Imagine walking into a store to buy flowers for your dear Mum who’s laid up in hospital. There’s a weary, uninterested florist behind the counter who barely looks up from amongst the wilting arrangements, let alone offering a friendly greeting. If you weren’t already running 20 minutes late, you might consider leaving to find another florist. One who, when you walk in, greets you with a personable “Hi, what can I help you with today?” and comes around the counter ready to assist you in your choice.
BIG difference. Which one are you likely to return to next time you need flowers?
“A bad website is like a grumpy salesperson.”
– Jakob Nielson
Your website is your salesperson, receptionist and customer service all rolled in to one, and on duty 24/7. It should be like that cheery florist – welcoming and ready to assist you, as quickly and painlessly as possible. Even better, your website might make someone feel like pouring themselves a cuppa and sitting down to browse your store or peruse your blog posts at leisure.
Jakob Nielson, responsible for the quote above, is acknowledged as a worldwide expert on website useability. So when he talks about “a bad website”, he’s not referring to how attractive it may look, but to how “useable” it is. A bad website is not user-friendly, it doesn’t instantly show its purpose and value, and it drives people away.
To make sure that your website doesn’t drive people away, here are 10 things to avoid.
1. Poor spelling and bad grammar.
I made this #1 because it’s my pet hate. Now you might think that good spelling is becoming less important these days (with text-speak seemingly accepted as normal) but attention to such detail is important for many reasons:
- Establishing trust. If you’ve ever received one of those scam emails from Nigeria telling you how to claim millions of dollars (or pounds) you should realise that bad spelling really lacks credibility. This article from BBC news a couple of years back suggests that spelling mistakes ‘cost millions’ in online sales.
- Ensuring your links work. If you mis-spell the url, you end up with a broken link, which is not only frustrating to someone who clicks on it, but it might lose them from your site completely.
- Showing professionalism. Think back to the florist’s greeting: if it had been “Hi, are youse lookin’ for somethin’? … Nah, dunno if we have any of those.” you might not have been so impressed.
Ok, pet hate #2, but I know I’m not alone on this one. Popups appear at the top of every “most hated website feature” list. And yet I notice that more and more sites are making use of them for signups. Granted, they sometimes appear after 5 seconds or so, or only appear as you get towards the end of scrolling through content. But they’re still an annoying distraction.
Test it out if you like and measure how many new signups you get, versus how much your bounce rate increases, and then decide whether to keep the popup…
And never make it difficult for people to close a popup. They’re more likely to just leave your site.
3. Lack of contact information.
This one happens far more than it should. Contact information is so important. If you provide none, it looks like you may not even be a legitimate business. Or available. Or friendly.
When someone likes what they see on your website and wants to take the next step to doing business with you, it should be easy peasy to do so. Offer at least 2 ways for people to get in touch, but more is better.
- On a mobile site it’s probably the most critical element, and is best if it includes a phone number that can be clicked on to make a call.
- Contact information should be located on every page, or least accessible via an obvious Contact navigation tab.
4. Asking for too much.
A new visitor to your site has only just met you. Sure you hope they’ll like you, but don’t ask for a marriage commitment at the outset of the relationship! This includes:
- Don’t put too many fields on contact forms. You want to encourage people to get in touch. By insisting on too much detail, especially private info, people may not go through with completing the form and submitting it. Do you really need to know their birthday or their full address at this point?
- Don’t insist on a signup before they can even view your site. (I’m talking about you, Temple & Webster!) Let people get to know you and trust you first, rather than expecting it to work the other way around.
5. Not telling them the price up-front.
I know that some services might prefer not to publish their rates (and that’s a topic for a whole other blog post) but I’m talking here specifically about online sales that can be completed via your website.
- Don’t make me read through 4 pages of sales copy before telling me that your offering is way beyond my means.
- If your site is an ecommerce one, make your policies clear on the main page or via an FAQ page, covering shipping rates, payment methods, etc. Don’t expect someone to sign up without making these dealings as transparent as you can. Nothing is as frustrating as clicking Buy Now and filling out all the details, only to find the site won’t ship to your location, or that the shipping costs more than the item itself.
6. It’s Too hard to read
There are a number of reasons a website can be ‘too hard to read’. And really, if nobody’s reading it, there’s no point writing it…
- Too much text, without it being broken up into chunks with subheadings and short paragraphs. Web copy should be easily scannable. Make use of bullet points, bold words and italics for emphasis.
- Poor contrast. Even for a person with pretty good eyesight, some text styles can be hard to read. Avoid very pale text (light grey is often used poorly), bright white on stark black, and coloured text on a coloured background that either clashes or is too similar. Then there are people who have one of the several forms of colour blindness. Read my blog on colour for more detail.
- Keyword stuffing. Don’t write purely for SEO purposes. If you try to cram all your keywords and keyword phrases into your content, it can result in copy that’s boring or hard to read. Not to mention that Google has wised up to the practice and is likely to penalise your site for using keywords repeatedly. So write with your visitor in mind – they are ultimately more important to your business than Google.
7. It’s too slow.
Nobody has time to wait these days. And when they’re used to a certain response time, anything slower can seem interminable, even if it is just a matter of seconds.
- Large image files are the most common culprit. Make sure you optimise images for the web (read this blog post for ways to do this easily.)
- Addons are another thing that can slow sites down – sharing plugins, Facebook widgets, analytics, forms fed from external sites. Remove any that you don’t really need, to help lighten your site’s code.
8. Flashing stuff. Noisy stuff. Moving stuff.
Yuk. Yuk. Yuk! All these things annoy me and make me want to go elsewhere. I’m sure I’m not alone…
- Videos that auto-start. Please let me decide if and when I want to click Play. It does you no good if my speakers are off or muted – I’m going to miss whatever important thing you have to say. Worse for me is if the speakers are on – I don’t appreciate suddenly being blasted when I click on a site while I’m on a phone call (bad habit, I know, but I call it “multi-tasking”.)
- Music. Same issue as with videos. If you think music is integral to your site’s messaging, then use clear instructions to turn it on.
- Flashing elements are so often tacky advertisements that no-one pays attention to them anymore. In fact, if I’m trying to read while there’s a flashing, moving piece in the sidebar, I’ll shrink my window so that I don’t have to see it. If you want someone to notice something, use better placement and styling.
- Homepage content sliders are a convenient way to showcase your different offerings, but are frustrating if they are too quick, or too slow, and if they don’t provide manual controls. Allow your visitors to step through them at their own pace, preferably with the ability to reverse the order or hop to the slide they want.
9. Too confusing.
Remembering that time is limited for your site to grab and keep someone’s attention, don’t confuse people about what to do next. Your site’s purpose should be clear, no matter which page they originally land on.
Don’t forget that people arrive at your site in many different ways – from an ad to a landing page, referred from someone else’s blog post link, a social media link, or an emailed link from a friend.
So when they arrive, make life easy for them to find out more, or to do business with you.
- Use clear Calls to Action. What should they do next? Click here. Read this. Call now. Fill in this form. Here’s your download.
- Navigation is critical. If finding info on your site isn’t easy, people will give up. Don’t hide critical pieces away in an obscure link half way down a page and expect that people will find it and work their way through your site in the same steps that you might.
10. It’s just too awful.
If a website is really outdated – or just plain ugly – it might get dismissed as not being “with it” or serious about doing business. So if it flashes, displays as very long and very narrow, has swags of text with no white space and only images that are obviously clip art, it’s time to get a makeover.
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Just as a good salesperson, receptionist – or friendly florist – will keep themselves looking professional, well-groomed and fashionable, so should your website be occasionally given a few tweaks to make sure it’s in good shape to greet your visitors and keep them coming back.
If you need any advice on where your website is going wrong, contact Right Hand Design for a comprehensive website healthcheck.