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4 common causes of cringeworthy websites

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By Laura Christianson
Relationship Marketing
Published: Thursday, November 29, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
  • Laura Christianson

    Laura Christianson

“My company's website is so awful that I'm embarrassed to send customers to it.”
If that sentence describes your website, it's a sure sign that your online home is a candidate for “Extreme Makeover: Website Edition.”
Most owners of cringeworthy websites have been fed poor advice about what a site “should” look like. Let's explore four common misconceptions people have about websites and look at ways to repair the damage.
1. More is better. When it comes to website design, many business sites operate under the assumption that more is better. They stuff their home page with flashy graphics, slideshows, videos, drop-down menus, endless blocks of type, blinking ads and an eye-popping color scheme.
Visitors to your website will give it a two-second glance before deciding to explore further or click away. When you overwhelm visitors with an array of elements that compete for their attention, they'll likely give up and never return. A cluttered website almost guarantees you'll lose the sale.
The solution? Simplify. Ask yourself: “What one thing do I want visitors to my site to do?”
The visuals and text you put on each page must work together to help visitors take the next step. Review each page on your website and axe every distraction that inhibits visitors from taking the action you want them to.
2. Embrace sesquipedalians. “Our company's thought leaders leverage competitive technologies that accelerate product innovation across 20 verticals.”
I think that means, “Smart people at our company create useful products for 20 niche markets.” But I can't be sure. The words sound impressive. But they're vague and confusing.
Using industry jargon on your website is unacceptable. Read through every word of copy on your website. List the jargon and sesquipedalians (long words). Replace gobbledygook with plain, conversational language. The text on your site should include short, punchy headlines and snippets that highlight the benefits of what you have to offer.
3. If it's broke, don't fix it. Empty pages. Hyperlinks that don't link. Facebook icons that lead to defunct accounts. Contact forms that don't contact anyone. These are the signs of a neglected website. Visitors get mighty irritated when critical functions don't work.
Test every link and form on your site and make a page-by-page list of what's broken. Then fix it or hire a web developer to do it for you.
4. Pop-out and drop-down menus are fun. I visited a site that displayed 10 pages in the navigation bar. When I hovered over the “About Us” button, a tab with nine sub-pages attached to it popped out. As I carefully scrolled down the list of sub-pages, a third layer of pop-out tabs appeared, with four sub-sub-pages listed under it. When I attempted to click the sub-sub page, all the pop-outs disappeared and I had to start over.
“I will never, ever return to this site,” I vowed.
A rule of thumb for website navigation: Visitors must be able to access the information they're looking for in one or two clicks.
When you force them to wander through a maze, they'll get lost. And you'll lose them.
Visitors to your site don't need to learn everything about your company. They're almost always looking for specific information such as, “How much does this product cost? How can I get it? Who can help me solve my problem?”
Each page on your site must deliver one key piece of information and help visitors take action. Consolidate or delete all content that offers visitors too many choices. Most importantly, give visitors an easy way to contact you so they can pick up the phone and make a personal connection.
Laura Christianson owns Blogging Bistro (bloggingbistro.com), a Snohomish-based company that specializes in custom website creation, content writing and social media marketing. Contact her at 425-244-4242 or laura@bloggingbistro.com.
Story tags » SCBJ TechnologySCBJ MarketingSCBJ BusinessSCBJ Columnists

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