These days there seems to be a million-and-one blogs out there pitching the latest tips, tricks, and techniques for how to optimize your business website to make more money. Harder to find, however, is conversation around the simplest, most basic principles of website design that many small businesses continue to get wrong over and over again. Principals that, when ignored, can render a business website ineffective at best and totally useless at worst.
That's why we've decided to highlight 5 of the most fatal mistakes that small businesses make when building a new website. We've also included practical advice on how to avoid them, so that you can ensure your business's new website will be well-equipped to provide the value you intend.
1) Not providing a clear call to action
One of the most common mistakes that businesses make with their websites is not accounting for how short people's attention spans are on the web. In many cases, companies provide too much non-essential information on their homepage, overwhelming the user with too much text and providing little to no direction for what to do next.
THE PROBLEM: Consumers who search for products and services online want to find what they need FAST, which means you have a very small window of opportunity to get your message across to a first-time visitor of your website.
WHAT TO DO: When designing your company's website, think about the most important action you want people to take when they visit. Maybe it's to buy a product, subscribe to a newsletter, or request more information. Whatever that action may be, make sure you provide a clear and obvious path to it on your website such as a button, form or link. If getting to the desired next step requires digging through endless paragraphs of text or a cluttered navigation menu, most of your visitors will immediately move on. After all, your competition is just a click away.
2) Neglecting mobile & tablet users
Today, smart-phones and tablet devices are becoming an increasingly popular way for people to access the web. It's predicted that in just four years, 65% of the US population will own a smart-phone or tablet, and as a result, a growing number of your website's visitors are going to be viewing your site using one of these devices.
THE PROBLEM: Smart-phones and tablets have special requirements and limitations for how they process web content, which can prevent your website from displaying properly, or at all, on a mobile device if your site is not built to accommodate them.
WHAT TO DO: When creating or re-vamping your company's website, make sure whoever you hire is up to date on the latest design standards for smart-phones and tablets. Ask them how they plan to design your website so that mobile and tablet users will be able to easily view and navigate it.
3) Not investing in high-quality multimedia
It's unfortunate that at a time when the web is becoming more dynamic than ever, many business websites still look like the inside of a textbook: Pages and pages of lengthy text, and only the occasional small picture for decoration.
THE PROBLEM: Users today expect a lot from your website - they demand the ability to interact with your business through a rich, multimedia experience. Without high-quality images and video on your website, you site will look bland and uninteresting on today's high-definition screens, giving people just another reason to click over to your competitor.
WHAT TO DO: If your resources are limited, focus on your site's homepage. In most cases, the majority of the homepage screen should be filled by some visual element, be it a photo, illustration or video. Choose something that is compelling and relevant to your business. When your budget permits, it's always best to hire a professional to create something that will be unique to your company. If you're going to use video, always allow the user to press "Play" rather than letting it start automatically, as your site's visitors should feel in control at all times.
4) Not using a Content Management System
As we've already seen, nothing will turn away a potential customer like seeing the signs of an outdated website. In order for your website to keep generating value, you need to periodically update its content so people can know you're still in business and ready to serve them.
THE PROBLEM: If your site was built without a content management system (CMS), you'll need to dig through some scary code in order to change even the text of your website's pages. Unless you have a trustworthy go-to developer on hand, that will mean not only taking the time to find an appropriate candidate, but also paying a hefty bill for the changes.
WHAT TO DO: When creating or re-designing your website, ask potential providers if the websites they create are powered by a content management system (CMS). Any CMS is better than no CMS, but it's safer to stick with the most trusted and well-supported options out there. Today, WordPress continues to be the most widely-used CMS, though Joomla and Drupal are popular alternatives.
5) Forgetting about it as soon as you launch
The single easiest way to ensure your company's website will fail is to never think about it again after the day you launch it. It's an easy trap to fall into: When you run a small business, there never seems to be enough time to handle even day-to-day operations, let alone marketing your business on the web. If you're like many small business owners, it wouldn't be unusual if 4 or 5 years slipped by before you even began to think about your website again.
THE PROBLEM: Since its beginning, the web has evolved at an incredibly fast pace. Design standards, coding best practices and search engine requirements change very quickly, and if you let years go by without addressing these advancements, you'll end up with a website that looks out of date, doesn't function properly, or isn't easily found. Any of these will mean lost business for your company.
WHAT TO DO: In order to keep your website current, you must be proactive about maintaining it. As a general rule of thumb, plan to examine your traffic reports and search engine rankings once per quarter, and re-evaluate your website's design about every 2 years. If being proactive about your website seems a bit unrealistic, you might want to consider working with a development firm that offers some kind of ongoing services in these areas. While it will cost a bit more, paying a professional to keep tabs on your website and plan for needed changes will be well-spent insurance against major headaches and lost business down the line.
Hopefully this guide has convinced you that building a successful website for your business requires neither a massive investment nor a degree in rocket science. By simply steering clear of these 5 mistakes when building your new site, you'll ensure that you have the essentials covered and be ahead of the competition.
Sean Butze and Ross Beyeler are partners at Spark Launch, a Cambridge-based web development company that strives to provide startups and small businesses with everything they need to build an effective web presence. Spark Launch is a division of Growth Spark, LLC.
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