I was talking to a prospective client the other day when it struck me that despite all the adverts saying that it’s easy to build your own website using this or that “website builder” there’s a lot more involved than most people realise.
Of course, it’s something that I’ve known ever since I started building sites for people back in 1997/98 but in those days sites tended to be built by coders who understood the coding behind the site and , if you were lucky, knew how people reacted to design and content. Over the years this latter concept has interested me more and more – what does make people leave a site or conversely follow up and make a purchase or fill in a contact form on a website?
Sadly, the modern trend tends to that people want to build their own sites without understanding the basics, while that’s ok for a hobby site I do wonder about the logic behind building a website for your business like that. After all, you presumably use an accountant to do your accounts and tax, a solicitor if you need legal advice, an electrician for work that involves electricity, a cleaner for your offices, and may even use a specialist model maker for prototypes so why would you not use a specialist to build your websites?
Looking at some of the sites that I’ve been asked to work on as they were not giving a good return for their money I’ve identified several common features and have listed these below:
- Very large images and a small amount of text – while images are great on a webpage most people (and certainly the search engines) like to read text. Of course there are some exceptions to this, if you are a photographer or artist then the most important thing on your portfolio pages would be the images – having said that though, people would still like to read about the way you approach your work (if you are a wedding photographer for example do you take candid shots and mingle with the guests or are you more of a formal photographer, do you turn up early and take “preparation” shots and stay late and take “party” shots? Which areas do you cover and so on.
- Sites that put a great deal of care into their home page but don’t worry so much about the other pages. This is often done because of an idea that the home page is the most important page as that’s the one that visitors will land on first. If you take a look at almost any search in Google though, how many results are sending people to the home page of the site – any decent amount of optimisation will mean that people land on the page that’s about their search. A good example here is a search for “what is DMOZ” (where we are usually in positions 1 or 2), none of the results take the searcher to the home page of a site.
- Sites that talk about the site owner rather than what can be done to help the visitor. If you think about it, most visitors to a site are looking for something, be that information, a service or a product. If they have to plough through pages and pages of how good the business is that the website belongs to do you think there are likely to stay around – at least subconsciously they will be thinking “I need help with my tax” / “I want to buy some ink for my printer” / “what time does this shop open” / “how much does it cost to send this parcel” / “are there B&B rooms available in the area” or one of any myriad of other questions. They are looking for immediate answers and, only if they find the answers will they even be vaguely interested in more information about the owner of the website they are looking at.
- Using jargon or not being explicit – if you are aiming your website at the man in the street then don’t use jargon, they may not understand what you are offering and may well go to another site that speaks their language as it were.
Be explicit about the services or products you provide – for example if you take photos of items for businesses (whether that’s of food for restaurants or other products) then say that you take “product shots” and “advertising photographs” and explain how these can help the visitor, I once worked with someone who insisted that they took “pack shots” even though none of their clients called it that.
- Difficult navigation – I’ve seen several sites recently that have a navigation bar down the left hand side of the screen. There’s nothing wrong with that and indeed many sites have their navigation here but… the sites I’m thinking of all start with the navigation hidden until you click on a button in the top left. I think the idea is that it frees up screen space for the rest of the content while, in my view, all it does is makes life difficult for the visitor meaning that they will leave the site in frustration.
- Don’t, please don’t, repeat words on the page because you think that the more you repeat it the more important Google will think that the page is for those words and the higher you will appear in the results. I’m sure that if your browsed the internet for any length of time you will have come across pages that say something like “Our pink dog collars are wonderful, if you have a little girl dog and are looking for a pink dog collar you have come to the right place. Our pink dog collars are made of the best materials and are better than any other pink dog collar”. While this may be extreme I was looking at a tax accountant’s site the other day and they mentioned tax 24 times on the home page – bearing in mind that the home page only consisted of 3 paragraphs you can see how repetitive it looked.
Hopefully, if you are going to build your own DIY website this article has given you something to think about, but seriously, why take time off of your productive work to build something when you can pay a professional to do so and get much better results?