The Top 10 Mistakes in Small Business Web Design

B2ap3 Large Alameda Website Design

Perhaps I should have called this "One Hundred and One Ways to Kill your Website" because there are so many different ways to screw up web design. Anyway, to make things simple, lets just stick with the Top Ten just like the old David Letterman show. I promise if you keep these basic principles in mind, your site will be head and shoulders above a good number of your competition.



1. Disabling the Back Button


Sneaky web designers have used javascript in the past to cause the back button in your browser to misbehave. Either the back button is totally disabled or your browser is redirected to content you didnt ask for. My two cents? It wasn't particularly clever in 2005 and it still isn't. Most visitors will become irritated and navigate away from your site if they encounter stupid web tricks.  That is unless you are purposely going for the turn of the century porn site look.


2. Pop up Windows


Way back in the day it was considered a cool design feature to pop up a new window on a link. Today it's just a pain that ties up system resources and can crash browsers. Most modern browsers have the ability to open tabs, so if a user wants to remain on a page, they simply open the link in a new tab. If you feel you must have a popup to display information, consider using a modal or tool tip which does not open a new browser window or tab.


3. Hiding your Address and Phone Number


If you're selling something, chances are you want your visitors to be able to contact you easily. The most obvious way is to set up a "Contact Us" page or section that has all your contact information in one place. In addition, abridged contact information should be included in the header and footer of each page. Some sites incorporate a quick contact form on the front page which allows visitors to send a message with minimum hassle. Nothing makes a visitor or potential client more uneasy than being unable to determine where your business is actually located or how to get hold of a human.  Don't hide behind contact forms.


4. Broken or Outdated Links


Test your internal and outgoing links often! Remember other sites on the web can change and often do not have a graceful way of handling your outdated links. Links that lead to 404 pages reflect poorly on your business and make your site look sloppy and poorly maintained. Visitors are left to wonder if your business is still active or if they are viewing a "ghost" page. Make sure to add a "Contact the Webmaster" form to allow visitors to report broken links or pages for quick repair.


5. Slow Server Response Times


How long will you wait for a slow site? Are you likely to visit more than one or two pages if are forced to stare at a spinning graphic for too long? Long load times are unacceptable for today's professional businesses. How long is long? If your visitors are having to waiting four or more seconds per page load, you have a site speed problem. Ideally, your pages should load in no more than 2.5 seconds. Some Content Management Systems (CMS) like Wordpress, Drupal and Joomla have longer site speed unless carefully optimized by a professional web designer. GtMetrix offers a free online speed check that will identify specific issues and recommend changes to improve loading times. For the those more technically inclined, Google Webmaster Tools also offers a free speed check with recommendations as well as an entire suite of important SEO and web development tools.


6. Crappy and Obsolete Content


Keep your content fresh! Both Google and your visitors will reward you for it. Make it a point to add new, unique and relevant content to your site daily if possible. When visitors encounter old or incorrect information, they automatically assume the rest of your site is the same way and go elsewhere.  Content Management Systems (CMS) such as Wordpress or Joomla make it easy to add blog content and can even schedule content to be posted at a later day.


7. Bad Menu Design


Nobody likes being served mystery meat. Same goes for websites, visitors want to have a general idea of where a link is going to take them without having to guess or randomly mash buttons. Complex menus or those that employ unlabeled graphic symbols, often confuse and put off busy visitors. The web guarantees speed. If your visitors can't quickly get what they want from your site, they will go somewhere else and often that place is your competitor. To avoid confusion, label your menu and place it in a prominent place such as the top bar or the left side panel. Be consistent with the location and the menu items and allows include a clear path to the home page. For further clarity, consider using "bread crumbs" which give visitors an idea where they are in the site and what the overall structure of your navigation is.


8. Excessive Fonts and Site Colors


Just because you can use a half dozen fonts on a webpage doesn't mean you should. Each of the pages on your site should convey a unified typography as well as color scheme.  Having numerous fonts and colors on a page forces a readers eye to slow down and makes page reading more difficult.  The idea is to convey to your visitors you are an organized and structured business, not a traveling modern art show.  Utilizing CSS and the Bootstrap framework will help organize and streamline your page design; you should never make your visitor learn a new page structure each time they switch to a different portion of your site.


9. Orphaned Pages


Make sure EVERY page on your site has an easy to find link back to the home page and/or the main menu of the site.  Why bother you say if we have the back button available to site visitors?  Well imagine one of your visitors forwards a particular page of your site to a friend.  That friend will enjoy the forwarded page but will be unable to access any additional pages on your site.  More importantly, orphaned pages confuse bots deployed by the search engines and may cause them not to fully index your site.  Good practice is at a minimum to make your logo clickable to the home page of your site.

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10. Not Featuring your Social Media Connections


Most business at least have their own Facebook business page, others utilize Pinterest with albums filled with product photos, while others make announcements via Twitter. Your business now demands a social media presence and if you don't have it your competition will. Forgetting to add links to your social media accounts from your webpage is leaving free business on the table.  Best practice is to add links either with text or graphics to the footer portion of your site.  An additional prime location is your contact page.  Remember to include your social media links in the signature portion of your emails also.  Utilizing social media to showcase your business and drive clients to your site is one of the most cost effective and successful ways to generate more sales.


Cover photo courtesy of Chuck Coker

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