Are you missing out on sales because of a badly executed website? Here are ten common blunders to avoid online.
1. Making a bad first impression
Just like in the real world, first impressions count online. It’s all too common to land on a website, be instantly put off and jump back to other search results. As a website owner, the back button is your enemy, so make sure you engage the visitor as quickly as possible. Within seconds of landing on the homepage, the purpose of the website should be obvious. If you’re running an e-commerce site, your homepage should get straight into the products. If you’re providing a service, you should have a short, snappy introductory explanation. People skim text on the web, so be concise.
2. No clear focus or objective
When structuring a website, it is essential to have in mind at least one key business goal. Is it so sell a product? Is it to provide entertainment? Is it to generate enquiries? Once you’ve identified this goal, it should be used throughout the decision making process for building and maintaining the site.
3. Bad navigation
If a website has good navigation, you’ll barely notice it. But if it has bad navigation, it will drive visitors crazy – it’s so frustrating to be clicking aimlessly around a site trying to find what you need. A common mistake is not including a search option on the site. Some users prefer search to menus, and others will use it after exhausting all other options.
4. Getting in the way of a sale
When a visitor has made the decision to buy a product or make an enquiry, the last thing you want to do is make it difficult for them. Typical mistakes include: forcing users to sign-up to the site before making a purchase; not including common payment methods; asking for too many details on checkout or enquiry forms; and not making contact details prominent enough on the site. Only take the information that is necessary for the sale.
5. "Build it and they will come"
Sadly, they won’t. Getting visitors to your website is hard and requires time and effort. Companies can spend huge amounts of money promoting their sites and still fail to get significant traffic. A low-cost and effective way of generating more traffic for your site is to write informative, useful or amusing content related to your business. Articles such as “Top 10 tips for X” work particularly well (irony noted) – these are the type of articles people search for and link to, making them great for pulling in the punters.
6. To blog or not to blog?
How many times have you seen a blog where the last article was posted months or even years ago? It’s a common occurrence and creates an impression that the company has fallen off the map. Businesses often start a blog because they feel they ought to. Blogs are cool, right? But a stale blog is worse than none at all. If you’re going to do it, you need to be serious and invest time and effort.
7. Breaking convention
Over the last 15 years, common design conventions have emerged on the web – for example: putting a search box in the top right-hand corner; having the main menu across the top of the page or down the left-hand side; using a shopping cart on your online shop. Ignore these at your peril. It’s okay to want to stand out from the crowd, but conventions make browsing easy for visitors. A difficult site will result in lost revenue.
8. Misusing Flash
Flash is probably the most misused technology on the web. It was never designed to create entire websites, yet there are plenty of businesses out there that have done just that. So, why is it such a bad idea? Firstly, Flash is bad for search engine optimisation (SEO), meaning Google and the like have a hard time indexing it, so that’s reason enough to avoid it. It also doesn’t work on the vast majority of mobile web browsers, so relying on it will alienate a percentage of visitors to your site. This will only get worse as the web becomes more mobile.
9. Forgetting to test with real users
It might seem like a huge "buy" button is going to be obvious to everyone, but the only way to verify this is to test it. User testing in its simplest form is easy – sit down with a few people in your target market and ask them to use your site. Give them a task like "find and purchase product X". Observing them using your website is often an enlightening experience – that button may not be so obvious after all. If you don’t have easy access to your target market, services like www.usertesting.com will do it for you.
10. Ignoring the statistics
Google Analytics is your friend. It will show you what pages are popular, how long visitors stay on the site and where in the checkout process users are likely to give up. These metrics will help you to identify what works and what doesn’t.
Alex O’Byrne and Piers Thorogood are co-founders of We Make Websites: professional, responsive web experts.