Whether it is used to sell consumer goods, promote specialized services or offer technical support, a well designed and constructed Web site is an increasingly important part of the business strategy for organizations of any size. Whether you own a large company, a small business, a non-profit or are working solo in a micro business, your Web site can quickly become the primary mean through which your potential clients discover your goods or services offerings. It is up to you to ensure that this virtual storefront is usable and looks as professional as possible.
Here are 5 of the most common mistakes people make when building Web sites of any size which can contribute to your loosing visitors and money. Avoid them and you may sprint ahead of your competition…
- Not taking the time to plan your Web site project
One of the most serious mistakes a site owner can do on a new Web site project or a re-design is to rush the process and skip the planning stage to “save” time and money. They want to go directly to the creation of a visual mockup which is often the first “sexy” deliverable a Web professional creates. Do NOT make this mistake…The creation of a graphical mockup is of course an important step in the (re) design of a Web site but, it should be based on some prior research and planning stages if you want it to meet the projects needs and objectives. Even the simplest Web sites should be built to meet specific business and user objectives and it is essential to define these objectives at the very start of the project, before any visual design or development work begins. A lack of planning can create a series of issues and problems, some of which are described below.
- Not taking the site’s users into consideration
Unfortunately, even in this era of Web 2.0 and User Centered Design, too many site owners still make the mistake of filling their Web sites with content that has little to no relevance to their site’s visitors (like mission statements, lists of board members, etc). Worse yet, they fail to “speak” to them in a language that highlights the benefits of their products or services for their potential clients. People don’t want to know what you do; they want to know how you can help them… This is a crucial nuance that should be reflected in the tone and language used on your site and in the visual design itself.
Too many businesses still design their Web sites in a way that is entirely centered on their own internal processes and not on the actual needs of their customers. People are not interested in how you do your job and even less so in the org chart of your company. If you absolutely need to include that type of information, put it on internal pages. It absolutely does not belong on the home page! Instead, identify some key issues or pain points your customer may be facing on a regular basis and speak to them using active language describing how your product or service can help them tackle those issues or eliminate them. In short, don’t say “We are company X owned by company B and we do this and that” but instead, say something like “we can help you solve your problem X and let you save 3 hours a week in the process”. That will catch a potential customer’s attention in a way that a spec list never will. Think and write in terms of benefits from the perspective of your customers. They are the primary reason you are having a Web site done isn’t it?
- Writing using specialized jargon
This point is in fact a more specific category of point 2 but I believe it warrants a mention on its own as it still is too common a mistake. If you operate in a very technical or specialized field but are doing business with consumers directly, it is essential that you try to communicate with your customers in as plain a language as possible. It is almost impossible to eliminate all technical jargon but your textual content should be clear and understandable for neophytes that know little about your field. Again, attract potential customers by describing benefits and not detailed technical descriptions which can be added to internal pages but should not appear on the home page of the site.
- Choosing a visual design based only on aesthetics and personal preferences and not on the project’s objectives
This is another of the most common and costly mistakes made by Web site owners (or for any graphic design work). Many people that have no experience in graphic design do not make the distinction between a designer and an artist’s process but their respective approaches are completely different.The design decisions made by a professional designer (color and typography choices for example) need to be based on the project’s objectives and not on purely aesthetic personal preferences. But unfortunately, many site owners will judge a design concept on exactly these subjective criteria alone. Do not make the same mistake. If you hired a proven professional designer, studio or agency, they should have conducted prior research into your industry, your competitors and your specific needs (see point 1) and it is based on the analysis of that data that they can create a visual concept that meets your specific needs and those of your customers. It is of course the designer’s responsibility to explain their work and design decisions to you adequately and how these meet the project’s objectives. Your responsibility is to try to judge the design using the same objective criteria even if you have no design training or experience. Whether the CEO’s wife or your receptionist loves or hates a specific color is irrelevant. For example, if the project’s objectives mandated the creation of a visual concept that was primarily warm, lively and engaging, then blue would not be an appropriate color to use in the design as it is a cold color (whether it is your favourite color or not). On the other hand, if the objectives mandated giving an impression of tradition, solidity and strength, then a darker blue would be an absolutely valid color choice (look at the branding of most banks for example). Let your designer do their work. If you hired a professional, they will base their design decisions on the project’s business objectives. It is based on the same criteria that you should judge their work or ask for any changes, not on your personal preferences. The design of your organization’s brand is very different than decorating your living room…
- Poor quality copy, spelling mistakes and overly long pages
The text content on your site is its substance. It is what search engines will use to help your potential customers find you so it is very important. Unless you hire a professional copy writer to do it, it will be your responsibility to create this content. Do not skimp on this task or make the mistake of underestimate the time it will take to do it right. With that said, there are 2 main mistakes you absolutely need to avoid when creating copy for your Web site:
- Spelling and grammatical errors
- Overly long pages
The first issue should be obvious but it still too common to find poorly written copy with a number of spelling mistakes and inaccurate language on business Web sites of any size. Even if your design is fabulous, poorly written copy will leave an impression of non-professionalism and even carelessness. If you don’t or can’t afford to hire a professional to write your site’s copy, there are tools (even free online tools) that can help you create error-free and grammatically sound copy. These tools won’t write great copy for you but they will help you avoid embarrassing mistakes…
As for overly long pages, it is an even more common problem. Many Web site owners try to fill their sites with way too much text, especially on the home page. The home page is absolutely the wrong place to describe your organisation or services in minute details. Instead, use an active tone with short phrases that describe how you can help your potential customers solve specific problems or pain points in general terms. Make it about them. Long lists of specifications or process descriptions do not belong on the home page. Keep this kind of content for interior detail pages you can link to from the home page. Your site’s visitors can consult them if they want to find out more.
Again, good planning at the outset of the project can help you avoid these mistakes when there’s still plenty of time to fix them and tweak the site’s copy or structure. That is where Information Architecture comes in. In very simplified terms, Information Architecture can consist in doing an inventory of existing content, separate it into categories, create the site’s structure and navigation based on those categories and creating the hierarchy of information that appears on the all important home page as well as other pages (wireframes). It is important work that must be done rigorously.
As you can see, taking the time to plan a project carefully at the outset is essential to its potential success. It also helps determine the specific objectives upon which the visual design and development of the site will be based as well as give you criteria from which you can measure the site’s performance and success once it is launched. Good planning can help you avoid costly mistakes and it really is not in your best interest to skip it to try and save a few dollars. The same way that you’d never start building a house without detailed blueprints, you should never start creating a Web site without planning it first. You can proceed quicker and in less detail for smaller projects but, as complexity increases and requirements pile up, planning and strategy become essential if you do not want to make the mistakes described here. If that happens and you have to rework the site or start from scratch, believe me when I tell you that it will end up costing you a lot more than the money you were trying to save by skipping the planning and strategy stage…