We’re all Northern Rock ‘shareholders’ now, thanks to its nationalisation earlier this week.

So we’ve done our bit and had a look at its website for some suggested improvements…

  • Improve the colour schemeWhite text on a black background is rarely a good idea from a user experience perspective. It is harder to read and can cause eyestrain.

    This may work for some sites, but is inadvisable for banking and e-commerce offerings with a lot of text content.

    Northern Rock homepage

  • Create a more useful homepageOther financial sites like Abbey and Natwest devote their homepages to useful links to the rest of the site and various products.

    Northern Rock, however, chooses to put all the navigation links in a small area at the top and gears the rest of the page towards promoting its fixed rate access bond. A better balance is needed.

  • Add a site search optionMany users prefer to use the search tool to find what they are looking for on a site, rather than the navigation links.

    Other banking sites have a search box, but not Northern Rock. Nor is there a site map. These are two fundamentals of best practice, with regards to websites.

  • Ditch the registration process Ok, this even more stupid than the chancellor’s dithering. To view any information on loans, accounts or mortgages, visitors to the site must register first. Utter, utter madness, and clearly no good for Google.

    Registration is a lengthy process and seems completely unnecessary, especially if you simply want to browse the loan rates on offer (which, under EU guidelines, should become less competitive, in case you were wondering).

Northern Rock registration

  • Drop the annoying mortgage application pop-upsBrace yourself, for this is truly pathetic. Click on ‘apply online’ and you see a pop-up message, which tells you that you have two and a half minutes to wait while it downloads:

    Mortgage application pop-up

    Natwest, Abbey and so on make their forms appear almost instantly and waiting this long is annoying. I would love to know the dropout rate here. Surely this is terrible coding? Why must it take so long? This is truly a sub-prime experience.

    In fact, it’s even worse than that. Here I am, still waiting, some five minutes later, staring at a blank screen (PS – my connectivity is cable broadband, so this really is unforgivable): 

    Northern Rock

  • Sort out the loan and bank account applicationsSimilarly, if you apply for a loan or savings account, you get the same pop-up screen which fails to load, meaning that online applications are impossible at the moment. Can you believe we taxpayers now ‘own’ this junk?
  • Server strainWhen the Northern Rock crisis initially began back in September, the website was unable to cope with the strain, taking around four minutes to load up. Business will have dropped off since then, but it is crucial that websites can be accessed at all times, and that they can deal with traffic spikes.
  • Sort out the public ownership announcement

    Currently, clicking on Northern Rock’s Google result takes you straight to this page:

    Northern Rock message to customers

    This is fine, and is obviously crucial information for customers.

    The problem is that the message comes up again when you click on other options, such as ‘company info’ or the link back to the homepage, so you end up seeing the same message again and again. Groovy.

  • Crack down on brand-biddingNobody at Northern Rock seems to be monitoring Google too closely, judging by the number of other, unrelated finance sites bidding on the company’s brand name.

    Google search: Northern Rock

  • Change the shareholder pageThis page should be replaced with something aimed at the bank’s former shareholders. A ‘bad luck’ message perhaps.

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