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Let's face it; the line from A Field of Dreams isn't the whole truth. There's more to getting people to come to something than simply building it. Someone built the old run down historical mansion, but hardly anyone visits it (except maybe people you wouldn't want to run into). People want to find a place online that caters to them, specifically. They want it to be pleasant on the eyes, up-to-date, simple to understand and easy to get around in. But, this isn't an area where everyone succeeds. And sadly, some of the reason for failure seem small, almost minute. Below are six website design disasters and simple steps that you can take to avoid them.
1. Sloppy Copy. Despite what you may have read in the latest free e-Book, you can't just place any words on a page to trick you customers to spend fistfuls of cash on your site. One of the primary reason people are cruising the net is to find information, and not just the same information over and over and over.
Solution: Your content should be unique, interesting and error free. Anything less will leave your visitors looking for fulfillment elsewhere. There are many opportunities online to find good content and sometimes you can manage to find unique copy at low prices. Or maybe you can work out a trade deal with a freelance writer; you offer free advertising space in exchange for their articles. Try not to use free content from a mass produced website simply because there are probably a lot of other places online where you can find the exact same words. You've got to give your visitors something special, something unique that they can't find anywhere else. Otherwise they will - find it somewhere else.
2. Not Taking Advantage of META-tags. We all know that meta-tags are important, but sometimes we fail to take full advantage of what they have to offer. As important as they are to web designers as free promotion, meta-tags are just as important to potential visitors.
You may have just the product, membership club, newsletter or information that I'm looking for. But if I can't find you, we can't ever begin a commercial (or any other kind of) exchange. Since most people come across websites using a search engine, fully optimizing your title and meta-tag keywords will ensure the beginning of a match made in heaven.
Solution: When creating your title and coming up with possible keywords; make sure that you are thinking more like a customer than a website designer. Your title is important because it is the first thing that potential visitors will see when your results show in the search engine. It should be short, compelling and descriptive.
Your description Meta-tags should reiterate what your title has said, but using a new approach and a few more words. Try to limit yourself to a description that is less than 125 characters so that the entire description can be read, instead of being interrupted mid-thought by limited space. For added benefits, try to include a question in your first line of the description, one that the viewer was probably asking themselves before initiating the search. Use this same approach when coming up with your list of keywords. When you've come up with your list, go over each one asking yourself, "Is this a keyword used by someone who is a potential customer?" If the answer is no, then don't include them, you'll be wasting your time.
3. Outdate Information, Broken Links, and "Under Contruction". There is nothing more frustrating than sifting through out-dated websites when you're in search of current information. Or clicking on a link that you hope leads to the answer to your question, only to discover that "This Page Cannot Be Displayed" or that the domain name is for sale.
Only slightly less annoying are messages informing you that the page is currently under contruction or is "Coming Soon". If it's not here yet, don't waste your visitor's time leading them down dead ends.
Solution: Schedule at least a day a month scouring your website for outdated information and broken links. You can also include a link on your website that allows visitors to report broken links or outdated information. As far as "Under Contruction" messages, instead announce to your visitors any upcoming changes or addition to your website. They'll be glad to know it without getting their hopes up, clicking a link to much sought after information, and being told it isn't available yet.
4. Hard to Find Contact Information. It's hard to understand why any website would fail to make it easy for visitors to get in touch with the people who run it. Offering this simple bit of information will: a. Encourage people to ask for permission before using your content &/or graphics on their own sites. b. Make it easier for people to contact you for promotional reason. For example, someone may desire to interview you, initiate a contract or simply make an important business contact that you may need in the future. c. Provide people with ways to reach you and your company while they are offline. You can provide them with ways to reach you by telephone, snail mail or possibly even to stop and tour your facilities.
Solution: Simply add a "Contact Us" page and link to your website. Be sure to include pertinent email addresses, phone numbers, names, mailing addresses and (if necessary) driving direction.
5. Not Changing the Color of a Visited Link. While this may not seem like such a big deal, it's one that has been bugging website traffic for many years. You can take that on the authority of Dr. Jakob Nielsen, the man who's been called the "guru of Web page usability" by the New York Times.
The purpose of changing link colors is to give your site visitors an idea of where they've already been and where they have yet to venture. This is especially important if you have a large site with new pages being added to it often.
Solution: The HTML code is simple: Inside the body tag, add the "vlink" tag and the color code or color name. The code for blue visited link text would look like this: or Replace the code or color name with the color you want. There, you're done. It's that simple.
6. Failing to Use Your Website to Emphasize Your U.S.P. Your U.S.P., or Unique Selling Point, is that one (or more than one) thing that your company does do, or doesn't do; has or doesn't have, that separates your from the competition. It's the thing that, in the long term, a person comes back for.
This is tied in closely with another Web Design no-no: not offering any information about your company's products, services, employees, etc. This is YOUR Website. Don't be afraid to toot your own horn. Because, really, who else is going to do it?
Solution: Whether it means you need to sit down and better identify your target market, or maybe try to discover new ways to market to them, try to look at your website with eyes undimmed by cancelled orders, contant interruption, or other distraction. Take the time to look at your website as a customer would, as a tool. Ask yourself, "If I was a customer, why would I be here?" As you come across these answers, make note of them, and any others that they may suggest.
Create an about us page, offering news updates, press releases, employee of the month biographies, etc. In the long run, customers always appreciate transparency. And I'll let you into a little secret: they don't mind being led around. If fact, they rely upon.
You'll notice that I didn't mention anything about the command. Or flashing, moving, or magically glittering icon trailers. Or sites hosted on free servers. That's because most people have already beat those subjects black and blue. But, that doesn't mean that you should disregard them. They aren't Capri pants, sneaking back into style. For about the safest bet, just conider the Golden Rule; if it would give you a headache, make you shake your head in frustration, cause you to get up and walk away from the computer or any other negative reaction - just say no! Exercise a little restraint. Better yet, if you're not a professional, conider hiring one. When it comes to customer satisfaction, an experienced web design specialist can make or break your business.
About the author:
Could your website use some fresh, custom content, but you don't have the extra money to pay for it? Well, Jennifer Gibbs (a 5 star freelance professional from South Georgia) is more than happy to provide your site with original, tailored and EXCLUSIVE content in exchange for free products, services or membership access. For more information send your request (along with your website URL) to: firstname.lastname@example.org.