HOW TO AVOID THE MOST

COMMON WEB SITE MISTAKES

Think Of Your Visitors and Their Needs First

by Joelle Steele

Here are some tips to help you get a better response from your Web site visitors by repairing or eliminating potential problems on your Web site. Begin by remembering that you have a Web site to get more business, and to do this you must always be thinking about your visitors first and their needs and expectations. Your Web site may be written by you, but it is written for them.

NAVIGATION LINKS

Studies show that if your visitors can't find what they're looking for, they will simply leave and look elsewhere. And they leave, literally, within seconds! Put all your navigation buttons or text links in ONE PLACE where EVERYONE can find them, and put them in that exact same place on every single page. If you have sub-webs, put global navigation links at the bottom of each page too. Make it easy for them to find what they want and need.

CONTACT INFO

Next to your home page, the contact page is the single most important page on your Web site. The whole purpose of a Web site is to have people contact you, and yet many Web sites do not have contact pages at all or bury a tiny link somewhere in the site. You are on the Web where E-mail is the preferred form of communication. Make it easy for a prospective customer to contact you. Don't make them fill out a form either. Studies show most people will not fill them out. At the very least, you should give your visitors the option of filling out the form OR using your E-mail address. Answer your E-mail every single day. You will lose a lot of business if you don't.

WRITING

The World Wide Web is completely driven by words, not images. Images are just decorations for the most part. Put the bulk of your work into the words. Write in plain, simple language. Come straight to the point. Your visitors are looking for information that will tell them if you offer the products or services they want. Make it crystal clear to them exactly what it is that you do. State this clearly in the first sentence on the page — especially your Home page. Make your titles and subheadings clearly state what your page or article is about. Check your spelling. Proof your work. It's possible to have a typo now and again, but some Web sites read like someone's 5-year-old wrote them. Also, it's okay to write long articles within your Web site, but keep your Home page as brief and concise as possible. Also be sure that it says where you do business and what you do.

READABILITY

It's true that smaller typefaces get read more carefully than do overly large ones, but if you're going under 10 pt type for your basic text, you are really stretching it as far as readability is concerned. And please stick with fonts that everyone has on their computer so that they don't end up reading a bunch of lines that overlap. You're always safe with Arial, Times New Roman, Garamond, Trebuchet, and Verdana because they are part of every PC's basic font set. Another readability issue is the contrast between tiny letters and a background that makes them even harder to read. Studies indicate that people read longer (stay on the page longer) when the text is dark and the background is light and free of patterns. Preview your Web pages at different screen resolutions in different browsers and on different computers, cell phones, and other hand-held devices to make sure your Web site is fully readable by all your visitors.

PHOTOS AND IMAGES

Your logo is important to your visitors and so are photos of your projects or products — and of you and your employees. Use pictures of real products and real people, not stock photos of models. If you're going to use photos of your workers, let everyone know in advance that their photo is being taken so that they can look their best. If someone takes a bad photo, don't use it. Try again. If they just look too unpleasant or unapproachable, don't use their photo at all. Make sure your images are not all blurry because they are low resolution and you or your Webmaster enlarged them beyond the limits of clarity. And make sure your photos and images are really there. The average small business Web site is less than 10 pages, so it doesn't take that long to go online and look at each of those pages to make sure that all the images appear correctly and fix any that don't. And, if you have a product to sell, make sure that its image is large enough for the visitor to get a true idea of what it looks like. Put up different views of it, if necessary. If you opt to hyperlink a thumbnail image to an enlarged image, make that enlarged image at least half the screen size, and be sure it is crystal clear in all its details.

ADS, GRAPHICS, AND ANIMATION

Please, keep these to a minimum, or at least organize any ads or logos you are hosting so that they don't interfere with reading your content. Studies show that visitors perceive a lot of ads and logos randomly placed as distracting, and they do make your Web site look overly busy and junky. And, as for animation, most of it is just incredibly annoying. The same is true of special effects like "fading" or "dissolving" the page as you move from one page to another. You know, just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. Make it easy and fast for your visitors to find what they want and need with a minimal amount of unnecessary distraction.

TOO MANY CLICKS TO NOWHERE

Don't make a visitor click more than twice to get to what they want. There is no reason to force them to click to one tiny little piece of text that links to another tiny little piece of text, that links to yet one more tiny piece of text, and on and on and on. Just put it all on the same page. You're making work for yourself, or making more work and paying more to your Webmaster for unnecessary pages, and in the end your visitor does not benefit from it at all.

SPLASH SCREENS AND LOADING SCREENS

If you want to present a pretty video, make it an option for someone to select and view, not a requirement before they can even get into your site. The "loading, please wait" screens and the ones that show the percentages of how much has loaded are a waste of your visitor's valuable time, and the splash screens, especially the animated ones, are nothing more than a showcase for the graphic capabilities of the Webmaster, but they serve no purpose other than to delay getting to the information on the home page, especially when the "skip intro" option doesn't even load until the animation is almost over. Studies show that most people don't even wait for these features to load — they simply leave. Introductory splash screens and videos can also prevent your Web site from being indexed properly by many search engines if your page is not coded properly, and these pages often load very slowly, even on cable modem.

MUSIC AND SOUND EFFECTS

Music can be even more annoying than unwanted videos and moving graphics. I love music — have a huge music collection and never leave home without my iPOD. I even used to own a recording studio. But when I'm visiting anything other than a music Web site, I agree with studies that show visitors find it annoying, especially if they are forced to listen and can't turn it off. Let your viistors turn on sound and as easily turn it off.

HYPERLINKS

These links to other pages in your own Web site or to other Web sites must be kept updated if you are going to put them on a page at all. You should check them at least once a month. It is amazing how many people take their Web sites down after only a short period of time, and when a visitor clicks on one of those dead links on your pages, and then the next one is also a dead link, it starts to look like you just don't care. Can you see your credibility dropping? Also, as a general rule of thumb, make sure that all your links show up in a different color when they have been followed. This helps the visitor know where they've been so that they don't end up clicking on that same link again.

POP-UPS

Pop-ups are why we have Pop-Up blockers. What is worse than having one pop-up ad after another? Nothing. And pop-up pages re-set the BACK button, so you have to "x" out of them to get back to wherever you were. Again, studies show they are rarely even looked at because the visitor just gets irritated at the interruption and hits the "x" to make them go away.

WRONG TITLE, WRONG PAGE, PAGE NOT FOUND

You've probably experienced these at least a few hundred times! You type some keywords into your search engine, the list comes up, you see a title that is just what you're looking for, you click on it, and it's an entirely different subject or you get a 404 Page Not Found Error message. To avoid having this happen to your visitors you must do three things. First, always delete old pages from the server when you delete them from your Web site. Second, if you replace text with new text, change the page title meta tag in the HTML code so that it matches your new content. Three, use a custom error page so that instead of the 404 Page Not Found Error message. Your visitor will instead be directed to one of your own Web pages, complete with its navigation buttons and an error message that you have written that redirects them to the information they were seeking.

I launched my first Web site in 1992, currently have several active Web sites up and running, and have been surfing the Internet since before there was a World Wide Web. In addition, I teach the basics of Web site creation for small businesses in continuing education classes at local colleges. I first wrote this article in 2000, and then I revised it in 2002, 2006, 2008, twice in 2011, and now again in 2012. Web sites are one of the best forms of advertising to come along in years. But remember, for best advertising results, always think of your visitors first when you design yours.

This article last updated: 10/13/2013.