All businesses need a website. In fact, in today's internet-focused world, the lack of a website will put any business at a disadvantage. With a website, a business can provide potential customers with up-to-date information, news, product and service announcements, and all the information needed to catch and retain customer interest. A website broadens a business's audience and helps to nurture customer relationships. Without a website, a business will miss out on these benefits and find itself lagging behind competitors who are actively using the internet to its best potential.
Businesses in general were slow to adapt to the internet at first. You'll probably still find business owners who don't understand the need for a website, and you'll definitely find some who understand the need but not the standards involved in creating one. Businesses in the latter category are likely to have poorly-designed websites that don't help them much, and may even hinder them by giving customers a bad impression.
So how can you be sure to create a good website and not a bad one? The easiest starting point is to learn from the mistakes of others. Here are five of the most common mistakes small businesses make when building a website, and how to avoid making them.
1. Lack of Planning
Just as you can't build a structurally-sound house without an architectural blueprint, you can't create a good website without a plan. Unplanned websites tend to be hard for users to understand, and harder for you to edit later as you might suddenly realize you need to restructure everything to fit a new idea. This causes a lot of unnecessary work, and if you're paying a designer to create your site for you, you'll end up shelling out more cash for revisions.
You need to know ahead of time how many pages you'll need, what information will be on them, and how they'll fit together. Where will your logo be? What types of images will you need? How much content do you have to write? Sketch it all out on paper first! Then, imagine yourself as a visitor to your site, and eliminate the pages that aren't likely to be seen. Once you start creating, you'll have a solid foundation to work from.
2. Outdated Design
If your website looks old and outdated, customers are likely to wonder if your business is really on top of things. Design standards have changed significantly over the past years, and what was once considered top-of-the-line now looks painfully behind the times.
The biggest design mistake you can make is to create a website that isn't responsive, also called mobile-friendly or mobile-ready. A responsive website adjusts to different screen sizes, enabling visitors to view it on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. This wasn't necessary back when people only looked at websites on their computers, but today a vast proportion of users do most of their browsing on mobile devices. If your website isn't responsive, users will find it difficult to browse and are likely to turn away.
Responsive design is so important that Google takes it into account when ranking websites in search results. Mobile-friendly websites receive a significant advantage over others, so your website needs to be responsive in order to be competitive.
3. Poor User Experience
User experience is exactly what it sounds like: the way it feels for a visitor as they use your website. User experience (often abbreviated as UX) describes ease of use, smoothness of navigation, loading speeds, and everything else that has a part in determining how well your website works for visitors.
Beginning website creators often focus too intently on their vision and forget user experience. This is related to the first two mistakes on this list, as poor planning and unresponsive layouts both have a huge negative effect on a finished website's overall user-friendliness. You need to design your website for a perfect stranger, not for yourself. To accomplish this, keep the following in mind:
- Your site's navigation should be clear and easy to follow. Links should be in a color that contrasts from the rest of the text, making them easy to find. Provide a menu so visitors can quickly locate the page they want to see.
- Your color choices are important. They need to be pleasing to the eye while retaining enough contrast to make your text easy to read, even if your visitor has colorblindness or another type of visual impairment. Good use of color helps a visitor pick out the most important information at a glance.
- Page load speed is vital. Don't use large, uncompressed images or poorly-optimized code that makes pages take longer to load. You only have a few seconds to capture a visitor's attention, so make the most of it. Animated introductions are a mistake — they used to be all the rage, but users today see them as a waste of time.
- Avoid clutter. Your content needs to be clear, visible, and easy to locate on your page. Don't make visitors pick through unnecessary images and extraneous text blocks to figure out what's important. You'll have a hard time keeping their interest if they can't immediately find what they're after.
Never let your design impede your website's function. Always remember that your site's ultimate goal is to entice and convert your visitors!
4. No Calls to Action
Even a beautiful, responsive website with flawless UX can fail in its primary purpose. How? Well, let's say you've done a great job at catching a visitor's interest and providing them with information that makes them want to become a customer. You still need to tell them what to do next.
A call to action (CTA) usually takes the form of a button that the customer clicks to take the next step. Common calls to action are "Buy Now," "Subscribe," "Learn More," and anything else that's appropriate for the type of conversion you're seeking from your visitors on a particular page. If your website lacks CTAs, you're missing out on the opportunity to capture the results of your work. Some beginning web designers are afraid to use calls to action because they feel they're too aggressive or "salesy." But visitors who don't know where to click are not likely to go hunting for a solution. Give them a nice, clear instruction and an obvious button to click on!
Another great thing about calls to action is their psychological effect. There's just something in human nature that makes us want to click buttons. This is why button-based CTAs work better than plain links. Choose a contrasting color to make them stand out. It might take some experimentation to discover the best color for call-to-action buttons on your website.
5. Weak SEO
SEO — search engine optimization — starts with the very content and structure of your website. Having a responsive design and fast page speed are just the beginning. Your content needs to be informative and utilize keywords properly, but there's an important step to take even before that: your pages' URLs and meta tags.
- A URL is a web address, which a visitor will either type into their browser's address bar or see when they click a link. But it's much more than that — a URL is a valuable place to include product keywords which will be picked up by search engines. If your URL for a specific product is yoursite.com/5873985.html, you're missing out on the opportunity to improve your SEO. A better URL structure is something like yoursite.com/mens-tshirt-american-apparel.html or similar.
If you format your URLs correctly from the beginning, you won't need to go through the process of changing them later and creating redirects to help customers find their favorite pages at new links, so it's better to do it right the first time.
- Meta tags include your pages' title tags and meta descriptions, both of which appear in search engine results pages (SERPs). Correctly-formatted meta tags make your site more user-friendly and also make its SERP entries a lot more clickable. They're also a great place for product brand names and keywords (although not too many).
Small businesses new at web design frequently misuse meta tags by stuffing them with keywords, giving pages useless title tags like "Welcome to Our Site!" without including the company name and purpose, or skipping meta descriptions and letting Google harvest a snippet of text from the page, which may not be optimized for use in a search result.
URLs and meta tags are only small parts of SEO, but they are some of the most likely to be misunderstood or poorly optimized. Don't skip them when creating your website — they have a lot of potential to help you, and they're some of the easiest SEO mistakes to avoid. It's simply a matter of formatting them with the right information.
A Shortcut to a Great Website
Let's say you've planned out a perfect website, but the design aspect intimidates you — or maybe another step seems too complex. A perfect solution for your business's website would be to use a full-featured eCommerce website builder. 3dcart provides all the tools you need to do everything right, including simple-to-customize URLs and meta tags, beautiful responsive themes optimized for perfect CTAs, a smooth user experience from first visit to checkout, and more. Plus, with a 15-day free trial, you have plenty of time to decide if it's right for you.
We've also put together a free ebook to help you understand everything involved in creating a website from the ground up. Check it out below, and enjoy creating!