A special Mother’s Day article about designing websites for women. Is your website female-friendly?
Women are earning, buying, and influencing at a greater rate than ever before: female consumers account for $7 trillion in spending in the U.S. and over the next decade will control two-thirds of consumer wealth. Women make or influence 85% of all consumer purchases and are responsible for buying over 50% of traditional male products, including automobiles, home improvement products, and consumer electronics.
You go, girl.
So why is it that 91% of women say that advertisers don’t understand them? Marketers are stuck in the past, creating campaigns and websites targeted at a female persona somewhere between Barbie and the Stepford wives. It’s time to drop these preconceptions about what makes for a “female-targeted” website and embrace the 21st century.
Myth #1: Women need their own gender-targeted websites.
Several years ago, Dell Computers launched Della, a website pitching their new lightweight notebook computers. The pastel-colored site, supposedly a less “mannish” design than Dell.com, was generously packed with imagery of women and their laptops doing popular “female activities”: meditating in a field, drinking coffee, and browsing the 'net with their girlfriends. Under the “Tech Tips” page, Dell listed uses for the laptop: calculating calories, looking up recipes, and playing guided meditations.
Seriously? Yes. This site was real. Despite the fact that 75% of women disagree with the statement “men are more comfortable with tech than women” (Broadcasting & Cable), Dell chose to dumb down its content to try and appeal to women, stripping away technical specs and focusing on the lifestyle approach. The backlash was harsh and Dell quickly changed some of the site’s language to be less patronizing.
There's no need to create a gender-specific website for your product. If your website isn't appealing to all audiences, your problem is much bigger than just creating a pink version of it. Often when a company tries to split its audience along gender lines, its makes the mistake of generalizing each segment, turning to commonly-held stereotypes.
Apple.com has been praised as a female-friendly (but not female-specific) website.
Why is Apple female-friendly? Women experience sites holistically, unlike men who prefer to compartmentalize their interaction. This translates into the use of white space and fewer dividing elements or boxes if you want to design a site that appeals to women. Another great example of this open, clean design concept is Mint.com.
This is not to say you shouldn't experiment with using segmented landing pages in your marketing campaigns. For instance, you could run a paid search campaign targeted at working moms and design a landing page experience that speaks to that demographic, while another campaign and landing page would be targeted at working dads.
Myth #2: Sites for women should be pink.
There are definitely products and companies out there, unlike the previously mentioned examples of Dell and Apple, that only produce products for women, such as shoes, make-up, wedding dresses, and feminine hygiene products. Let's look at some examples from these categories:
Note that none of these are “pink” websites. Some companies out there do use pink as part of their branding, such as Victoria’s Secret, and while their retail stores may be rich in the color, the VS website tastefully uses pink as an accent color, rather than an all-over palette.
You don't need to douse everything with pink and pastels to make a “female-friendly” site. Other design faux pas include:
- Scalloped borders
- Curly Victorian ornaments
- Script fonts
- Rounded corners on everything
Don't forget…you're designing for women, not girls. If your site makes Barbie's playhouse seem austere, you’ve gone overboard.
Myth #3: Women don't care about tech specs OR Women need a lot of copy to convince them to purchase.
On the Della site a lot of the technical information was stripped away and replaced with more lifestyle copy, following the idea that to make a female-friendly site, one only needs “shrink it and pink it.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, other female-targeted websites clutter the page with flowery descriptions highlighting the product's benefits in dense paragraphs. Ultimately, theses sites are saying little while talking a lot.
Both extremes demonstrate a failure to remember that women respond to the same general rules of web usability that men do. Copy should be concise, but persuasive. There should always be a clear call to action and straightforward guidance on how to move throughout the site. These rules about copy apply to all users, no matter what the gender.
If you want to try to create female-friendly copy, consider the voice in which you are writing. Women have been shown to respond favorably to friendly, conversational copy more than men. Inject personality into your copy and be straightforward in presenting information.
Myth #4: Imagery like this
Look at your most recent designs or ads targeting women. Can you answer “yes” to the following three questions?
- Do you feature a woman outside of the home?
- Do you feature a woman in a role other than "mother"?
- Do you show a woman doing an activity that’s NOT yoga?
Many marketers turn to stereotyped images of women in life: Women happily cleaning their floor while wearing pastel colored cardigans. Moms always attached to their children’s activities (soccer, school, lunch/snacks). Pore-perfect models skillfully showing off their Downward Dog. Heaven forbid women are troubled by issues greater than spilled spaghetti sauce on the counter. Remember this, advertisers:
Myth #5: Women like imagery of the young and youthful.
According to eMarketer, Boomers (whose median age is 55), spend more time and money online than any other demographic. Yet, this market is essentially neglected by most advertisers and marketers. According to Why She Buys, in a global study conducted by Unilever in 2006, nearly 60% of women aged 50 to 64 felt that if magazines were reflective of a population, a reader could likely believe that women over 50 do not exist.
The female Boomer is a HUGE viable market, and yet, marketers patronize this demographic by assuming men are the primary purchase makers or that they should only market their products to a younger demographic. Let’s look at the facts (source):
- Disposable incomes are highest for women aged 45-54.
- Women aged 35-54 represent the highest proportion of web surfers compared with male Boomers.
- Even in traditionally male-dominated categories, Boomer women are responsible for more than half of the purchase decisions.
- They make 80% of home improvement decisions
- Buy 65% of all new vehicles
- Spend more than $55 billion dollars on consumer electronics
It’s no tough feat to see that the female Boomer is the hot demographic right now, but be cautious of how you market to this group, because you'll run into just as many stereotypes and pitfalls as you would marketing to women in general.
Baby Boomer women are independent
Don’t show imagery of older women relying on men for financial security or for stability (sometimes literally leaning on them). They may have grown up in an era where the man was seen as the breadwinner, but it’s 2012 now and a majority of them don’t hold that same belief. Also be aware that it's not uncommon for women this age to be divorced or widowed and happily living life alone.
Baby Boomer women are very active
These women don't spend their days mourning over lost youth, empty nests, or stiffening joints. For many, this point is a shift from “mom” to “me.” This is the time to start a new business, go back to college, travel abroad, pick up a new hobby, etc. Don't be patronizing and refer to Boomer women as “golden”, “mature”, “seniors”, or even “middle-aged.” Appeal instead to their sense of adventure and energetic curiosity.
There are hundreds of books and blogs and studies about how to market to women. People tend to want a bulleted list of what women want and how women think, but it comes down to an honest truth: life’s not that black and white (or blue and pink).
Men and women can’t be categorized into two extreme Others. Often what works for one audience works because it follows a greater concept of good user experience. Good design will appeal to both genders.
When you first embark on designing a website for women, start with basic user-friendly concepts: clear navigation, persuasive headlines, readable copy, strong calls to action, and quality imagery. Create a strong user experience foundation before you begin tweaking the design to appeal to a specific gender.
HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY FROM ALL OF US AT ADPEARANCE
I'd like to send a special Happy Mother's Day to my own lovely Mama Walker, whose love and support and insistence on Susan B. Anthony dolls instead of Barbies made this article possible.