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BACK TO BASICS: The Tortoise & the Scare — Addressing Your Site's Purpose

by Virginia Nussey, October 17, 2012

Audience: Site owners, marketers

Estimated reading time:  5 minutes


  • When it comes to the design of your site, simple solutions are often better for user experience.
  • Know the purpose of your site, and the design often falls into place.

The benefits of pet ownership are well documented. Pets have been shown to reduce risks of depression and loneliness. Pet owners have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and thus a lower risk of heart disease. And studies suggest pet owners have fewer headaches and less trouble sleeping.

My tortoise, Hiccups, is my pride and joy. Obvious bias aside, I believe owning a tortoise affords additional benefits. By caring for a cousin of dinosaurs, you're communing with an animal considerably further down the evolutionary ladder than your friends with fur. Reptiles aren't the most cuddly or beautiful of pets. They can't do tricks on command. But they've existed relatively unchanged for millenniums because they work in this world.

How does this relate to your website? When launching a website, take a moment to get back to the basics – the real reasons your visitor needs your site. You know the old tortoise and that jumpy hare? Forget the flash-in-the-pan fireworks, and design a site that puts performance first.

The Tortoise Tale

One of the drawbacks of tortoise ownership is that your pet makes it her job to hide. That shell is actually like a metaphor for her personality, which is that when in an unfamiliar or otherwise threatening situation, she seeks out protection. In many cases this means hunkering down in a safe spot.


Hiccups is a house tortoise. She's given free reign of the apartment. Once she's done milling about or eating or socializing, she finds a dark corner and cozies up. Outdoors, she finds shelter in ground cover or low-lying brush. When we go on outings, let her out of your sight for five minutes and you can lose her to a shrub.

I've spent too many afternoons marching in a battalion of little Filipinas — me, my mom and my grandma turning over every leaf in my parents' backyard. The last time this happened I vowed to solve the problem of finding my wandering pet by some better method than crying out hysterically. A microchip? GPS? Satellite? 

After some research into what other tortoise owners have tried, I discovered that the best solutions were also the simplest.

Simplest Solutions Work Best

My initial research on how to track down Hiccups when necessary started with pet GPS online. However, the available pet tracking product is bigger than her head, and would be difficult to mount to a beast of her build.

Then I found online that one creative tortoise owner has tried and rated a number of low-tech tracking measures, from reflective stickers to balloons to harnesses. The best solution? A colorful piece of yarn attached to her shell with Velcro. You find her by following the string like a trail of breadcrumbs.

What's so great about simple solutions? They're often easier to use than complex rigs and have an intuitive interface. They're less likely to break or malfunction than more high-tech solutions. And everyone can use them, regardless of your technical limitations. This is the lesson you should apply to your site's functionality.

I rented a karaoke machine a couple weeks ago and I got into a conversation with the business owner about his website. He asked how I'd found out about his karaoke rental business. A Google search. This was especially interesting to him since his website was redesigned from a Flash website to an HTML site just months prior.

He told me that the Flash site wasn't being picked up by Google at all. He said that inquiries had gone up since the switch. He was interested in expanding his area of service to surrounding counties now that he owned the local city traffic. 

The big win came when he eliminated the fanfare and designed a site that first and foremost solved the problem at hand: providing information about his product and service. His song list, pricing for the different available systems and contact info. Simple as that. 

Not so simple it leaves anything out. Not so complicated it forgets its purpose.

Unmasking Purpose

It's Halloween season and the spooks are out. I heard about a haunted house in my area for adults only. While current trends may suggest scantily costumed co-eds, the adult label here refers to signing away your rights to litigation. This haunted house leaves brave explorers with post-traumatic stress disorder and sleep deprivation from fending off the shadows in your dreams.


The fears that Blackout Haunted House plays to are ripped from modern news headlines, not supernatural fiction. One reviewer's memories were singed with the experience of being hooded and water boarded and stuck with realistic-looking fake needles. 

It warns of dramatized violent and sexual situations. While there's very little blood and no monsters to be found, an estimated one out of seven people who enter the house, end the experience before it's complete by yelling "safety!"

Contrast this with a competing spook experience, Hellbreak LA. The Flash website features undead-looking demons and cheesy noises and graphics. An animated website and characters from a Halloween horror movie aren't nearly as powerful as the darkness lurking in everyday threats.

True terror addresses the purest motivations of fear, stripping away the storybook fantasies and honing in on fears like assault and torture and the evils of the real world. 

A parallel can be drawn to a business's online presence; a website that gives users what they want will make the most meaningful impression.

The lesson we can take from the house of horrors and the animal who carries her house on her back? The most meaningful solution is best. No gimmicks or tricks. Get to the core of what the audience cares about. Or scares about. Or crawls about. Get back to the basics.

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