by Robert Rickover
Thank you to John-Paul Watkins for allowing us to publicly review your site. I know that you’ve already made some significant changes in response to an earlier Face Book conversation and I applaud your willingness to do so. Sadly, that is not always the case in the Alexander world. I hope our comments are of use to us. (Any comments from Imogen are included in green italics.)
John-Paul has his location, Marin County, and the phrase “Alexander Technique” prominently displayed at the top of each page. They also appear on his coded source page – the page search engines like Google actually “see.” His site shows up nicely in a Google “Alexander Technique Marin” search.
2. Contact Information
John-Paul’s phone number is easy to see at the top of each page as is a Contact button which takes the visitor to a page with an email contact form. I have a personal bias towards a simple linked email address (less work to send an email) but the form does serve to weed out spam.
Imogen: I think the contact form is fine as long as it works! I’m glad to see the big button on the home page!
The language used by John-Paul is largely free of Alexander jargon and for the most part reads well. However, it’s effectiveness is marred by two flaws: First, there are a number of typos which detract from the site’s professionalism. Second, the text is quite small and paragraphs are not separated which makes it challenging to read and take in. (Although in some more recent posts, such as “Do Sweat the Small Stuff,” there are huge gaps between lines of text which gives the site a somewhat inconsistent feel.)
I also think that John-Paul would be better to come up with his own definition of the Alexander Technique instead of relying on one from “the Alternative Medicine website” – which is not identified in any more detail! I think if I were visiting the site I’d be puzzled why he was relying on a third party, so to speak, for his definition of what he’s teaching.
There is a page titled “Testimonials” that includes some well-known students of the Technique. I think it would help John-Paul’s credibility (particularly as he holds himself out in bold type on the homepage as “an expert in relieving back and neck pain”) if he included a page with some of his own students’ comments.
Some parts of the site are clearly works in progress – particularly his page directed at nurses.
I also think John-Paul would do well to create a new page on the site that’s about him. Without that, he comes across as a bit of a mysterious “behind the scenes” figure.
Imogen: I did discover a page about John-Paul if you click the “About” tab, rather than any of the “related pages” that appear underneath. These seem to be pages “About” the Technique, not more about John-Paul, so I’d move them to appear under “The Technique” instead. I think a bit of reorganization of pages would be useful – more about this in point 7.
There are many, many photos on the site, dominating the pages they’re on, including the homepage. Most show John-Paul teaching. Mercifully, there are no “strangulation” shots, skeletons or pictures of Alexander, but I wonder about the wisdom of having so many photos – and all of the same 2 students.
Imogen: I like the photos, but it would be nice to see them spread a little more throughout the site. I think having a lot on the home page, especially with the use of the slide show, looks great, but many other pages have none at all. Adding one image on most pages would help them be more visually inviting.
Crucially I think there is one particular photo that is missing – one specifically of John-Paul himself – maybe a head shot, rather than a teaching picture – on the page “About John-Paul.”
5. Overall Simplicity
The site has a fairly conventional navigation system with links across the top with drop-down menus, that are consistent from page to page.
Imogen: Yes, I think the site is attractive without being overly complex.
This is a major concern, particularly on the homepage where, for some reason, there are 3 boxes (“The Technique” etc in which the word “The” is huge) that take up a lot of room and seem totally out of place. The homepage is dominated by photos and these 3 boxes, with very little actual text, and it is way too long. In order to actually get to some content, you have to go to another page and I worry that the page’s layout discourages visitors from doing this.
Ditching the 3 boxes and replacing them with simple text would go a long way towards improving the site and make it far more likely that visitors would visit pages with actual content. It might also help if the second row of photos were removed as well.
Imogen: I agree, I think the top three boxes with “The” in big letters are a waste of space and don’t add anything either visually or in terms of information. I quite like the three images with information underneath though.
7. Ease of Navigation
The site has a structure that makes it easy to navigate.
Imogen: This is true, but I think that the way the menu of pages (the page tabs at the top) is organized could use a little help to be more effective. Working with John-Paul’s current pages, I would suggest: Home; About John-Paul (rather than just “About”); Alexander Technique (rather than The Technique), with a drop down list of the following sub-pages: Benefits, FAQs, Testimonials, Resources; Lessons (with a main tab of its own); News; and Contact.
8. Key Words and Phrases
John-Paul has the phrases “Alexander Technique” and “Marin County” in numerous locations throughout the site. Perhaps some bolding of key words in his text would help with the problem identified in Part 3 above – I suspect Imogen will say more about that.
Imogen: Yes, I think use of more headings and subheadings in a bold text would help a lot. Remember most visitors don’t read a website word for word; rather they scan quickly through to see if anything seems relevant to what they are looking for. I also think using a slightly larger text size throughout would be very helpful. Adding a line of spaces between paragraphs and points would be helpful too. Anything to help break up the page will help those key words and phrases stand out.
9. Use of Links
There is a Resources page with several useful links. I would suggest expanding that page, make the links themselves a little bolder and underlined to make it clearer to visitors that they are, in fact, links. There is a somewhat related issue with John-Paul’s AmSAT listing where it’s not at all clear that his website link is, in fact, a link to his site. Much better to actually write out alexandertechniquemarin.com and create a link for that.
Imogen: Absolutely. It’s not clear the links on the site are links unless you hover over them. Underline, often combined with a different color of text, is the standard way to indicate a link on the web – and that it is useful to do it that way. After all, you want people to know you are providing links! I also agree with the Robert about the way your site is listed on AmSAT and anywhere else on the web for that matter.
10. Something Free
There’s nothing free at the moment – I would suggest at least a free telephone consultation.
There is no audio or video on the site now. An audio or video interview with John-Paul (and/or one of his students) would help make potential students more comfortable with the idea of arranging a lesson.
Overall, John-Paul has an excellent framework in place that allows him to easily implement all these suggestions. Because he has a Word Press site, he can quickly and easily edit content and take advantage of the many Word Press add-on features such as the ability to embed audio interviews. I hope he is using a free plug-in to create automatic back-ups. He is apparently using the free plug-in to make the site show up well on smart phones and other hand-held devices. This is feature is becoming more and more important as web searches are move away from desktop computers to smart phones. And given John-Paul’s location in one of the wealthiest areas of a very high-tech region, this is particularly crucial. (However, the 3 large boxes mentioned in point 6 above waste a lot of screen space on a tiny smartphone screen.)
Imogen: I agree. The fact that John-Paul has a WordPress site which he can edit himself makes everything much easier. One additional point: I think the title of the site could use a little work. I know that John-Paul’s site is a work in progress and he’s already made improvements since I first saw it. Currently the title is “John-Paul Watkins, R.N. Marin County.” While it’s great that both his name and location are included, it doesn’t really tell the visitor what the site is. How about something like “Alexander Technique Marin County” as the title, and add a tag line such as “with John-Paul Watkins, R.N.” OR “Alexander Technique with John-Paul Watkins, R.N” as the title and something along the lines of “Marin County and the Bay Area, San Francisco, California” as the tagline or subtitle. This could evolve to include a business name or reference to your niche market as well.
That is a great assessment! There are a lot of constructive ideas or for improvements. Unfortunately, the whole conception and design process for the site was a comedy of errors. I wish I had discover Robert and Imogen earlier.