No matter how hard you try, there is always something wrong with your website. There is always a critic. I have a friend outside the USA who thankfully alerts me of my 404 error pages, which I appreciate, even though I told him over the weekend he was making me scream at my own inability to be perfect.
You don't want to be caught with your pants down when trying to present a professional site. Since my work permits me to see a great deal of websites and Internet applications, I can note common problems. This list is not about the common ones. This list is for repetitive web design practices that drive site visitors crazy because we keep driving them crazy.
Here's what we do:
1. There is not enough persuasive or value oriented information to convince visitors to stay on the page. I compare this to car shopping. Automobile's in a showroom have a sheet of paper taped to the window that lists every detail you could possibly imagine about that particular car. How often do you actually stand in one spot, directly in front of the window, squinting to read the tiny words on the page? Usually you are spotted by eagle-eyed car salespeople who leap to your side and begin telling you all the reasons why the car is cool. They ask what you had in mind too, and from there, start to narrow down matches that fit your requirements. Write as if you are a car salesperson for your homepage. Cut a deal. Introduce the manager. Offer a test drive.
2. Don't place 100 links to the inside pages from your homepage. It is not a playground where you run screaming out onto the area trying to beat the first person to the swing set. A homepage should be married to your site requirements and especially your visitors' top tasks. This could be price checking, searching for part numbers or clearance items, finding your contact information or finding the only baby items that are not pink or blue on the planet.
3. Quit talking about yourself so often. Nobody cares how great you are. What they do care about is what you have for them that's worth their time and money. If you're the All Powerful Oz, you can slip that in, but just remember that even OZ lied to Dorothy. If you need help with your ego, try the We We Monitor.
4. Feedback and email newsletter forms are some of the funniest things I've witnessed on the web. Why would you demand a phone number from someone who is just letting you know your links are broken? If you want general feedback or better yet, sales leads, your form should scream trust. Start by trusting that if site visitors want you to call them, they'll enter their phone number. Requiring one is something managers tell you to do. Ignore them. Consider your prospects that desire email contact only or impress them with customer service clues with a choice of either email or phone contact. Never require a phone number for free newsletter signups, but if you insist on this unheard of practice you invented, offer a sample of the newsletter that requires that phone number and by all means, tell us why you want to call us.
5. If your navigation only goes forward, you didn't learn to dance properly. The actual steps are:
a. Move forward
b. Move back if your partner doesn't like that move
c. Continue forward if your partner really liked where you landed and trusts where you want to go next.
In other words, don't rely on the "Back" button to go backwards. Guide your visitor's steps backward, forward and side to side with breadcrumb navigation, embedded text links, buttons or links that continue a task's forward momentum. Design navigation to be fluid and effortless. Your visitors should be able to glide along the dance floor and not get lost or spun around into dizzying loops.
6. Application functionality. If you only knew what exists out there in web site land. For example, there was a travel site for camping that only lets you book hotel rooms because the campgrounds weren't programmed into the options anywhere. There was the application with many parts in the process, however, no matter what link or button was pushed, it only landed on one of those parts. An application is only intuitive if you program its brains properly.
7. Mystery links confound visitors. Non-descriptive labels force us to guess where we will end up. While I love a good game of hide and seek as much as the next person, when I think I know where you're taking me and you take me somewhere totally different, I stop letting you drive.
8. Related to this are Absolute Shock Links. These are navigation links that take you to PDF files without any warning. Since it takes time for the computer to go pull Adobe out of the kitchen, rev it up, load the file and then I swear you have to resize the thing from 200% down to something that doesn't make you get the shakes reading, well, you can see how a little warning is appreciated. The other form of visitor link shock treatment is linking to a totally new domain, with new layout and brand new navigation and no way back because it opened up a new window and cut off all ties to where you were. At least, if you plan on dumping your visitors off somewhere new, work out a nice little warning system and arrange visitation time with the Mothership site.
9. If you want to capture someone's attention, do it above the page fold. Large monitors didn't signal the end of browser laziness. We still like an incentive to use the mouse to scroll, hover or click. If half the page is needed to describe how to use a contact or sales lead form, what is doing business with you like?
10. If you have a FAQ, there had better be a good reason for making your visitors go to a page that displays a long list of questions and answers. They want you to answer the question when they have the question. I remember when I used to show horses and entered jumping classes that required me to memorize the course I'd need to guide my horse around. I could never understand why they didn't put directions inside the show ring itself that said "Turn left here", "Weave around these scary high jumps" and "Slow down, the judge usually stands about here." A FAQ is nice for backup if you have a complicated process, but user instructions during the actual task are far more considerate and easy to remember.
Finally, don't despair. Web site surfers are often the most incredibly patient and forgiving people, especially if you offer something they want. Just remember to show them where you put it.
Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.
Kimberly Krause Berg is the owner of Cre8pc.com, Cre8asiteForums.com and co-founder of Cre8asite Webmaster Resources Directory.
Kim's career began in 1996 as the Webmaster for an Internet magazine publishing company. Later, while working for "dotcoms", she built websites, incorporated search engine optimization and performed Internet software application usability/user interface testing. For years she freelanced on the side by performing search engine optimization services via Cre8pc.com. Now a self-employed usability/SEO consultant, this mother of 2 is an advocate for home and small businesses. She specializes in what she calls the "marriage between search engine optimization and usability" and to that end offers Cre8pc and Cre8asiteForums as teaching sites.
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