Posted December 10, 2007 by Nick Lindauer in Reviews

Website Review: Pittsburgh Pepper Company

The response to my post here has been fantastic and behind the scenes I’ve been exchanging a flurry of emails with folks. And all the while, I’ve also been trying to figure out the best way to present these reviews, so please bear with me as the kinks get worked out. With each of these reviews there will be a whole lot of information given and there will be some information that won’t be published – both for the sake of the reader and because I’m trying to keep these as high level as possible so as not to bore those that may not be as interested in the goings on of the sites. So, with that disclaimer blurb, let’s take a look at the website of Pittsburgh Pepper Company.

Pittsburgh Pepper Company

Background: The Pittsburgh Pepper Company makes a series of wing sauces (review here) and it’s a company that’s run by brothers who both work full time and are not experienced with any website design at all. They would like to see more sales from the website and they’re primary target with the website is consumers.

Homepage & Overall Improvement Points:

      Color scheme: There’s way to many colors on the site. The amount of textual content on the site is great, however the primary text should be 1 color (like black) while the links need to be another color to make it clear to the user that they are links. In fact, the text on the homepage that is underline that appear to be links are in fact not links.
      Background & Layout: This website is not a fixed width website – which means different users are going to see different things. If you stretch the window as in the image above, you’ll see 2 sets of the trees and the end of the snowman. I would recommend that this website stick to a fixed width of 900 pixels – that way they can guarantee that each user has the same experience. The background snowmen are a great seasonal addition, but they distract from the text on the page. Remove the background imagery and fix the width of the site.
      Meta Tags: Behind the on page text, there is a series of meta tags that are actually fairly well done. The only thing that needs to be corrected is the title tag, not only on the homepage but on every page of the site. The title tag of any page should be descriptive to the content on the page and also include the primary keywords for the website/page. For this example, instead of using the title tag “Main Page” – I would suggested using something along the lines of “Pittsburgh Pepper Company Wing Sauce” or “Pittsburgh Pepper Company: Official Wing Sauce Partners of the Pittsburgh Penguins”.
      Navigation: Left hand navigation is a great start – users will always look to the left of a site on instinct to find where they need to go on the site. However, navigation on any site needs to be clear – do not reinvent the language of navigation and do not make the users guess where they are going or what they are looking for. Also, it’s important to keep the links in order of what you want the user to do (and to see) and also think about using sub headers for each category of links. In this example, we have shopping links mixed in with information links and user resource links.
      Sitemaps: I also do not see a sitemap on the site. Sitemaps are very important, not just for your users, but for the search engine spiders. A sitemap should contain a link to every page on your website. However, do not just generate a page with a bunch of links. Make a sitemap so that it’s useful to your users first and search engine spiders second. Once the HTML version of the sitemap has been created, I would also suggest that an XML version be created and submitted to Google Sitemaps.
      URLS: I noticed while clicking around the site that at one point users are redirected from the domain to – which is obviously the cart provider for the website. First, it’s a good thing that the url says it’s secure -but I cannot get back to the primary domain after visiting the checkout page. Not only does that make for a bad user experience, but it’s also not going to help in term of spiderability for the search engines.
      Misc. Thoughts: The homepage of any site is not going to be the first page of your site that users see, however it’s one of the most visited pages on all sites. The homepage needs to convey what the company is about and tell users what they should do on the site. With the 4 products that they sell, I would suggest adding 4 thumbnail images of each of the products with product names, mini discriptions and prices underneath them. I would also add a logo of the Pittsburgh Pengiuns and explain what that partnership means. If possible, get a link from the Pittsburgh Penguins website using the text “Official Wing Sauce of the Pittsburgh Penguins”. Tone down the holiday overload. Yes, showing some seasonality is a great way to show that your website is current and up to date, but don’t detract from your companies theme and overall personality.

Pittsburgh Pepper Company

Product Pages/ Checkout

      Gifs: The flashing .gif at the top of the page needs to go. It’s annoying. I would suggest added a 4 block graphic to the left hand navigation panel or the footer of each page that is static. A simple logo of each payment method accepted will suffice.
      Content: A user does not need to be told what to do on a website, especially on an ecommerce website. This day in age, user know what to do and how to buy on a site, but if your website is so complicated that they need to read on how to use it then you are doing something wrong. Don’t ever leave it up to your website visitors to figure out what to do on your website. Make it simple. KISS – keep it simple stupid.
      Checkout Path: Okay, so I’m sold on the sauce and I want to buy. I visit the catalog page, where I can click on any image or text and be taken to the product page. Once on the product page, what do I do? I can no longer click on the images, but I can click on the link. Okay – so I click on the product link and there I can add the sauce that I want to my cart. There’s 1 too many steps in the process. A good rule of thumb is that a user should never be more then 2-3 clicks away from a purchase on any site. I would either remove the product jump page completely or move the add to cart button up a page and get rid of that page. Either way, a page needs to go.
      Product Pages: A product page should tell everything you want a user to know about your products and everything they might want to know about your products, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Keep the pictures clear and consistent. Let’s look at the Garlic Wing Sauce Page:
      – The description on the page reads “A unique sauce, blending garlic with our special spice blend.” and that’s it… Okay, that is not enough to make me want to buy this product and it’s definitely not enough for me to determine if I want to buy this sauce or one of your other sauces instead. And I don’t even know how big the bottle is or whats inside of it. I know the nut panel on the label has a lot more info on it – so use that and put it on the product page. List the ingredients. Tell them what size of bottle they are getting and how far that bottle will go for them. Give the user some suggested uses. Tell them why they might like this one more then the other sauces you sell. If it’s won any awards, put logos of those awards up on the page.

Now there’s a ton more of items that I can point out and there are a lot of quick wins that Pittsburgh Pepper Co can implment to start to see an increase in sales. I would suggest to them that they examine the overall process from the customers standpoint and rebuild their website with the customer in mind. Since they are a small company, I would recommend that they checkout some other hosting solutions and change from dtcbuilder. Paypal checkout may be a pain in the ass for some, but it will allow them to utilize a trusted payment provider and offer a secure environment for their customers information. Bringing the checkout process closer to the customer and creating a consistent enviroment (with a little bit of marketing) will also help to increase sales. Overall, a complete website re-design needs to be done but with only 10-15 pages, it won’t be as big as an undertaking as it seems.

Nick Lindauer

The Original Hot Sauce Blog