5 Mistakes Businesses Make With their websites

What are the big mistakes that you should beware of when reviewing your website? Here's 5 of the most common pitfalls, and how to avoid them.

1. Not having a marketing strategy

Before investing in an expensive website it's important to consider how people are going to find it and why they'll choose you over the competition in your chosen channel.

Having a website built with no consideration of how it will be found is a bit like printing out lots of brochures and leaving them on a street corner. The internet is not a “magic marketplace” where your target audience will magically arrive upon a new website and race to become customers.

While Google does in theory allow people to find your website without you doing anything beyond putting it online, in practice there will already be lots of competition on any of the major keywords related to your business.

You're not going to jump straight to the top - or even to the first few pages - of google results other than for searches that actually include your business name.

If you want your website to actually drive sales then you will need to have some kind of strategy beyond “organic search” for getting your URL in front of people (networking, social media, telesales, AdWords, SEO, etc).

2. Focusing on the business internals and not the customer

This is typified by websites where the content is preoccupied with the company history rather than than the benefits their products and services offer. It might interesting to the business owner (particularly if it's their “baby”) but is unlikely to be a big factor in a customer decision.

Picking a couple of obvious examples:

  • Barclay's website focuses upon the mortgages they can offer, and not that they were founded in 1690 or that they operate in 50 countries.
  • Dyson feature a “Save £100” offer to get people shopping – inventor James Dyson's' biography is absent, even though it is an impressive success story.

The principle applies to smaller businesses too. Imagine you are looking for a builder to do a loft conversion. You may be interested to know that they're a family run business with 30 years of experience because it shows they're well established and (presumably) basically competent.

But there is more important information (e.g. quality, price, process) and better ways of demonstrating it. How about -

  • genuine, detailed, customer testimonials to demonstrate satisfaction?
  • professional high-res photography to actually show the quality of work?
  • blog posts or FAQs demonstrating expertise and experience?

When planning website content think hard about what would actually encourage you to get in touch rather than business internals.

3. Cutting corners on bespoke imagery and design

When a prospect arrives at your site from search results it is just one of many that they could have clicked through to. It's trivially easy to hit the back button and visit one of your competitors instead - and if their first impression of your site is below par that's exactly what they will do.

And when I say “first impression” - this is a decision being made within seconds of your website starting to appear on their screen.

Given the speed with which users will abandon your website it's vital that the first thing they creates the right impression. This means relying upon professional, bespoke design and photography rather than stock/template/amateur supplies.

The saying that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” applies to the use of non-professionals. If you don't know what professional photography or design entails it's easy to assume that anyone with a half-decent eye and digital camera / photoshop can do it adequately.

Well, I have a drill and have put up a few shelves in my time but I wouldn't offer to build a kitchen extension. Sure I can do it – as long as you don't mind it taking a very long time and aren't fussed about the quality of the results.

The gulf in quality between professional and amateur work is clear once you see it, and it'll be obvious to your visitors too. Even if amateur photography isn't obviously sub-par, it'll never have the “wow” factor of a professional shoot.

On the subject of stock photography: Stock photography is technically of a good standard but it tends to be quite generic. And you don't just want your key images to be technically good, they also need to reflect your brand values. Ideally so that visitors instinctively have a feel for what you are offering, and why it's different from the competition within seconds of laying eyes on your site.

“Visually driven industries such as home decoration, apparel, and accessories are particularly sensitive, but most industries are affected. Setting a good first impression is desirable in any vertical, and an aesthetically pleasing layout with large, high-quality images goes a long way in setting a positive tone for the shopping session regardless of industry.”

Baymard Institute, Ecommerce homepage and category best practice report

4. Not using calls to action

A “call to action” is an invitation for the reader to do something. Examples of calls to action are

  • “Contact us for a free consultation”
  • “Click here to sign up for our newsletter”
  • “Download your free e-book here”
  • “Donate now to get your event invitation”

Having had a prospective customer visit your website and hang around long enough to read some of it, you want to do everything in your power to encourage them to get in touch.

Ideally visitors will be so inspired by what they've seen that they are positively compelled to throw money at you. Realistically they'll benefit from a little bit of help along the way and calls to action can be used at to nudge people in the right direction.

As in the examples above, they're most effective when combined with some kind of incentive, but almost any call to action is better than none at all.

5. All aboard the magical mystery tour

It's frustrating when a website doesn't provide clear navigation, or there are links with no indication of where they go. This can be due to a complete lack of appropriate labelling, but it can also be through confusing terminology.

A prominent example: What is “Tesco direct”? Regular customers of Tesco's might know that it's for online non-groceries sales – that's certainly not obvious.

“The option “Tesco direct” didn’t make much sense to the subjects who were new to the site and brand. Even those with a bit of prior site experience (although not frequent visitors) were confused. Here, a subject looking for a camera explained: It’s always been a bit difficult to find your way past the groceries in Tesco’s, but then they have … ‘Direct’ … that … uhmm, I wouldn’t have guessed it to be the right one..”

Baymard Institute, Ecommerce homepage and category best practice report

Another example is that of pages that shows only a grid of images to “tease” content, with none of the images having any kind of label to indicate what kind of content it represents.

For example: http://gavinpotenza.com/ and http://mikekus.com/. I hasten to add – these are beautiful sites - but it's not obvious what the various images indicate.

A basic tenet of good usability practice is “Don't make me think”, from the book of the same name. Here, the user is forced to visit every link until they find the right one. It's time consuming. Information becomes available when you hold your mouse cursor over each item – but that's not making it easy for the user and neither is it practical on a touchscreen device.

Make it easy for visitors to find what they want through clear terminology and intuitive navigation. It would be possible to incorporate some kind of labelling system into these pages without disrupting the minimal lines.

Thanks for reading – if you'd like advice on any of the subjects covered here, please don't hesitate to get in touch.

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