Nowadays, company websites are as ubiquitous as the business card: nearly everyone has one. That means that the standard of quality has been raised. You can’t sit on a poorly designed, eight-year-old site and expect prospective customers to give you the benefit of the doubt. A website that doesn’t do your business justice is worse than no website at all: it means you are actively turning people away from your door.
There are scores of books, blog entries, and tutorials on website design best practices. Many of them are invaluable—but the sheer volume of information can be overwhelming unless you’re really ready to get your hands dirty. To help get you started without a personal library, here are a few crucial mistakes you should avoid when you build your next website—or fix ASAP in your current site.
Not linking to your social media
No one can question the value of social media in engaging with prospects and customers, sharing information, and boosting the value of your brand. All those hours spent getting the perfect Facebook post or Tweet are wasted, though, if there’s no one around to see them. Make it simple for website visitors to connect to your social media pages. Put your social media buttons in the header or footer of your website, and make them easy to spot. If people have to work to find your pages, many of them will just assume you aren’t on social media at all.
Not optimizing your images
Remember dial-up? I have a lot of not-so-fond memories of waiting for images to load slowly, line-by-line—and if you were online in the ‘90s, you probably do as well. Broadband has largely made long load times a thing of the past—but if you don’t properly format your images before uploading them to the web, you can still give viewers a nasty case of déjà vu.
Figure out the largest possible image size someone will want to view when they visit your site; then, shrink images to that size before adding them to your pages or galleries. It might be tempting to upload a full-size photo from your camera and use your CMS to shrink it down, but don’t make that mistake—it will be immediately noticeable to anyone who loads your pages (and your bandwidth will take a hit, too).
Not properly coding your SEO
A lot of people know just enough about SEO (Search Engine Optimization) to be dangerous. They know that they’re supposed to have page titles, and they know that keywords are a “thing”—but unfortunately, that’s where their knowledge ends. SEO is a complicated field, and one that I can’t really do justice to in a single paragraph. At a bare minimum, however, you should remember that:
- Every page on your site needs a unique, meta description – one that’s short (under 160 characters, including spaces).
- Ditto for title tags, which should also be under 65 characters, including spaces.
- All of your images need to have alt tags. It’s even better if their file names describe what they are about (e.g. red-pine.jpg), but remember: don’t use spaces in your file names.
- Meta keywords aren’t as important as they used to be (many search engines now ignore them), but that doesn’t mean keywords themselves aren’t important. In fact, keywords are vital to being found on the web. Each page of your website should focus on 3-5 keywords that actually appear in your content. Also, don’t “stuff” your pages with dozens or hundreds or keywords—it can make the content confusing, and will actually make your ranking much worse.
Nowadays, you can’t expect people to jump through hoops to use your website. There are other companies out there doing the same work as you do, with better sites—and they’ll be the ones getting the business. It may seem like website design is littered with arbitrary rules and restrictions, but it all makes sense when you realize that every piece of your website needs to make it easy for your prospect to find you, learn more about you, and act on what they’ve learned.