What Not To Do?

As the Internet grows in popularity and importance, the quality of web sites needs to keep pace and creating and maintaining high-quality, professional web sites is more important today than ever. In this month's issue, we cover the basics of "What Not To Do" if you want to convert your visitors into customers and keep them coming back for more.

There is a lot written about how to design a great web site and ways to attract and keep visitors, but a lot less information is available to outline how, every day, thousands of web sites are finding common ways to confuse or alienate hoards of potential customers. Although many professional web site designers know about the obvious "no-no's", there are still many finer points that frustrate or irritate visitors and make them leave.

We have identified 11 design and construction mistakes that can make or break a web site. To avoid having your visitors "click-away" from your site in droves, make sure you are not falling into any of the following traps:

1. Clogging Up Their Internet Connection

Imagine, your new potential customer is happily surfing using their favourite search engine looking for your product or service and everything's going smoothly. Your web site appears in the first page of listings (congratulations, you must have put into practice all the information you read our DIY Internet Marketing Guides or taken out one of our highly-esteemed web site marketing packages J) and they click through to your homepage.

Then their Internet connection starts to clog up. It begins to creak and groan under the strain of downloading your homepage's numerous images, animated bits and bobs an all its bells and whistles and it takes an age to appear. They look at the progress bar at the bottom of their screen and it's more grey than blue. They look at their watch, start picking at their finger nails, tapping their toes, rolling their eyes? and then in frustration they click on the back button at the top of their screen and click on the next web site in the search engines results list. Well done - you've just sent another visitor to your competition.

For tips on how to design a web site that is both appealing to your customers and to the "organic" search engines, read our DIY Internet Marketing Guide "Start at the Beginning". For an excerpt visit: http://www.enable-uk.co.uk/html/book_2.html

2. Counting Customers

One of the classic mistakes that really makes me cringe every time I see it is visitor counters. It makes 3 distinct impressions:

1. "Do you like my new toy web site, my cousins-stepsisters-uncle built it for me. Did you see the picture of my dog on the front page? Isn't it great?" Endearing? Maybe. Professional? No.

2. "You are not important, you are just visitor number 62. 61 was just here and 63 will be along in a minute. You're not an individual customer with specific needs to fulfil, just a number."

3. Then a visitor looks at the actual number and thinks?"62? Has this site has only had 62 visitors? They must be rubbish." or conversely, "162,853,426 visitors, they must rig that counter thing." Get rid of your counters ? now!

Measuring your sites visitors can be done by analysing your web statistics, and much more detailed information is normally available. For example; which web site or search engine referred the visitor to you, which pages they visit, which pages they exit from (very important ? why are they leaving?) and also which key-phrases were used to find your web site. For more information about how to understand and make use of your web site statistics, read our guide "Measuring Success", for an excerpt visit: http://www.enable-uk.co.uk/html/book_6.html

3. Inconsistent Navigation

Imagine sitting down at a restaurant and the waiter comes over to you and hands you five different menus, one for the starters, one for the entrees, one for the vegetarian dishes, one for the desserts, and one for the drinks. Annoying? Then imagine if each menu had a different design, typeface, format and layout for listing the items. Confusing? Irritating?

Nobody wants to work that hard at choosing their dinner, you're hungry and you just want a meal. Don't make your visitors work hard either by expecting them to re-learn your navigation system each time they enter another section of your site. They are also hungry, for useful information, and they're even more impatient.

The pages on your website should be easily connected. To do this, every section should connect to the main (home) page, with a clear and concise menu. Don't make your visitors spend a lot of time looking for different sections. Help them by ensuring that the navigation of your site remains constant throughout all pages.

Button and link names also need to tell the visitor where the link leads them. It sounds obvious but make it as easy as possible for a visitor to know where they're going before they click. Make your links and buttons as descriptive as possible.

4. Not Enough Information

It is a common mistake to give a limited amount of information on a web site with a vain hope that the customer will contact you for more information. They wont. You can guarantee that a competitor will provide the technical spec, the price list or what ever else is required on their web site and that customer will find it and eventually buy the product from them.

To keep your visitors progressing through information gathering stage and on to the buying process on your web site, supply all the information they need. Even if they don't buy today, it will be your page that gets printed off or stored in their favourites folder, and you they come back to when they're ready to buy. It is helpful to have a section that is devoted to answering common questions and by creating a FAQ page your potential customers can easily find the answers to their questions and will be more likely to order from your web site.

In addition, many visitors interested in gathering information on a particular subject will sign up for emailed newsletters (like this one!) and stay subscribed as long as the correspondence they receive is relevant and useful. This is a great way to build ongoing, online relationships with your potential customers and establish your credibility. Top web sites work on developing an email list of prospects that can be contacted in the future. Make sure your email list subscription area has a prominent position on your web site, preferably at the top of every page.

For more detailed information about how to design your web site with both high search engine listings and customer usage in mind, take a look at our ebook "Start at the Beginning". For an excerpt visit: http://www.enable-uk.co.uk/html/book_2.html

5 Skip Intro/Click Here to Enter

Go on, admit it - you once thought the best thing on the Internet planet was a web site that started up by having a revolving animation of the company logo that bounced around, spun a few times then settled in the middle of the screen with those the immortal words: "Click here to enter site" Isn't that what you were trying to do when you typed in the web address or clicked on the link that bought you here?

"Enter site" is also what all your visitors are trying to do when they type in your web address or click on your link so make sure they are not presented with some nauseating bouncing, spinning distortions of your logo, or worse, duff, irrelevant music. They are not interested in how clever your web designer is with Flash or their taste in music, they want to get to the information they're looking for as quickly as possible.

Always make sure you home page or advert-landing page is quick to load and don't forget to check it at different connection speeds. Keep the file sizes small, and above all, avoid anything on you page that would require the dreaded "Loading?" message. If you really can't bear to drop the Flash entry page, at the very least give the choice to "Skip the intro" and let them get to what they're looking for.

6. Animation

Children under 10 like to watch animated cartoons. Business professionals and most other adults don't have the time. Your website is here to do business not entertain children (unless it's an entertainment web site for children!). It is supposed to be a serious tool in your marketing armoury and should be used to convey useful information to your visitors and convince them that you are worth doing business with. Filling it full of swirling graphics, flashing logos and spinning pictures and the rest of Pandora's box of visual delights will just make your visitors distracted and nauseous.

Sites that include "clever" Flash animations; multiple animated gifs or flying words are really annoying. They take away from the content and distract the visitor from achieving their goals. Unless your site is an entertainment site, try to avoid maddening motion. However, if your product or service can be better demonstrated using Flash, Quick Time, or other multimedia, and many can, offer your visitors the chance to click a link to view it. But don't force-feed them.

7. Unreadable Text

Computer monitors really aren't the best medium for reading. By the time you've scrolled down a full screen's worth, your eyes start to blur, you feel slightly lost, your head hurts and your interest begins to wane. If a page requires two full screens of scrolling or more, simply split it up into multiple pages. Don't make your visitors wade through big chunks of unbroken text, use titles, sub-titles, small paragraphs, bullet points and numbering. Don't torture your visitors; make your pages easy to read and therefore less daunting.

8. Who are You/Where are You? No Obvious Ways to Contact The Company So now you've built a logical web site, you've instilled confidence and credibility and your new potential customer just has one question? They click on three, four, five pages but can't find your contact details anywhere. They already have another window open with your competitor's website - complete with email address, telephone number, fax number, street address and map.

Guess who makes the sale?

If all you supply is an order form on your website, your legitimacy may be questioned. Why can't you answer the telephone? Why hide behind an anonymous and cold email address? Make it easy for your existing and potential customers to talk with you.

It is vital that you list all possible ways that they can reach you. By creating a contact page, you will be able to answer enquiries and reinforce the fact that there is an actual person or persons behind the website.

9. Unchanging or Out-Dated Content

If you work in a constantly changing industry, it's important that your content remains fresh and up to date. Nothing will turn away visitors more quickly than out of date information. In addition, if you keep your content fresh your site will attract repeat visitors and repeat visitors are more likely to turn into customers.

Have a "What's New" or "Latest News" section. Even if your industry is not that fast moving, there will be times when you want to update your visitors with current news or promotions and using this section of your web site enables you to inform repeat visitors that there is information they have not seen previously on your web site.

10. "Me, me, me!" instead of "You, you, you" Generally speaking, your visitors do not care about you, your company or your thoughts. What they do care about is whether or not you can solve their particular problem or fulfil their individual need. Web sites that promote their Mission Statement or display pictures of the company building really don't bode well for keeping the interest of site visitors.

On the other hand, sites that speak directly to potential customers about how they can solve their problems, make their lives easier, safer, richer or more comfortable have a much better chance of keeping their visitors attention.

Concentrate on what your customers want to know, rather than what you want to tell them. In order to find out what your customers need, it is useful to solicit feedback from them. A common way to do this is by monitoring your enquiry emails for common themes, creating a feedback-form on the site, or to add an interactive forum.

As well as addressing all the possible questions about your product or service, it is important to address other, less obvious anxieties. If you are asking for contact details from your prospects, for example if you are asking them to subscribe to an email list, you must include a Privacy Policy. With the growing problem of email spam, many people are afraid to give out personal information. A basic Privacy Policy section will let your visitors know how the information they are providing will be used and if they will be contacted in the future.

Customers are also afraid of what will happen if they are not happy you're your product or service once purchased. To help alleviate any fears that they might have about purchasing online, there needs to be a section where potential customers can read your policy on accepting returns and refunds. For more information about how to write persuasive and customer focussed sales copy for your web site, have a look at our DIY Internet Marketing Guide "Writing Text That Sells". For an excerpt visit: http://www.enable-uk.co.uk/html/book_3.html

11. Inconsistent Look and Feel Many web sites confuse their visitors by having different designs or layouts in different sections. This often happens when a new section is added on to the original web site such as a shopping cart service. Visitors are left wondering if they are visiting another web site, another company, a partner or subsidiary. It can be very confusing.

It also screams of poor planning and can lead to design-drift and branding issues. It may be tempting to stray from the original design; it may be difficult to incorporate the newer sections or you may currently have a better design, but wait till you do a complete next-generation re-design of the entire site before introducing a new look and feel. Don't leave your visitors scratching their heads with one hand and possibly clicking away with the other.

Finally, any site that employs a number of these 11 notorious features is particularly painful to experience. When I click to a website that has six different fonts and colours, scrolls down never-ending pages, uses flying words and dancing graphics, big unreadable blocks of text, lists no phone number and has irrelevant or outdated content, I scream and bang my head on the desk. Worse than that, I click away from it as fast as I can. Make these mistakes at your peril.

For a positive look at what to include in your web sites design, take a look at September's issue of this newsletter "12 Essential Design Tips" available here: http://www.enable-uk.co.uk/html/internet_marketing_newsletter_.html#September2 004.

For a more in-depth, step-by-step guide to avoiding costly mistakes and making your web site work smarter, take a look at our in-depth DIY Internet Marketing Guides: "Start at the Beginning" and "Writing Text That Sells" available here: http://www.enable-uk.co.uk/html/diy_internet_marketing_guides.html

With all of this invaluable information available to you, you shouldn't go far wrong.

For a complete guide to marketing on the Internet, including: · The General Principles of Internet Marketing · Start at the Beginning · Writing Text that Sells · Building Online Relationships · Maximising Your Pay Per Click Campaign · Measuring Success Why not purchase the whole series of downloadable guides for the discounted price of ?64.95. Click for more information: books.html">http://www.enable-uk.co.uk/html/promo_ebooks.html Justine Curtis Enable UK Internet Marketing Information and Resources Make your web site work harder! Web: http://www.enable-uk.co.uk Email: info@enable-uk.co.uk Article from Internet Marketing Tips Newsletter, a monthly publication of Enable-UK Copyright © 2004 Enable-UK.

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