e-Diets doesn’t feed you enough reasons to join their program


by Robert W. Bly



            I had mixed feelings when Don Nicholas asked me to take a look at www.ediets.com as my first Web site review for IMR.

            The reason is my weight. You know those height/weight charts you see in the doctor’s office? Well, according to that chart, I am seven-foot-eight!

            So I knew visiting a diet site would be an unpleasant reminder of my ongoing battle to leave porker territory.

            On the other hand, I’d be going to a site that offered me genuine benefits that I seek – mainly weight loss -- a site where I would be a legitimate potential customer.

            1. Brand Preference – C. Sends confusing messages or subjugates brand to higher authority.

            On 2/15/04, when I first clicked onto the www.ediets.com home page, the main graphic featured a picture of Victoria Principal with some article titles, and it seemed to deliberately resemble the front cover of a women’s magazine – in particular, Lady’s Home Journal.

            So right away, as a male, I could not relate to the home page. Maybe eDiets is mainly targeting women. But half of the 100 million or so males in America are overweight, too.

            The home page is what I call “tabloid style” – lots of interesting little items to choose from. Unfortunately, with a tabloid style home page, there’s no single point of focus, and no unifying positioning copy to tie it all together or define the brand of the site.

            Although the large magazine cover graphic catches the eye, I was drawn to an interactive box which said “Lose 20 Pounds by March 25.”

            You enter your height, weight, and age -- and then click through a series of screens asking you more questions, so that eDiets can design a customized weight loss plan for you, for which they charge $11.96 a month. Along the way, you are offered a number of free e-zine subscriptions and information on advertised products, which makes it a little bit confusing and overwhelming.

            The request for $11.96 a month at the end of the process came as a surprise to me; I somehow thought everything would be free. The reason it surprised me was that there is no “sell” copy preceding the questioning process.

            So being asked for money came as a bit of a shock. And I didn’t buy. That’s just my personal reaction; I have no idea what the actual conversion rate is.

            Interestingly, when I went to the diet plan questionnaire to run through it again, I was immediately served a page that said, “Welcome back, Bob. We’ve saved all your information. Click here to view it now. Click here for a special offer for return visitors!”

            When I clicked on the special offer for return visitors, however, it was the same $11.96 a month I had been offered earlier. I didn’t see what was special or different about it.

            2. Strategic Intent or Purpose – C. Too many actions to be taken.

            There are way too many choices on this site. At first glance, you’d think that’s a good thing: lots of valuable content.

            But unlike sites with a lot of free downloadable content, most of eDiets seems to cost money. So again, it’s not quite what you’d expect, as you get asked for a few dollars almost everywhere you go on the site.

            If the lead product is the eDiets plan I was offered for $11.96 a month under the box “Lose 10 Pounds by March 25,” then I might suggest a split test of the current site vs. a product-specific, long-copy micro-site. This dedicated micro-site would center solely on getting people to sign up for the eDiets plan, and eliminate all other content and options.

            Once people sign up for the eDiets plan, then they can be directed to the existing site – part of which could be password-protected for eDiets plan customers only – where they can explore the other resources such as fitness and recipes.

            3. Content Webification – A. Innovative use of interactivity and multimedia technology.

            The eDiets site helps users choose which information program is best for them. Choices include diets, meal plans, exercise programs, and support. The site then communicates with you daily and automatically with e-mails containing timely, personalized information and inspiration.

            There’s a lot of interactivity that allows advice to be customized based on age, weight, and body mass index, and other factors, which adds a sense of legitimacy and credibility. After all, how can you give me exercise advice if you don’t know how lean or heavy I am, or what kind of shape I am in (oval, in my case)?

            A lot of the advice is customized based on your answers to online questionnaires, but the questionnaires are often not designed well.

            For instance, a Diet Needs Analysis asks me “What kinds of foods can you NOT live without?” The choices are fruits and vegetables; meat, poultry, fish, and eggs; and breads, grains, and cereals. But the system only allows you to choose one category. What if you are addicted to both meat and bread?

            4. Relationship building – A. Clearly invites visitors to personalize Web site content.

            Few sites I’ve seen are more personalized and interactive than www.ediets.com. The content you receive is tailored based on your eating habits, exercise routines, weight, health, and other relevant personal data.

            5. Community building – A. Site clearly invites visitors to become involved with other members.

            At the top of the home page are buttons that let you select different areas of the site -- and community is prominent among them. You are invited to join a community of other health and diet-conscious eDiets users; the cost is $1.99 a week.

            6. Persistent navigation – A. Does an excellent job at letting users fulfill goals.

            Actually, I’d give it an A minus. Overall, the choices and pathways are clear. But sometimes, the screens are slightly overloaded with offers, ads, and links.

            7. User task depth – A. User was able to complete all four tasks.

            There is never a problem in completing questionnaires or going through the steps to get to the offer or content you seek. My primary complaint, as mentioned earlier, is that questionnaire design is not always logical.

            8. Affordance – A. Links and buttons clearly do what they “afford.”

            There are lots of links to a multitude of services and content on the eDiets Web site … and all links are clearly marked and easily accessible.

            9. Labeling and language – A. Audience centric, has good representation of key words and phrases.

            All terms are in the target prospect’s language: weight, exercise, diet, meal plans, recipes, fitness, personal trainer. There’s no nutrition or medical jargon of any kind. Everything is written in plain English aimed at a lay audience.

            10. Readability (content density) – B. Does a reasonable job of balancing graphics to text.

            The pages are relatively clean and easy to read. In some instances, however, too many options and items are jammed onto the screen, creating a slightly cluttered look. But it never gets confusing, and you can always figure out how to find what you want – and what to do next.

            11. Organization (marketing quadrants) – A. Marketing quadrants are appropriately exploited, navigation OK.

            The site is sensibly organized into sections, which you can choose from either using the buttons at the top of the screen or from boxes and sidebars within the screen.

            12. Content freshness – F. The update schedule is infrequent or unclear.

            I can’t tell from looking at the site how often content is updated on the Web site or how much of it changes. But I’m not sure that’s a problem here, since the new content is delivered to users proactively via e-mails for the services they sign up for.

            So if I follow the strict definitions of the Mequoda Scorecard we use at IMR, I have to pick F for content freshness. But I suspect it’s better than that, and probably more like a B.

            13. Load time – C. Under 50 seconds on 56K for text—moderate graphic load.

            The site isn’t overly graphics heavy, and I don’t really see flash or other rich media. On the broadband connection I use, pages download instantly.

            However, the Web Page Analyzer (www.websiteoptimization.com) showed that it takes 31.62 seconds to download the www.ediets.com home page using a 56 Kbps dial-up connection … which rates the site only a C for speed on our Mequoda Scorecard.

            14. Aesthetics – B. Supports the purpose of the site, but confused about user mental model.

            As I mentioned earlier, this is a tabloid-style home page offering a potpourri of offers, pathways, and options. Many successful Web sites are designed in this manner.

            However, when you first hit the home page of www.ediets.com, it’s not clear what the site operator wants you to do next. If it’s to sign up for the eDiets program, which seems to be the primary product, the user is not clearly directed toward that action.

            Do layout, colors, and typefaces fit the site’s image and purpose? On the day I visited, the main graphic looked like the cover of a women’s magazine, featuring a big image of Victoria Principal. Images that were more representative of fitness and diet – for instance, men and women exercising and showing off slim bodies (or even before and after pictures) – would have served eDiets better here.

            Conclusion – overall grade: B+.

            Overall, eDiets is an attractive site with a lot going for it: interactivity, customization, personalization, desirable content, contemporary graphics, and the promise of some powerful benefits: lose weight, get healthier, look better, and feel good.

            If it were mine to do, I might test the current www.eDiets.com – which seems to offer access to all of eDiets services equally (as well as those of its sponsors) – against a dedicated microsite whose sole purpose was to get people to sign up for the $11.96 a month eDiets plan.

            Those who sign up for the plan can then be directed to the current site. There, they can explore and sign up for additional services, such as recipes and personal training. There should also be additional content for these paid subscribers, which they can access with their password.

            Anyone who tries to leave the microsite without signing up for the eDiets program should be served a pop under Window offering a free subscription to one of eDiets many free e-zines. This would allow eDiets to capture the e-mail address and send a series of e-mails via autoresponder attempting to convert these free subscribers to paid eDiets plan buyers.

            About the author:

            Robert W. Bly, a freelance copywriter specializing in direct marketing, is the author of 60 books including The Online Copywriter’s Handbook (McGraw-Hill). His e-mail address is rwbly@bly.com and his Web site is www.bly.com.