Many businesses have websites which cater almost exclusively to their own needs. On the surface this seems reasonable, as a website’s job is to promote and highlight the importance of a given business. However, focusing entirely on the needs of the business over the needs of the customer or visitor can result in the creation of a website which is not user-friendly. Many people will turn to your website for a first impression of your business. If your site fosters a negative one, they may never be back. Indeed, many visitors will judge the quality of your business by the usability and professionalism of your site and users will be turned off by things like glaring typos in content or a poorly considered color scheme. However, there are times when a site may look fantastic at first glance but still not be well optimized for users. This scenario may come about if the web designer in charge of the site has implemented certain features on the site, the kind which can turn certain visitors off and cause them to dismiss their experience. Here are a few examples of features which, when implemented, might lead to this unfortunate conclusion.
Automatically Playing Video or Audio
There’s no real advantage to having a video play automatically. Yes, obviously more people will hear what you have to say in the video if you remove their agency and force them to listen to it, but the fact remains that if the user doesn’t want to watch the video they’ll simply turn it off anyway and will likely be annoyed in the process. If they are not able to turn the video off they may simply leave the site. Audio, typically music, is often meant to set a mood or make the usage of a site more engaging, but web developers who utilize it don’t seem to consider that the user might already be listening to their own music or, regardless, that they might have no interest at all in hearing someone else’s. Keep the user in control. Let them experience the media they want to experience. Remove their agency and they will become uncomfortable or aggravated, and they likely won’t stick around as a result.
Pop Up Ads
Everybody knows that pop-up ads are annoying, and yet they continue to be utilized, if perhaps not to the same degree that they once were. If you want to monetize your site by adding some advertising that’s fine (in certain applications), but keep ads restricted to banners or sidebars where they’ll be out of the way and won’t detract from the user’s experience. If you bombard the user with advertising they will likely be turned off and will probably think less of your site than they otherwise would.
Use of Flash
In the late 90s and early 2000s a tremendous amount of sites were made in Flash, or at least using Flash components. It’s not difficult to see why as, at the time, Flash was completely browser independent, meaning that flash sites always looked exactly the same on every standard computer monitor, provided you had the latest version of Flash Player installed. Flash also made it easy to include interactive elements, animation and videos on sites. However, with the rise of the touch screen Flash became significantly less viable as it was designed exclusively for mouse usage. A large blow came in 2007 with the release of the iPhone. Apple announced that Flash was not compatible with the platform, and since then it has been unusable on Apple devices. Considering how many of your potential clients own (and might view your site on) an iPhone, iPad or iMac, coding your site in flash is no longer a viable option. There are additional problems with Flash as well: it’s more expensive to develop than HTML, it’s harder to update and change, it’s not supported by certain Android phones as well and, perhaps most significantly, it’s very difficult for Google to crawl and index sites made in Flash. Feel free to use the platform for a small personal project if you wish, but avoid it on more significant pages.
Creativity is an essential trait of a good web designer. You want the look of your site to stand out, to be vivid and engaging and grab the interest of users. That being said, the one place you shouldn’t get too creative is in your site’s navigation. Navigation should be simple and intuitive. All pages should be clearly marked and easily accessible. Ideally users should never have to wander around your site looking for a certain piece of information. Its location should be evident from the start. Adding complex or “creative” navigation to your page adds an unnecessary level of complication to what is probably your site’s most basic and important feature. Keep it simple and your website visitors users will thank you.
Many businesses think that content is basically a “set it and forget it” feature of a site. Once you write it well you’ll never have to touch it again, right? WRONG. Google’s algorithm determines where your page should end up on the search engine results for a given keyword they’ll take your site’s “relevance” into account. If your page hasn’t been updated in a year (or more), you will quickly be passed up by other sites that have fresh, relevant content that the search engines crave. A great way to stay relevant is to maintain a blog or to regularly update certain pages with recent developments or news about your business. Keep your content evolving and Google will take notice.
So now that I’ve pointed out which features I feel should be avoided let’s have a look at the flipside of the issue and talk about some site features which I feel are underrated or underutilized.
Though auto-playing videos can often be annoying to visitors, videos which they can control themselves can be a fantastic resource. In fact, users are much more likely to watch a video than to read a page of text simply because viewing a video takes less effort and time. While hiring a professional to shoot your video will no doubt yield awesome footage for your site visitors to watch, there are many tools at your fingertips that allow you to shoot the video yourself and still output a quality product.
Mobile Ready/Responsive Design
Earlier this year, a report by Restive LLC found that only approximately 15% of sites are fully responsive, and only 3% are both responsive and fast when accessed on mobile devices. Ten years ago this wouldn’t have been a very serious problem, but now a huge amount of web users are regularly accessing the internet on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. Not implementing responsive design on your site means that people viewing it on these devices may have an impacted experience. In fact, they may not be able to use your site at all. Responsive design basically ensures that your site will resize to match the screen of the device it’s being viewed on. However, implementing responsive design successfully isn’t all about changing some code and walking away. Your site will have to adapt to the change in size, and it will need to do so in a way that benefits the user. Therefore, if your site is not responsive yet, or you simply haven’t begun creating it, it is imperative to seek out the help of a web designer who has a good deal of experience creating responsive web pages. It may take a bit more time and money to get your site running smoothly on mobile devices, but it’s more than worth it.
Strong Call to Action
Too often websites are riddled with paragraph after paragraph of boring information and do not provide a strong call to action telling the site visitor what’s in it for them and what you want them to do. Take advantage of the prime “above-the-fold” real estate and create some excitement. Here are some examples of Calls-to-Action on some popular sites:
For many companies implementing an online chat window on their site might seem like an unnecessary hassle. After all, you’ll have to have someone monitoring your chat client all day just in case someone writes in. However, the minimal effort involved in maintaining an online chat window is more than worth the potential reward. Visitors to your site will appreciate the convenience of a chat window. They’ll appreciate the opportunity to ask you questions directly. It’s been found that incorporating live chat can also increase your businesses’ sales significantly. In short, it doesn’t take much effort to incorporate live chat onto your site and it can do a great deal to separate you from the pack and help jump start a positive client-to-business relationship.
Testimonials and Online Reviews
Many businesses simply wait for online reviews to be written on sites like Yelp or Angie’s list. If that’s the approach you take you may find yourself waiting forever, particularly if you work in an industry that works with small numbers of clients on long term projects. Instead, it’s better to simply ask your clients if they wouldn’t mind providing a review of your business. Of course, you should make this totally optional and not press the issue if they’d prefer not to. Simply alerting them to the option is often good enough. Also, it’s always a good idea to keep a video camera handy to record video testimonials as well. These require less effort on the part of the client, and visitors to your site may give the testimonial more credence if they can actually see the reviewer’s face. Once you get a few testimonials put them up on your site on a clearly marked and easily accessible page. Visitors to your site are more likely to put stock in the opinions of other consumers than they are to blindly trust your company’s claims. Put the words of your satisfied customers front and center and they’ll hopefully take them to heart.
Take a look at your current website and consider these pointers. Ultimately, the choice is yours. Just remember, your website is often the first impression a consumer will have of your business. Create a positive experience for your website visitors so you can convert more of them into paying customers.
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