7 Unprofessional Mistakes Small Businesses Make On Their Websites
- Benjamin Kuker
- March 01, 2011
Most of us use the web almost every day. We shop, socialize, read news, follow celebrities, get directions, watch videos, and do business online. We access the internet on our desktops, laptops, phones, tablets, and TVs. The ever increasing role of the internet in our lives means that if you own a business, your potential clients and customers will visit your website at least once during their interactions with your business.
How well does your website represent your business? Do you even have a website? What kind of impression does your website make on visitors who could become customers? Do you convey a professional, competent image? Are your visitors able to find the information they need?
As the owner of a Vancouver-based web design company and a heavy user of the web, I’ve seen my fair share of business websites and not all of them have been pretty. In fact, some of them have been downright frustrating to use. And others, dare I say it, have made me cringe to even look at them because of the design.
If your business has an unprofessional website, you’re driving away potential customers and ultimately it means that you’re losing money. There are a few common issues that many unprofessional websites share. As I cover each issue, I’ll also point you towards a solution.
1. Poor Design
The instantaneous nature of the internet means that you have literally milliseconds before your visitors make a subconscious judgment about your website. The judgment is formed from dozens of factors including color, design, images, typography, style, website copy, and more. If you don’t pass the split-second glance test, many users will hit their back button and leave your site and your business behind forever.
Your design says a lot about who you are. As a professional business, you need to put your best foot forward. An amateur or low-cost design often results in subpar business results. A visitor may look at a cheap or sloppy design and make the same association to your business. Even though you might save money in the short term by going with a cheap design, you’ll end up hurting your bottom line over the long run.
Most businesses won’t need to spend tens of thousands of dollars for a good design. For simpler sites, you should be to have a professional design for between five and ten thousand dollars. Having a unique, professional design that accentuates your business goals should be your main design criteria.
2. Usability Issues
A design may look marvelous, but if your website doesn’t work, you have a problem. There are now 5 major internet browsers ranging between 2% and 44% in market share. All of those browsers also have several different versions floating out there, each with their own display quirks. There are also an increasing number of mobile browsers. Does your website work in all browsers?
Usability issues aren’t just the fault of browsers, however. Do your menus work? What about your contact forms? Do any of your pages have 404 or database errors? Does your site take forever to load?
The cures for website usability issues are to be aware of the most common problems that arise and to conduct testing. A good web designer will both be aware of browser idiosyncrasies and perform extensive testing to your website before it launches.
If you’re ready for a website redesign, make sure you take a good look at the website of your web designer and their most recent portfolio items. If the layout looks off in your browser or if certain areas of the website don’t function, your site could end up with similar usability issues.
3. Lack of Information and Purpose
It can be extremely frustrating to visit a website and not be able to find the information that you’re looking for. What good is a restaurant website without a menu, directions, or pictures of the cuisine? How about band website with no music samples? Or a news website with no news?
Every business website should have one or more goals and every page on a website should have a purpose. You have your business goals, but your users also have their goals. The most successful online businesses find a way to make money by helping users fulfill their goals.
4. Too Many Hoops to Jump Through
This mistake usually occurs when a business wants users to fill out a form. Forms are a source of friction for users and are one of the top reasons for business goals not being met. As a business, you want to gather as much information about your market as possible, but there is a delicate balance between asking for too much information and too little.
Forms can be intimidating. Many users aren’t proficient with a keyboard and others don’t want to share information about themselves or spend a lot of time filling out a long form. Many forms are also poorly constructed, erasing information if an error occurs or not explaining what kind of input is needed.
Entire books have been written on creating usable forms, but it boils down to this: keep it simple and ask only for the absolutely necessary information. Do you really need both an email and a phone number right away? How many steps are necessary for a quote? Does the checkout process have to include a full TSA security check?
Keeping it simple applies to other areas of your navigation as well. Don’t hide information behind a maze of pages just to drive up your page views or to make it seem like your site is bigger than it really is. Make your information easily accessible and also include a good search function on your website so that users can find what they’re looking more quickly.
5. Unprofessional Content
The written and image content of a website have every bit as much impact on perceived professionalism as the website design and here I’m not talking only about grammar, spelling, and poorly-taken photographs; although each of those things all matter very much. The subject matter of your content also needs to be professional, on-topic, and focused.
For example, if you have an ecommerce store that sells pet supplies, should you really be using that same site for blogging about your political views? Or if you have a consulting business, do your potential clients want to read about your weekend partying in Vegas? Do your Fortune 500 clients really want to watch videos of your cat?
The best cure for avoiding questionable content, especially if you have multiple content providers, is to develop a set of content guidelines. Lay out a set of standards against which every piece of written and multimedia content should be checked. The guidelines can be as simple or as detailed as you feel you need, but simply having them and using them will help your content retain focus and professionalism.
6. No Methods of Contact
Every once in a while, I’ll come across a website that doesn’t list any contact information. More often, I’ll find sites that don’t have enough contact info. If you’re a business on the web, not having any or enough ways for your clients to reach you is a cardinal sin. You’re losing business and you’re missing out on opportunities to interact with your clients.
While some small businesses simply don’t know any better, others fear the amount of spam they’ll receive by posting their email address or using a contact form on their website. Spam is a very real problem, especially since much of it is automated, but it’s part of the necessary cost of doing business on the web. There are ways of dealing with web spam and with a little work, you can get rid of 95% of it, but you’ll never be able to eliminate it completely. However, would you rather have a little spam and happy clients, or no spam and no clients?
Put as much contact information as possible on your website. Different people like to communicate in different ways and you should do your best to accommodate your clients.
I need to mention on other thing in regards to contact information: email addresses. I find that many small businesses, even those that have a website, don’t have an email address associated with their website. Often I’ll see Yahoo or Gmail email addresses or even email addresses associated with internet providers. Simply put, any moderately web-savvy client will see such addresses as a sign that you don’t really know what you’re doing on the web.
If you have a website, and you should, take the time to set up an email account with your website. It usually should take 10-15 minutes and I don’t know of any domain registrars or hosting companies that exclude email addresses as one of their services.
7. Unnecessary Elements
Using unnecessary elements is a common issue for all websites, big and small. As an example, many websites feature an intro page that plays a short video clip before loading the rest of the site content. While a business might feel that the video clip showcases their business well or is even just neat and interesting, it’s important to remember the user’s perspective. Do they really want to wait for your movie to load or do they just want to access your site? What happens if they want to revisit your site? How many visitors are you turning away by having the intro screen and video?
Other unnecessary elements that often appear on website are auto-playing music or video. Users will often have their speakers turned up because they were watching a video, talking on Skype, or playing a game. However, if your site suddenly starts playing audio when they aren’t expecting it, it can cause frustration or even embarrassment for your users. Neither of those emotions are feelings you want associated with your site or business.
Other, more subtle elements that are unnecessary are things like link pages, poll widgets, website chat boxes, and welcome messages. As I mentioned before, each page on your website should have a main purpose. It’s good practice to take each element of each page and ask how it helps accomplish that purpose. If it doesn’t objectively do anything to contribute, that element should be discarded.
What We Can Do For You
If you’re a small business, we can help you make sure that your website is both professional and effective in accomplishing your business goals. While I only listed 7 points for this article, there are literally hundreds of different factors that we consider when we create a website for your business. We handle the technical and creative sides, but we can also help focus the business goals of your website as well. You can take our tour by looking at our featured work and learning about our web design process. Send us an email or a quote request and we can begin working on a plan that will propel your business forward on the web.
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