10 Sad Website Mistakes Small Businesses Make

Do you enjoy reading mission statements?

How about “welcome to our website” headlines? Photos of jigsaw puzzles and handshakes?

No?

That’s weird, because according to the vast majority of small business websites out there, this stuff is the friggin cat’s pajamas. Why would anybody publish pages this way, if nobody likes it?

Because they failed, that’s why. And if you don’t want to fail too, here are ten things you probably shouldn’t do on your website.

1. Flash-driven design

Oooh – it moves!

I would have liked to think a few years ago that I wouldn’t be including this as the first item in such a list, but I guess some things improve a little slower than we’d like.

Let’s get this straight: Flash-driven design kills your search engine visibility. That means Google won’t love you. Google won’t even see you. Not even if you do your hair just right and wear your skinny jeans.

Not convinced? Jakob Nielsen, maybe the foremost usability expert in the world, says Flash is 99% bad. Think you’re home building website is in that good 1%? Lovely thought, but no. Not only are you shitting on Google’s head, but also the heads of your users. And that’s foul.

2. The Flash intro movie

This is the retarded cousin of the full-Flash website.

“Hey, what if we had our logo come in from somewhere off in the distance, really slowly…and then, once it’s fully visible, we’ll have the words, ‘integrity’, ‘innovation’ and ‘experience’ fly across…then we’ll-” STOP IT!

How long do you think you’ve got to grab you user’s attention? Hint: it isn’t 2 minutes. More like 10 seconds.

Most people won’t wait for your intro movie to play. They’ll either skip it or leave. So do your users, and yourself, a favor and ditch the idea.

3. “Welcome to our website”

This is another thing that should have gone the way of the pog but still seems to be clinging like crap on a yak.

People don’t like to read much online. They just don’t. So most of your copy? They’re going to scan it (if you’re lucky).

Why do you want to squander an already-tiny attention span on a headline with a central goal of reminding people where they are. You’re begging for a “no shit” response.

Unless your design is completely ass-backwards, people should have some idea of where they are just from glancing at the top of the site – where your logo and, ideally, a tagline or short description of your business should be.

4. We-speak

“We operate a fleet of vehicles…”

“Our team of experts is trained in…”

“We are certified to work on…”

Listen: nobody cares.

Your users are interested in the answer to one core question: what’s in it for me?

If your content doesn’t answer this question in short fashion, you fail. End of story.

5. Saying too little

OK, so we know people don’t particular enjoy reading website content.

But the idea isn’t to shut up entirely and communicate with hieroglyphics or vague statements like, “we create business solutions.”

Get direct about what you do, especially the value you provide, and tell the story of how you help your customers.

This isn’t a resume cover letter where you need to herald your achievements and qualities (nobody reads those either). This is your one chance to get through to a human being on the other end who may need, or want, what you can provide. Speak to them openly about what you’re offering, and give them the information they need (like social proof) to make their decision.

Give them a clear call to action, and then shut up.

6. Content that ignores search traffic

No, SEO is not the goal of content – but it’s a nice by-product if you do things right.

If you don’t do any keyword research before you start creating your content, you’re ignoring an opportunity to tap into the language your market uses to describe their problems (and the solutions they have in mind).

The language you use to describe what you do doesn’t matter when it comes to marketing. You’ve got to use the language your customers use.

When you do this right, the content on your pages matches the keywords your customers use to search. Then you’ve got a fighting chance to show up in the search results in front of people who need your stuff.

7. Overly-technical content

Similar to above, when you’re engrossed in technical work every day your language can start sounding like Klingon to the rest of us.

When you talk about your business the way your industry trade journals do, watch for the blank stare.

“We’re experienced in flux capacitor repair and carry top-of-the-line moisture evaporators…”

Does it really matter to you what’s technically involved in what your plumber does to make the poop go away like it’s supposed to?

You may love the technical side of your work, but if your language goes over your users’ heads you’ll lose them. They already will read only 20% of the copy on your page – do you want that 20% to be words they don’t understand?

8. No clear call to action

Once you’ve answered the question, “what’s in it for me” (see #4 above), your work moves to answering another question: “what do I do now?”

Nothing loses a user faster than the lack of a clear call to action.

And including your address and phone number somewhere in your footer does not qualify.

Big, beautiful and shiny buttons work best. The point is to make it obvious.

It isn’t that your users can’t figure it out by looking around. They’re smart people. The problem is, every one of us is a lazy bastard when it comes to web browsing. Make us work or think, and we get spiteful and leave. We could figure it out, but we won’t.

9. Zero inbound links or promotion

OK this one strikes a particular chord in me.

I help small businesses get more targeted web traffic (primarily through search engines). And many of the people who come to me have no idea that getting traffic can often be more work than building the website.

There is no such thing as a good “location” online. There’s no foot traffic. Nobody is going to happen upon your website – they have to be pointed to it.

If you take no steps to promote your website, and attract no links to it from other websites, you’ll flounder around in a tepid pool of nobody-loves-us.

Part of marketing online involves actually spreading the word (I know, novel concept). Having a nice looking website is a fine start, but if you want anybody to see the thing need a strategy for building links and attention.

10. Hiding your people

Who works for you?

Do they matter?

If you don’t think so, you’re probably a shitty boss. Hit yourself.

If they matter, why don’t you give them faces on your website?

One of the few advantages of being a small business is the close-knit, quirky personality that lends personality to your marketing (if you let it).

People want to hire other people they like. So let your people shine.

What kind of sad mistakes do you see small businesses making on their websites? Share in the comments.

Comments

  1. Mike, I have to say this was hilarious – I think we have all done one or two of these over the years. :-)

    • Mike Tekula says:

      Oh, dude, I used to built websites completely in Flash. Then I built them with frames…frames. Then, my layouts were all table-based. It was a few years before I learned why my websites were half-baked.

      • I had “blinkies” and “scrollies” on one of my first. I thought I had discovered the top-secret/magic box of high level HTML snippets (1996). Embarrassing.

        Keli E

  2. goodnewscowboy says:

    Hey Mike, when I read your mini bio at the end of the article, and thought about the P&J sandwiches, it hit me. Now I know why you looked familiar. You wouldn’t be the former child actor that starred in the Life cereal commercials would you? You know…Mikey?

    Now for the serious side of my comment. If you were an old time pentecostal preacher, I would have been the one standing up on my pew yelling “YEAH PREACHER! AMEN BROTHER!”

    Really good stuff. It should be required reading for every last business owner out there.

  3. Good article. Love the way you put it. Thank you.

  4. Excellent article Mike. I go over most of these points with my website clients. I would like to add one more mistake to your list:

    Underutilizing a sites’ homepage.

    There is so much a business can do with its homepage. Yet, time and time again you see lame “welcome to my site” messages or something equally useless.

    This leads to most people leaving the site without clicking on any links.

    • Mike Tekula says:

      Thanks Ruben. And you’re absolutely right about the home page – it’s the page most new visitors see first as it draws the most traffic through search engines and other sources. The “welcome to my site” screams “amateur,” turns people off instantly and shirks an opportunity to deliver the value message right off the bat. Sounds like your clients are lucky to have you.

  5. Chad McCullough says:

    Great article! I’ve been guilty of a few of these in my years building websites, that’s for sure. Some of my earlier work, now that I look back on it, is a little scary and pretty much sucky (is that a word?). :-)

    • Mike Tekula says:

      Thanks Chad. I hear you – I think we were all guilty of many of these mistakes and others early on (I know I was).

  6. Hi Mike, I just put out a short book entitled “10 Mistakes Your Small Business is Making Online”. Out of curiosity I did some searching for similar stuff and found this. Nice article! You hit some common mistakes we see all the time. And interestingly enough, your 10 and my 10 are very different but equally appropriate. If you’re interested, you can grab the book at http://www.modmacro.com. It’s a free download.

    • Mike Tekula says:

      Hey Matt – thanks for the comment and kind words. I’m going to download your book and check it out tomorrow. Looks good. I see a few mistakes I didn’t include here that are definitely worth mentioning.

  7. This is funny and informative! Thanks for posting this.

  8. In addition, websites that are rich in flash graphics are slower to load. Therefore, accessing the site may take a couple of minutes, whereas a text rich site only takes a couple of seconds to load. And as we all know, visitors are more likely to leave a website that takes minutes to load, and a couple of minutes seems like an eternity when browsing the internet.

  9. Love this article! It’s useful in lots of respects, and it supports the checklist I wrote to help those who are outsourcing or designing, building, creating their own website here. I hope your readers find it useful: http://jane-frankland.com/website-design-check-list/

  10. This is a great blog – thanks for sharing. We are just putting our latest website together and there are some great tips here to make our copy really relevant

  11. This is a great blog piece Michael and really instructive for someone such as myself who is putting the finishing touches to our new website. Luckily it seems that the guys we chose have got all this nailed – but we did have proposals which we rejected from other where some of your no, no’s appeared. The favourite was flash and its very appealing if you don’t know the implications.
    Julie

  12. Really enjoyed this blog – we’ve just had our website re-done and boy are we guilty as charged with the old one!

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