If you haven’t read Pixels and Pill’s post on the Challenges of Getting People Involved on Your Website, you should go get acclimated (and really, why aren’t you reading them?). Their four major challenges are: Failure to understand the audience, stale content, being boring and overly-complicated navigation.

Those are all valid arguments, but I think they are unnecessary. In the end, there is only one hard and fast rule about how to make a great website and here it is: Give people something useful. Everything else is decoration.

Here’s an example: Amazon.com. Until last week’s redesign (which is pretty nice), I loved to refer to it as the ugliest web site everyone uses. There was too much stuff, it was everywhere, the navigation was a mess, etc. And yet, a good percentage of all internet traffic went through its doors (and more importantly, a good percentage of all online sales were on Amazon). They broke so many design and user experience rules, it was almost funny. And yet, because they gave people something useful, they thrived.

Depending on who you talk to, they thrived for differing reasons, like the blind men and the elephant. Amazon is so big and complicated, they thrived because they sold everything, or because they offered professional and user reviews, because they could lower shipping costs, because their logistics gave them a price edge, because everyone knew they could be trusted, because they held users’ credit card numbers on file for easy purchasing, etc. No one reason is THE reason, but together, they helped Amazon work.

But the underlying message is that Amazon worked really because it offered its users something they wanted and needed. Users want products, selection, speed, security, convenience, more information, all that. Because they gave people what they wanted, they could afford to break most of the other (lesser) rules.

And here’s where things get tricky. Pharma isn’t in a position to give people what they want. Well, pharma is, but pharma marketing sure isn’t.

What do consumers and HCPs want from pharma? On-label content? No, they can get that anywhere. Marketing materials? No, no one wants your marketing materials. Your reps have a hard time delivering them to people and they’re willing to make an appointment and wait in the waiting room with a gift.

Um… that’s pretty much all you can give them in a branded way, right? No matter how good your navigation is, and how “exciting” your marketing is, its not content your audience really wants. I mean, they don’t hate it, but would they cross the street to get it? Look at Amazon’s example: their site was so ugly and a pain to navigation but it didn’t matter because it gave their users something useful. They almost had to work at getting it.

So where does that leave pharma?

Comment! Tell me you love/hate the new design! Tweet me! Complain and argue!