10 Reasons Why Your Small Business Website Stinks

by Carla Schroder

Your small business website is an important customer-relations and marketing tool. We look at 10 common customer-losing mistakes you need to avoid.

Whether you're designing a new website for your business or improving an old one, always ask these questions first: What do I want my site to do? Why are people coming to my site? If they're current customers, how can I keep them happy? If they're not customers yet, how does my site help turn them into customers?

10 Common Website Mistakes That Drive Customers Away

Once you've answered the aforementioned questions, take a good hard look at your small business website. If you find any of the following 10 issues, take action to correct them as soon as possible.

1. Slow Page Loads

You have a very few seconds to capture your site visitors' attention. If your pages load too slowly you will lose them. This is the number one way to chase your customers and potential customers away. Make it a priority to monitor site performance, and do it on different browsers, different operating systems, and from different locations.

There are networking utilities for performance testing, and a number of Websites that perform free tests such as Pingdom and DNSsy. Pointless special effects, inefficient scripts, overloaded servers, and over-reliance on third-party servers all conspire to make your site a slow-motion experience.

2. Not Mobile-Friendly

Your primary focus should be to design a mobile-friendly website, because that is where all the growth is. A lot of Web designers are stuck on the notion that everyone is using a powerful PC with a giant screen. That never has been true, and it's even less true now: the small screen rules.

The mobile boom is also a powerful referral tool: if you have a business that benefits from impulse shoppers, travelers, and drop-ins, then you need to get your business listed in the directories that feed mobile search applications like YellowPages.com and DexKnows. These directories serve mobile phones and GPS devices like TomTom and Garmin.

mobile-friendly website design

Figure 1: The smart Web designer targets smartphones. (Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.)

3. Fancy Special Effects: Just Say No

It doesn't matter if your site is a simple informational site like an online brochure, or a complex online store -- eschew the silly special effects. Don't do overlays, peeling stickers, popups, fancy fades, slideshows, animations, annoying tooltips, or anything that gets in the way and forces your visitors to swat them out of the way like gnats.

Most especially: do not run video or audio automatically, because the easiest way to turn this junk off is to leave your site. Fancy effects only impress bored Web designers, and managers who think they're getting more bang for their buck with an overly-complicated whizbang site.

4. Too Many Words and No Information

When a customer visits your site, how long does it take them to figure out what your business does, or what your products are? If your pages are loaded with empty buzzwords like solutions, alignment, proactive, synergy, transformation, higher-order, best of breed, holistic, organic, value-added, return on investment, and so on, they're not going to hang around trying to translate it. Use simple, clear language. You know how business coaches advise us to prepare "elevator speeches", to practice describing our businesses in a succinct 30 seconds or less? Apply the same thinking to your website.

5. Confusing Site Navigation

People want answers, and they want them now -- how hard is it for them to zero in on the information they want on your small business website? How well does your search function work, is there a master index? Are there useful categories?

You can track what people are searching for, what pages they visit and for how long, and tweak your site accordingly. You also have the power to tweak your site's search engine and make it super-fast and useful. It is not good when your customers can find information on your site faster with a Google search.

Avoid These Common Website Design Mistakes

6. Poor Contact Information

How deeply do your visitors have to dig for contact information? It should be on every single page on your site. How do you want people to contact you? You can post phone, cell phone and fax numbers, email, live chat, snail mail, Web form, forums, and smoke signal codes, if you wish. Usually simpler is better: pick the ones you actually want people to use.

Spammers will find and harvest your email addresses immediately, so your public email addresses should be used only for public inquiries, and keep your private addresses separate.

7. Nobody Answers, or Worse, Someone Answers

Posting your contact information isn't enough -- who is going to answer customer inquiries? Are they friendly and knowledgeable? Will they respond quickly? Every minute you delay, every gruff or unhelpful response is a gift to your competitors.

Don't post contact information if you don't have a rock-solid, fast response mechanism in place. And I don't mean canned auto-replies, but real people. Good customer service is a vital skill; it doesn't matter how wonderful your widgets are, if you don't take care of your customers you won't have any.

Post your business hours along with contact information. Phone calls should be answered immediately, and if any go to voice mail then call back within 30 minutes. Live chat should not have more than 2-3 minutes' wait time. Emails should be answered within a couple of hours.

8. Captchas Must Die

The reasoning behind using captchas is understandable; spammers ruin everything, so we're always looking for ways to foil them. But the more barriers you erect, the more customers you're going to lose. An inexplicably popular captcha is Re-Captcha. Figure 1 is a typical example:

Don't use Captcha in your Web design

Figure 2: Your customers won't get this, but spammers will.

The audio Re-Captcha is just as awful, because it is also obscured. It sounds like multiple audio streams playing at the same time.

It's not realistic to expect your customers to jump through all kinds of hoops. So what are you supposed to do? You already know that any Web form, whether it's an online forum, reader comments, or contact form, is going to get spammed. Don't make it your customers' problem but rather attack it at the server.

There are number of excellent anti-spam plugins for popular content management systems like WordPress, Plone, Drupal, and Joomla. Akismet is the best anti-spam plugin. You should be able to install it from the control panel of your CMS, and you can learn more about it here.

9. Accessibility Issues

A customer with impaired vision or hearing, a customer who has difficulty reading, using a mouse, or using a keyboard spends money just the same as customers who have no such limitations. Most popular CMS have accessibility features, so it's not that hard to make your site fully-accessible. A bonus of accessibility is it also serves your wider audience; the easier you make it for people to access your site in whatever way they prefer, the better for your bottom line.

10. Stale Content

Even if your site is the simplest brochure site, make it worth visiting by posting fresh content at least every couple of weeks. Tips and tricks, new products, sales, how-tos, contests and promotions...it doesn't have to be literary, just new and interesting to your customers. Don't forget good-quality photos of products, and good video how-tos are easy to produce customer-pleasers. Post your videos on YouTube to reach an even wider audience.

Carla Schroder is the author of The Book of Audacity, Linux Cookbook, Linux Networking Cookbook,and hundreds of Linux how-to articles. She's the former managing editor of Linux Planet and Linux Today.

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This article was originally published on Thursday Jun 21st 2012
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