things. But, in the long run you still want a brand presence on the internet that people can and will access through browsers. These sites gotta fit what ever you’re carrying along.

    Pay a visit to Apples iPad ready website with your pad (or a friends if you haven’t got one) and you’ll find some great examples. Not all of them, but many. This is where we’re heading 🙂

    Thanks once again for your comment and Merry X Mas and a Happy New Year!

  • Intressant och i stort sett mycket relevanta synpunkter i Johans minianalys(er) av hur en biltillverkares webbplatser fungerar utifrån en kunds beteende. Jag skulle vilja påstå att man lätt kan applicera samma resonemang på vilken sälj- eller informationswebbplats som helst. Allt handlar ju om att förstå, definiera och sedan underlätta för kundens ‘touchpoints’ (eller på svenska – ‘kontaktytor’, utifrån det som kan kallas kundresan).

    Johan visade i sitt förra blogginlägg hur frustrerande han upplevde SAAB:s webbplats utifrån det han egentligen var ute efter. Dvs, att inspireras, förstå mer om produkten och sedan hitta en fysisk plats att provköra bilen. Enligt Johan så fallerade SAAB-sajten kraftigt på den punkten (har inte själv gjort någon egen analys, men jag skulle förvånas om jag inte håller med i det Johan kom fram till).

    Men, de allra flesta företag som tillhandahåller en vara eller tjänst har långt fram till att lyckas knyta ihop säcken för alla typer av besökare på sin webbplats. Möjligtvis kan man invända att det är ett omöjligt uppdrag att tillfredsställa alla typer av besökare med olika förkunskap, syfte och mål med besöket. Jag tror trots det att man kan nå oerhört långt i hur man disponerar och presenterar information och budskap.

    Vad det gäller Flash Vs. HTML är det en diskussion som pågått intensivt det senaste året. Tack vare uppmärksamheten kring iPad (och såklart iPhone) och frånvaron av stöd för Flash i iOS kommer nu fokus på att leverera interaktion mha webbstandarder på kartan på ett helt annat sätt än tidigare. Och det är ju jättebra. Problemet, eller kanske anledningen till att man hittills kört så hårt på flashapplikationer/moduler beror snarare på hur reklambyråerna är sammansatta. De byråer jag själv arbetat på genom åren har haft ett par, tre “flashare” som byggt det vi designat, och sen var det inte mer med det. Att ha ett par, tre drivna “frontendare” som kan göra samma sak mha HTML är inte lika vanligt, men kommer säkert att bli en självklarhet framöver.

    Sen, det här med att ha höga sidor som inte visar precis all information inom ett “safe area”… det är något som jag undrar om det någonsin kommer att kunna undvikas i en kunddiskussion. Någon (Nielsen, typ) har tydligen sagt någongång att all information/länkar etc måste rymmas på startsidan i det webbläsarfönster besökaren ser vid ankomst till webbplatsen. Inget fel i det resonemanget egentligen, men då måste man sålla rejält i VAD det är man bestämmer sig för att presentera. Ofta knökar man in 300% mer information än vad en besökare kan ta till sig. Ett resultat av femtielva workshopar med sjuttitolv jämkade beslut.

    Jag är själv ganska trött på att hänvisa till Apple och deras webbplatser, men faktum kvarstår – de ÄR extremt duktiga på att presentera sina produkter och tjänster. Man kan t ex inte mena att det är skillnad att – i det här sammanhanget – sälja en bil Vs att sälja en dator eftersom en bil skulle vara så mycket svårare att förstå, hantera eller liknande. En dator innebär med största sannolikhet för användaren mången större frustration avseende tekniska problem eller liknande.

    @David Holocek: länge sedan vi sågs (och arbetade tillsammans)! Hoppas allt är bra med dig/er =)

    God jul önskar till sist även jag.

  • Hallå Markus!

    Stort tack för en tung kommentar! Det här kommentatorsfältet exporterar jag ut som en bok efteråt 😉

    Det där med att rymmas, jag tror att det är direkt relaterat till var på sajten man är, ex startsidan kan jag nästan hålla med om att det är fokus som gäller, hellre slumpa osv. Det är ju ändå helt oinvigda besökare. Men sen som sagt, då är det helt obefogat med ‘containers’

    God jul!

  • Yeah… I know about Volvo. It’s exciting look with the extra additional quality of look made one of the fan to such dramatic model.
    Recently I had driven the C30 model of Volvo which pays pleasure in driving.

  • Oj, klart att det är Johan och inte John – skrev inlägget kl 3 på morgonen… 🙂

    Tack för alla dina värdefulla kommentarer – vi hör troligen av oss in på det nya året för att diskutera vidare.

    God Jul,

  • You’re a very inspirational person Johan and you have been given the ability to engage people, which is amazing but I am sorry – This is just really unprofessional and silly.

    Without knowing any of the actual problems either SAAB nor Volvo stands before, you write a post where you’re actually just impudent and rude. Most large companies, not only within the car-industry stands before a lot of challenges other than getting their websites to function on your Ipad.

    The whole HTML5 vs. Flash discussion is perhaps at the moment – for obvious reasons – not the top priority thing to implement. Especially within the car industry. I’d be glad to withdraw this whole comment if you show me any evidence whatsoever of people (outside your bubble) buying/prospecting cars with their Iphone/Ipad to an extent that the website should be rebuilt because of it. 

    With an arrogant attitude, certainly lacking the knowledge needed of Volvo’s challenges you decide to get Photoshop up and running to show Volvo how they should draw their new website? That’s just such a wrong thing to start with in the first place, and secondly I’m amazed how Volvo’s interactive director buy’s it and becomes interested why you chose a dark color. 

    Volvo should start with the question – What kind of information does our potential digital buyers need to make a decision, how do they obtain this today and how can we make that information even more available on our website, not wheter the website should be light or dark.

    Regarding the URL-structure for SEO-purposes – Yes, it is always important for a company to have a heavy presence on Google, but have you even taken the time looking how they rank and how their potential digital buyers actually uses the SE’s to obtain information? I think not. Google has indexed the site just fine, and with the recent update taking even more of the brand into consideration Volvo would – at this moment – damage more than they would gain in reconstructing the site-structure. And taking advice on SEO from a guy that can be blamed for the internal link-structure of Marginalen Bank (Which could fund the entire company through the SE’s compared to Volvo) is nothing I would recommend.

    The thing is – Buyers within digital services today are way too lost to even write this comment, actually asking “what the fuck do you know, you’re site sucks too!”.

    You seem like a knowledgeable guy, which has a lot to offer in forms of advice, but try actually implementing the advice you give in a successful way for a change and you’ll probably have a little bit more decency in choice of headline in your next posts.

    Merry Christmas, and thanks for speaking my thoughts.


  • Hey Jim,

    Thanks for speaking out. And I’ll do an exception as I usually don’t let anonymous comments through as I believe in openness. Especially when bashing people…

    First. You think this is unprofessional and silly. I think the post on SAAB was needed since they never seem to care. It’s just not something they haven’t fixed the last year…it’s something that they havent fixed in the last 10!!! years. Then Volvo asked what I thought about their site and my headline was rhetorical…sorry if you didn’t get that or if it wasn’t clear enough.

    Ok, of course I’d look at their specific problem before I’d do a job for real. The blog post here was a direct respons to an earlier comment. I have however been working with both Volvo, Toyota and BWM during the years and have sort of an idea what they are up to and what their challenges are. Most of these brands constantly say they simple don’t have the time to fix their problems….which I don’t buy.

    My point the day before, with the SAAB post was exactly that, that even though SAAB know what their online business is for (was and is getting people to test drive the actual car) they’ve not improved their online presence for years. The iPad, HTML 5 problem wouldn’t have been a problem in the first place if they hadn’t gotten stuck in flash based platforms. I know what I’m talking about since I’ve also been there…but that was years ago.

    Regarding URL.
    Yes…I’ve looked. Search for XC60 provkörning (test driving) for example and you won’t see Volvo anywhere on the first page (except for the Adwords presence which is good). – Same goes for tons of other keywords and especially combinations. I commented on the SEO structure since they asked for feedback, leaving it out felt wrong. It’s of course something Volvo can’t switch over night, but there are companies that can help them with a change like that.

    Part from the link structure lots of content is also hidden in flash animations and SWF movie frames deep down. These assets aren’t even visible…and the sad thing is that this is where some of the really great content sits. It’s not sharable either. All in all, the SEO issue is more relying on qualitative content in this case, content that can be linked to, shared and in the long run build a much stronger search presence. Big brands need that too.

    What I wanted to showcase with the quick fix redesign was that a free, HTML based design could be just as emotional while caring a lot more for how a site should be built today. By doing it the fast way I also wanted to show that mockup design can be a quickfix and it opens up thoughts and ideas. Nothing more than that.

    So, to sum up. Yep, some bashing from my side, some positive feedback, but also giving ideas back. Please feel free to ad more ideas in one way or another instead of only stating what you think is wrong and this time, please stand up for your thoughts.

    Happy New Years 🙂

  • Great Johan!

    You are absolutely right the car industry can improve their basic web standards a lot. FYI Volvo is THE benchmark concerning car sales process at home sites for the rest of us in Sweden and almost always ahead of us concerning our home sites. Lucky us, you were only analyzing the car sales process on the web. The after sales shows even more to do, not to mention the web sites of our authorized dealers. To be able to improve the web, we will have to do something else less or stop doing it at all. Any suggestions?

    Happy New Year to you too!

    Emelie Ek

  • Hey Emelie,

    Glad to see that you found your way into the discussion as well 🙂

    I could of course draw up tons of ideas and strategies. But without the actual problem definition it’s hard for me to do anything else but exemplify on the bigger scope. What exactly do you mean by “we will have to do something else less or stop doing it at all”?

    Overall I think the car industry would look more at the Prospects, Buyer, Retention and Owner aspect of their web experience. Being a Volkswagen Passat and Audi A4 owner myself (and having own more than 10 cars before) I’ve got quite a lot of experience of how I’m being treated as a customer. Overall ›› BAD. The car industry seems to look at me as a potential buyer, not a long term friend. The values created by the car industry today is to a large extent focused on printed catalogues, magazines and letters reminding me to buy buy buy. I bought my car once from a dealer – setting up a more personalized digital relation between us wouldn’t be that hard. Creating more valuable, digital products during my owner life time wouldn’t be that hard either. Look at Waze for the iPhone for example ( ). Imagine that having been created for me to have and use for free, branded of course. What a potentially great interface to build and nurture relations.

    I also think you’re (you as in the car industry) are giving your most valuable asset, the inside space of the car, away. I’ve blogged about this before as well: this is one area where you really could create relations while securing a longer brand relation.

    As I started – I could go on for ages about what to do and where to focus. But for starters – get your stuff together when it comes to the basics first. That wouldn’t take to long. Then once you’ve got a more versatile platform you can start experimenting, cause who knows what will solve your problem in the long run.

    ps. Feel free to mention which brand you work for if you think it will help the discussion. I didn’t wanna give that away since you haven’t done it yourself.

  • Bravo. Jag gillar Apple-upplägget. Fattar inte att alla måste krångla till det så mycket när det egentligen är så enkelt. Kanske ska köpa en kopia av Leo Babautas The Power of Less åt ett antal människor is nyårspresent.

    Bra post Johan.

    För övrigt kraschade Volvosajten min browser två gånger när jag testade sajten. (Mac/Firefox).

  • Du verkar ju vara en modern människa, varför då ens fundera på att köpa något så otidsenligt som en SUV? Annars mycket bra synpunkter!

  • Ha 🙂

    Ex – BMW X3 drar mindre än en motsvarande Sedan. Den är säkrare, du har bättre översikt över vägen osv. Elektriska generatorer i hjulen och start/stopp teknologi. SUV är inte riktigt vad det brukade vara

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