I'm currently consulting pro bono for a not for profit organisation in Australia. I've discovered another website mistake worth mentioning. Using multiple domain extensions (.com.au) is a bad idea. Google will see two different websites and apply a duplicate content penalty. To fix it, use something called a permanent redirect from one domain to another.
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10 Critical Website Mistakes You Can’t Afford to Make (and How to Fix Them)
Your website is making at least one of these 10 mistakes.
Identifying them is the first step. Find out which mistakes your website is making and read our practical steps to how to fix them.
There are two main reasons why small business websites make critical mistakes:
- The person or team responsible for the design, development and maintenance of the website has only a design and/or technical background. No marketing perspective means the website has no sales focus.
- The website is a few years old and is using outdated technology or design principles that are frustrating. I’m sure you have experienced this yourself, it doesn’t take much for you give up and click away.
So does your business website have problems? Let’s take a look at most critical mistakes in business websites today.
#10 – Linking to PDFs Instead of Putting Content on your Website
I’m not talking about whitepapers and eBooks (these are excellent for building an email list for marketing). I’m talking about press releases, catalogues and general content.
The kind of content you know should be on the website but takes times to transfer. Like Geoff Andrews Direct. Ideally the catalogue would be on the website with an option to download the PDF.
Some people will claim that Google can’t index PDFs properly, but that’s not true.
However having unique dedicated pages for each product is going to give you a massive boost in search traffic. The other problem with linking to PDFs is that it’s a terrible user experience.
Depending on the person’s computer, PDF software and browser, their experience of viewing the PDF can be dramatically different. For the most part opening a PDF pulls the visitors away from your website and they can no longer interact with other content. As a general principle, keep the visitor on your website as long as possible.
Farmer’s Warehouse are doing it right. The design is a little dated, but every product has it’s own page built right into the website. And they even have a downloadable PDF as an option. Nice one!
DON’T only use PDFs as website content, transfer the content over.
#9 – Using a Shockwave or Flash Intro / Splash Screens
When it comes to small business websites, visitors don’t really care to see a fancy animation.
They are looking for information and anything that slows them down is likely to cause frustration. Sure it used to be cool back in 1999 to have a fancy flash intro, but that was because it was novel.
How many flash intro screens do you watch all the way through?
The folks at Tappas Sanctuary Cove not only made this mistake, but it has negatively affected their listing on Google’s search results:
The homepage of a website is treated as the most important by Google. It’s the ideal place to include keywords such as your products and service if you want to rank in Google for those word. This website ranks for “Skip flash intro”. Not a great term to rank well for and isn’t likely to score a click for the person searching for tapas food.
DON’T use flash intros on your website.
#8 – Large Blocks of Dense Text
As a general rule readers look for the easiest piece of text and skip over large blocks of text.
The University of Western Sydney is making this mistake by using three large paragraphs with no bullet points, images or videos. Visitors don’t want to waste their time having to read through complex paragraphs if they are not already interested in your product or service.
They want easily digestible summaries.
Large blocks of text absolutely must be split up with the use of:
- bullet points (they help to break up the text and force summaries of complex text)
- images (they draw the reader’s attention and if real and relevant people are used they hold the reader’s attention)
- videos (they get the reader to engage with the website and watch demonstrations or sales pitches)
As a tribute to the effectiveness of using video, a case study by the folks at Visual Website Optimiser increased conversions by 216% by adding an introductory video.
The designers at Webtrends have done an excellent job with breaking up their information with images and bullet points:
DON’T use large blocks of text on your website. Break it up.
#7 – Poor use of Colours and Contrast
Some websites just hurt your eyes when you look at them. Usually websites created in the 90s.
It takes a true web designer with design training to create a website with good colours and contrast. There are some colours that just don’t go together like the Bavarian Brathaus example from Website Pages that Suck:
The team behind Botero on the other hand have done an excellent job. The red of the product really stands out without hurting the reader’s eyes and the text is easy to read.
DON’T use stark contrast web safe colours on your website.
#6 – Complex URLs or Ugly URLs
A URL is text in the address bar. In the case of Dive Imports, the URL is considered complex or ugly because it uses data strings instead of words.
Ideally the URL should include important keywords such as the product’s category and name. Instead they have made the mistake of letting the eCommerce software define the URL with “productId=301” which means nothing to Google.
According to a study by SEOmoz on search engine ranking factors, the page level keyword usage makes up 15% of the ranking factors Google uses to rank a page. That’s actually pretty high given it is very simple to control.
Dive Imports really should have something like this instead:
If you do a quick Google search for “Drytop Snorkel” you will see that Dive Imports is ranking 6th.
You should also notice the the result for position #1 has the exact phrase in the URL. Not a good result for Dive Imports.
In my opinion, simply adding the product name to the URL would increase their rank to the top 3 for “Drytop Snorkel”.
DON’T use complex URLs or your website will never rank on Google.
#5 – Images and Graphics that Look Like Banner Ads (banner blindness)
Good websites have free branded downloadable content.
However many websites make the mistake of ‘advertising’ the downloadable content rather than drawing the reader’s attention to it with call to action buttons.
The Optometrists Association of Australia has a downloadable PDF, but readers are blind to the it.
Just take a look at this eye tracking heat map from UseIt and you will see that visitors just don’t notice anything that looks like a banner:
Instead of using banners to advertise downloadable content, you should use high contrast large call to action buttons.
Here is a great example of a 3D book cover and a contrast attention grabbing button. I’d be willing to make sportsman’s bet that this simple change would increase the number of downloads.
DON’T use banners that look like ads to promote downloadable content.
#4 – Bad use of Link Text or Anchor Text
Anchor text is the text that links to another website or web page. In terms of HTML it looks like this:
<a href=”http://www.designquotes.com.au”>Free Design Quotes</a>
The text “Free Design Quotes” is the anchor text and is clickable.
According to the SEOmoz ranking factors report, anchor text in 2009 made up 20% of the ranking factors (however this is more about links on other websites using anchor text).
Poor use of anchor text would be “Click here to get free design quotes”. That is telling Google that the page I link to is relevant for the word “here”.
Every page on your website should link to another page using relevant keywords as the anchor text. Of course the links should makes sense to humans and not only the keywords you want to rank for. This will definitely increase search traffic.
Do a quick search on Google now for “Click here” and you will see that Adobe ranks #1 because all the thousands of links that say “Click here to download flash”.
DON’T link the word here, link a relevant phrase.
#3 – Obstacles or Barriers to Checkout
The checkout process absolutely must be easy and require as few clicks as necessary. Swaggers Nappies requires the user to sign up before they can checkout. This is a real conversion killer.
Update: The owner of Swaggers Nappies has indicated that the required checkout process is the default setting of the ecommerce software they use. They also suggested that registration is an important part of marketing. I agree, I think that all eCommerce websites should have the option to register, but also allow for guest checkout to allow for a greater number of user types to buy products.
The most common barriers to checkout are:
- Too many form fields: the user gets bored and leaves.
- Too many validation rules: required fields that are missed will cause the page to reload and usually clear half the form fields forcing the user to do it all over again.
- Requiring sign up to checkout: All checkout processes should allow guest checkout with the option to sign up at the end.
DON’T force users to sign up to buy your products.
#2 – No Social Proof, Trust or Testimonials
In my opinion, consumers are more skeptical than ever.
They can spot marketing speak a mile away and they know when a website was built in a day. So while you are describing your products or services with great admiration, your reader is thinking, “How do I know this is true?”
You must build website trust with the use of social proof. Prove that your products and services are valued by real people. Here are a few ways to build website trust with social proof:
- Use the logos of other businesses that use your products or services
- Include testimonials from customers or clients
- Allow users to review products
- Allow reader comments on articles or blog posts
- Display the number subscribers to your content
- Display the number of Facebook fans or Google+ followers
Xero (Australian compatible web based accounting app) is doing pretty much everything right.
They are using a combination of recognisable logos and testimonials to help build trust in their product. Furthermore, they are using video and strong calls to action.
A word of warning with testimonials.
Don’t just make them up.
We are living in the age of social networking. Integrate Facebook or Google+ and solicit testimonials and reviews from people using their real Internet identities. A testimonial or review from someone using their Facebook account is much more believable than a photo of a random person and some text.
Better yet, have a dedicated page with a casestudy testimonial combination like Xero. Here on the Design Quotes blog we use LiveFyre comments so people can comment using their Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn accounts.
DON’T forget to include testimonials on your website.
#1 – No Call to Action
A call to action is an explicit direction to click on something or interact with something.
This could be clicking a button to download a report or completing a form to generate a sales lead. Every website page needs to have a goal and a call to action even if that goal is as simple as telling to visitor to go to a different page.
First take a look at the Deloitte page on business consulting. They are using Google Adwords to rank for “business consultants” and sending traffic to this page:
There is not a single call to action.
Only very standard looking links and one barely noticeable “More” button. It’s very likely that a high proportion of the traffic they are buying from Google is leaving the website almost immediately (known as bouncing). On the other hand, take a look at Rapid Business Growth:
They have used the 3D cover technique and a big download button (the call to action) to capture the visitor’s email address for use in an email marketing campaign (the goal). In addition to the lead capture form, they have also put their phone number very clearly visible in the top right part of the page to encourage the visitor to call them (second goal).
From what I’ve seen while consulting on AdWords campaigns, Deloitte would be getting about one lead for every 30 visitors (about a 3% conversion rate) while Rapid Business Growth would be getting about one lead for every 5 – 10 visitors (about 10 – 20% conversion rate).
Rapid Business Growth are doing it perfectly.
DON’T forget to use strong calls to action on your website.
All of these mistakes are pretty common but easy to fix. All you need to do if spend an hour or so reviewing your website and checking if you have made any of the 10 mistakes listed here. Write down the problems and some ideas for fixing them.
If you run your own website, aim to address one problem per week. Otherwise, submit the a brief to your website team or even outsource the project to a web design company or freelancer.
What other mistakes have you seen small business websites making? Post a comment and let us know.
If you have addressed a mistake on your website since reading this post, we would love to hear from you!
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Each of the websites ( xero uws deloitte ) referred to in this post have been notified. I'm very happy to provide live free advice right here on the blog comments section if any of the website owners get in touch. Perhaps as a community we can all pitch in to improve each others websites with the tips from this post.
@DanielDuckworth Hey thanks for this post Daniel. I just received the link in my inbox as part of your newsletter although I noticed it's from 2012 - no probs.
I am having a customer with a .com.au extension; do you think it is better if we went .com only; ditching the .au bit?
thanks, and great website here!
@RobElings I would go the other way around depending on where their client base is. If their clients are mostly in Australia then go with the .com.au as there are some SEO benefits to using country specific domains. If the clients are all over the world go with a .com and use example.com/au/ and example.com/fr/ with unique content that targets the country.