A guide to some common web site mistakes.
[Editor's Note: Like everything else on the Web, nothing is set in stone. This is one very educated opinion, and certainly not to be taken as gospel. Consider it a starting point in managing the design of your own site. All of Nick's points are important; however, the specifics are subject to some interpretation. I have a few places where I disagree with Nick's recommendations, and they are marked within square brackets at the end of his paragraph.
1. Undifferentiated Products or Services
A surprising number of sites offer products and services with no "online ordering advantage." This is especially true of health-related items, business services, book and information sellers and MLM reps. You *must* give your visitors a *compelling reason* to buy from you online.
2. Large Useless Graphics
Websters have the need for speed. Yet far too many home pages open with Large Useless Graphics (LUGs) that load slowly and make no contribution to the effectiveness of the page. Your home page should be 20K or less in file size -- *including graphics*. Spinning globes, stock photos, massive company logos, etc., take up precious real estate that could be better utilized used for benefit-related information.
[Editor's Note: I believe Dr. Ralph Wilson's guideline of 50-60K for the page is more reasonable]
3. "Welcome to My Site"
Phrases like this, repetition of your company name and other self-serving statements only cloud your message. Your home page and virtually every other page on your site should begin with a compelling, stimulating, interest-generating, *headline* or opening equivalent that tells your viewers "what's in it for me if I read this page."
4. Blinkers, Spinners, Scrolling Marquees, Counters, etc.
There was a time (that lasted about fifteen minutes) when these things were new and unusual. Now they are passe -- and in many cases, distracting and annoying. Counters especially have lost their usefulness. They are self-serving devices that have no purpose because most visitors really don't care how many alleged hits your site has gotten.
5. External Links -- Especially on Your Home Page
This is equivalent to having an office or storefront that leads to a choice of doors that go to other businesses. When a potential customer arrives, why give that person an immediate opportunity to leave and never return? If you *must* link externally, do it on a page that's buried deep in your site that can only be accessed after viewing the important pages on *your* site.
[Editor's Note: While you should definitely provide incentives for people to linger, external links do have many uses. I agree that they ought not to be prominent on a home page, but consider just a few of the possibilities:
6. Just About Any Award Logo/Banner
Most Web "awards" are dubious at best, and meaningless to most of your visitors. Awards are self-serving space-wasters that should be replaced with visitor-focused information that gives people a reason to stay at your site, not leave it to investigate the "award" sponsor.
[Editor's Note: As someone who has just begun going after awards for my site, once again I argue that awards have their place. They offer two benefits: third-party validation--ever-more-important as the Web gets more crowded--and marketing opportunities. As an award winner, you get to be listed on the award site, plus if you're media-savvy, you can send out press releases about your awards. Print media is not nearly as Web-savvy, and you may be able to get a fair amount of off-line promotion from your status as an award winner. But you won't find the awards on my home page! They're on a separate page, where people will probably not visit until they've seen some of the good stuff I have waiting for them.]
7. Typographical or Grammatical Errors
Seems obvious, yet many, many Web pages contain common spelling and grammatical errors. Your copy is a reflection on your professionalism (or lack of it), your attention to detail (or lack of it) and your commitment to excellence (or lack of it.) Why give visitors *any* reason to doubt you? Use spelling and grammar checkers to make sure your copy is first-rate.
8. Over Use of "We, Our, Us, My, Me, Mine" and Your Company Name
These are self-serving words that turn off readers. Instead, you should use words like "you" and "your." Before you post copy to your site, run a "find and replace" utility and check for the number of "you-words" against the number of "us-words." The ratio should be 4-5 "you-words" for every "us-word."
9. "Name, Rank and Serial Number" Information
It's *amazing* how many home pages begin, "The Acme Widget Company is a family-run business located in Cornfield County, Nebraska..." *Who cares?* What does this have to do with the benefits of your products or services? If you *must* include boring vital statistics like these, put them on an "About Us" page and give some reasons *why* these things are important to readers.
Many older browsers don't support frames. Many search engines don't index them properly. Many frames require scrolling to read the text and activate links. Frame scrolling bars take up precious real estate.
11. "Under Construction" Signs/Notices
What good does a page that isn't finished do for your visitors? It just wastes their time and could possibly frustrate or annoy them. Every page on your site should have a purpose or reason why it's there. Every page should also have a "call to action" -- what you want the visitor to *do* after reading the information.
12. Broken Links
This should be obvious, but broken links are all too frequent. Broken links are annoying, frustrating and unprofessional. Why make your visitors mad?
13. Missing Graphics
This should also be obvious, but missing graphics are all over the Web -- even on "professional" sites whose principals should know better.
14. Incomplete Contact Information
It's amazing how many companies try to remain anonymous and then expect people to do business with them. To maximize your credibility and believability, you should include complete contact information on *every* page. Use a physical street address, not a P.O. Box. Provide a "live" phone number, not a voice mailbox. List your fax number, and toll-free ordering number if you have one. And, of course, list an email hotlink to *you*, not your webmaster.
[Editor's Note: I agree with Nick about all except one item: the P.O. Box. As a home-based business owner, I've never publicized my street address in 17 years of operation. I give it to clients who make appointments. I live in a residential neighborhood, where publicizing the business would inconvenience my neighbors. And if I lived in an urban area, I'd be worried about crime. Of course, there is an alternative. For about ten times as much as a postal P.O. Box, you can get an address at a mail center such as Mail Boxes Etc. Then you'll have a street address, with a suite number representing your box.]
15. Home Page That "Scrolls Into Oblivion"
Despite the universal quest for information by Websters, most of them will *not* read long home pages that "scroll into oblivion." You should break up your home page to a *maximum* of three complete vertical page scrolls on a 14" monitor. Give visitors links and benefit-related teasers that lead to separate pages.
16. Cookie Nags That Appear More Than Once
Setting cookies can help you better serve your visitors. However, many people believe cookies are an invasion of their privacy. Don't "nag" your visitors more than once *per visit* to allow you to set a cookie.
[Editor's Note: If you don't know about cookies, they're little bits of information that a web site deposits on your hard drive. Some shopping cart and personalization software uses them, and some sites deposit several per visit. Many people surf with cookie notification: you're notified every time a cookie is offered, and have the option to refuse it. Nick's article was originally written for a highly knowledgeable audience that is familiar with this topic.]
17. Free Offers That Aren't Immediately Fulfilled
You *should* make some kind of free offer on your site that will allow you to capture visitor names and email addresses. But you should *only* do this if you can immediately fulfill your offer. Many sites offer free consultations or information, then fail to deliver. This can permanently damage your credibility.
18. Non-Secure or Confusing Ordering Procedures
Many sites have non-secure or confusing ordering procedures. Better to *not* request credit card info, etc., if you can't do it securely. Offer a mail-in, call-in or fax-in alternative. If you have more that 2-3 items for sale, invest in a shopping cart ordering system. Make it *easy* for customers to buy from you.
20. Plagiarized Material
This should be obvious, but many people take copyrighted material from other sites and pretend it's theirs. Doing this will eventually bite you and could lead to serious legal problems. The good news is, most people are flattered to let you use their material, if you give them proper attribution.
Nick Nichols, The Site Doctor (tm) will show you how to "Turn Your Email Signature File into a Lead-Generating Machine" New "Sig File Generator" Online Mini-Seminar will give you an attention-getting sig file in less than one hour--guaranteed! This is the fastest and cheapest way to get qualified leads.
This article originally appeared in John Audette's Internet Sales Discussion List.
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