First impressions count. In an age when the vast majority of customer relationships begin online, often the first encounter an individual will have with a brand will be through its website. More than your sales team or your TV campaign, your website is the face of your business and yet a surprising number of start-ups and SMEs still make fundamental mistakes that put off customers and mar long-term impressions of their brand. We speak to a selection of experts on some of the worst web fails and how to avoid them.
Wave goodbye to waffle
One error inexperienced marketers tend to make online is filling a site with waffle, rather than sticking to a clear and concise message. “While waffles may be an exciting prospect for breakfast, where websites are concerned waffle is a conversion killer,” explains Andy Atalla, founder of atom42, the digital marketing agency. It’s understandable that SMEs will want to make sure they’ve covered all the bases, but forcing potential customers to wade through tranches of copy to understand your offering will make engaging with your brand a stultifying experience. “Where website copy is concerned, less is oh so definitely more,” he continues. “As usability legend Steve Krug says: ‘Get rid of half the words on each page, then get rid of half of what’s left.’”
Another mistake start-ups tend to make when working on their copy is getting too caught up in selling themselves, rather than focusing on the things potential customers might want to know. “Take a step back and think about why visitors would come to your site, what they want to find out, what problems you solve for them and what you want them to do next,” says Stephen Dann, a business coach at Growth Accelerator, the coaching service for high-growth businesses. Dropping the corporate speak is also a good idea; it might give an air of professionalism in an investor meeting but it’s likely to be a turn-off for customers. “Tell your story genuinely so the business doesn’t come across as faceless and avoid formulaic written copy,” he says.
Kill the clutter
Too much clutter drowns a brand message; judicious use of white space – the areas of your website not filled with content – will draw attention to the things that matter. “There seems to be a temptation among beginners to fill every nook and cranny of a web page with some sort of content, be that text, imagery or something else,” says Atalla. While it isn’t hard to understand the temptation to utilise what seems like dead space, if your content is strong it will stand better without a lot of competition. “Surround important content on your pages with white space and that content will instantly become more visible to your visitors.”
Image is everything
While a picture is worth a thousand words, low resolution or poorly chosen images won’t be saying anything good. “Make your site look professional and it will give a more reassuring impression to your visitors,” says Ben Martin, creative director at Peppermint Soda, the marketing communications agency. It’s also worth being prepared to stump up some cash for original imagery.
“Just because you’re a new start-up, don’t skimp on image costs and fall back on the use of stock photos your customers may have seen elsewhere,” says Radoslaw Rzepecki, web product designer at hungryhouse.co.uk, the online takeaway ordering service. “Set yourself apart from the crowd and invest in some authentic, bespoke images that really represent your product and ideas.”
Keep it subtle
Making your site distinctive can definitely hasten customers toward the checkout; making it gaudy will probably leave them reaching for a bucket. “Of course you want your site to stand out as much as possible; there are things you want to get across and you want to look different to everyone else,” says Rzepecki. But limiting a site to a consistent stylistic palette will show a much more convincing brand message than one that begs too heavily for attention. “Stick with two fonts and a maximum of four colours/shades and the effect will be much more appealing than a mind-bending rainbow.”
Lost in navigation
Complicated website architecture and endless levels of nested menus may seem the best way to keep everything in its right place, but if a website isn’t simple to navigate, users won’t invest loads of time trying to track down the information they’re looking for. “If the key information isn’t immediately visible, visitors will simply leave – potentially heading to a competitor’s website,” says Martin. “Make it easy to navigate and obvious what the next step is and you’ll get the conversions you are looking for.”
Don’t be Flash
When people first discovered Flash-encoded websites, it kickstarted a period where buggy sites coded purely using the tool became de rigueur. Fortunately, this overuse of the tool has increasingly become seen as passé and having too many elements zipping around your page is more likely to irritate than impress your users. “While Flash is useful for certain things on the web (display activity, mainly), it is no longer advisable to make heavy use of Flash on your website,” says Atalla. “In addition to the drawbacks that using Flash has on search engine optimisation, it’s also not fully supported on all devices, limiting your website’s reach.”
Their own devices
Given the number of users that browse the net exclusively with a mobile, if your site doesn’t function on a range of devices then you are effectively blocking yourself off from a substantial slice of the market. “It truly baffles me that some websites are still created without mobile in mind,” Rzepecki says. Using responsive design, designers can ensure a website displays properly, whether it’s on a hulking desktop or a pocket-size mobile. “Look at your page on a variety of devices before you’re satisfied with the design, because the days of the desktop are numbered,” he continues.
Keep traffic moving
While it’s important to create the right impression once people land on your site, it’s also vital to ensure you’re constantly pulling in traffic. “Make sure it’s visible to search engines by submitting your URL to Google for example and create new content regularly,” says Dann.
“News stories, blogs and videos will help your Google ranking and demonstrate to visitors that you’re a dynamic and up-to-date company that they will want to do business with.”