Fourteen Faux-Pas of Website Functionality

Posted by Alec Biedrzycki

Feb 3, 2013, 3:19 PM

To me, a business website is a very exciting thing. It's essentially a digital sandbox to create an online experience for your potential customers. It has the capability of getting you found on the Internet, teaching said potential customers about your product/service and beginning a business relationship with them. If done right, a website can be a VERY effective tool in growing your business.

As a digital marketing consultant, I see a lot of websites. While most of my consulting recommendations are based on marketing goals and the required steps needed to achieve them, a majority of this feedback involves some part of the client's website. As you can imagine, I've witnessed my fair share of website initiatives and how successful they are at achieving a client's business goals. What follows is a list of website faux pas that in my opinion, detract from a website's ability to foster business growth.

1.) Parallax Scrolling

At first glance, the increasingly popular parallax scrolling functionality seems like the future. And it very well may be. But for now, it's very detrimental to website search engine optimization (SEO). More on that in a second. For those unfamiliar with parallax scrolling, it's basically a website that shifts content when you go to a new interior page (check out some examples here). Instead of loading a new website page when you click on say "About Us" in the top navigation, parallax scrolling functionality will slide content around in a fancy manner to display the new page.

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While it's pleasing to the eye and a slick user experience, there's one major problem: All interior pages of the website that are part of this parallax functionality aren't indexed as separate pages by search engines. So essentially, Google, Bing and Yahoo are indexing only ONE page of a parallax website in search results. This is bad for domain authority and severely diminishes a website's chances of getting found online. It's basically like having a very creative piece of art but no audience to come find it. Until parallax scrolling is able to encompass some form of search engine optimization, I'd steer away from it. (Note: for well-known brands, I think this functionality is actually fine-- however, for business' struggling to get found on the Internet, the effects of parallax scrolling should be considered before implementation).

2.) A CTA-less Banner

When developing a website, avoid including a visual banner that takes up a huge chunk of webpage real estate and does absolutely nothing. I'm not against all banners--I believe a well thought-out banner can be very effective on a website, as it essentially operates as a functional Call to Action. Take for instance my friends at The Whole Brain Group. Their website home page has a large, scrolling banner that has a nicely placed "learn how" button. It take up space, but in this case it's a good thing. For one, it captures the viewer's attention. Secondly, it has the next step clearly outlined. The types of banners that need to be eradicated are ones that don't do anything. If you have a banner on your site, ask yourself "what does this banner do?" If the answer is "nothing", either make it do something or get rid of it. You're probably turning off website visitors by giving them no clear direction.

3.) Stock Imagery:

Let's face it--does this woman really answer the phone when someone calls your business asking for a quote?headset-woman

4.) Blogging on a separate domain

Blogging is a great tactic, because it helps drive visitors to your website. It's also great at building up the authority of your website domain, which results in higher search rankings and better quality, more relevant traffic (provided you are blogging on the domain of your website, whether it be a subdirectory (www.example.com/blog) or a subdomain (blog.example.com)). If you're not blogging on the domain, you're basically dividing the impact of your content creation efforts. If you're currently blogging under a different domain, don't panic. All is not lost! I recommend importing all existing posts to a part of the main domain (subdirectory or subdomain) and placing 301 redirects on all the old posts on the separate domain, pointing to the newly imported posts. Then, moving forward, publish all new posts on that new blog. Crisis averted!

5.) Flash Websites

Like the show Survivor, I thought Flash had died out. But apparently, both are still going. Continuing with this comparison, I'm pretty sure I've never met anyone who likes either. Bottom line here is that a Flash website is a huge red flag. Like the parallax scrolling example above, Flash websites typically suffer from the same indexing issues. Oftentimes, the entire site is one big animation (which might've been easy on the eyes in the early 2000's, but now it's borderline painful to watch). Hey, that's also like Survivor! I wasn't expecting this analogy to hold, but it actually makes more sense the longer I think about it. In summary, if you have a Flash website, it's time for an upgrade. And if you know someone who likes Survivor, they probably have a Flash website.

6.) Auto-play videos

If you incorporate something on your website that might lead to the inadvertent embarrassment of a website visitor, it's probably a good idea to remove it. I can't tell you how many times I've been working in a group setting, analyzing a new client's website when BAM! A video with the founder describing the business' mission begins playing automatically on the homepage. I desperately reach for the mute button on my laptop, but it's too late. My colleagues' eyes are upon me, wondering what on Earth I'm looking at. With no time to think of a good explanation or cover up, I usually just blurt out "well THAT's embarrassing." So please, for the sake of your website visitor's dignity in the workplace, please remove the auto-play functionality on your website videos. Thanks!

7.) How can we help?" Chat Boxes

Similar to the intrusive nature of the auto-play video, an auto-chat box that's triggered after a duration of time on the website is the digital equivalent of a department store clerk asking if you need help finding anything. This may be personal preference, but if I ever need help finding something, I'll definitely reach out on my own. This tactic seems a bit too sales-y, especially for those visitors who want to learn a bit more on their own before actually talking to someone. Getting prospects to convert on your website is like hunting a bunny rabbit. You can probably catch it more effectively with a bated snare rather than trying to chase it down with a baseball bat.

8.) I'm Not Sure What The Hell You Do...

People can do some pretty complex work for a career. One of my best friends now does medical physics-- essentially figuring out the trajectory of radiation during chemotherapy for cancer patients. I can't imagine the details of what that profession entails, but I was able to effectively convey the gist of it in a sentence. I believe every business website should be able to do the same.

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It's astounding how many times you'll visit a business website and have at best, a vague understanding of what the hell the company does. I think this pitfall definitely comes as a result of an undefined target audience and unclear value proposition, two facets of a business that need to be fully developed and represented throughout the website. The huge downfall of ambiguity on a business website is that it'll most likely lead to a high visitor bounce rate. It's like a television viewer changing the channel because the TV guide said something different than what was actually on. Furthermore, many folks I work with that are victim to website ambiguity really have no idea until I point it out. You could be suffering from this without even knowing it. My advice? Perfect the elevator pitch for your business and have that clearly illustrated on your website's home page. We don't want to confuse our prospects--we want to educate them!

9.) Dead-end Pages

You've definitely seen these before, but you might not know it. From a user perspective, you probably don't realize you're on one because a.) you keep seeking out what you were looking for on the site or b.) you end up leaving because there's no clear direction where to go next. Dead-end Pages are a bad user experience for the group that falls into the latter category. Website visitors that are early on in the buying process (just figuring things out) need to be shepherded because they usually don't know what they're looking for just yet. It's our job to ensure that we give them a clear direction through the website, providing next steps for each stage they're at.

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A Dead-end page has no visible "next steps" or call to action to keep a visitor moving throughout your website and/or buying process--it basically corners the visitor in your website. The solution to avoiding this pitfall is to have clear, contextual calls to action on every website page. For example, a Website Design Services page could have a call to action for a free opt-in, downloadable Pre-Website Redesign Checklist. This effectively captures visitor data (lead conversion!) and gives the new lead an educational resource on how they should start thinking about a Website redesign. It's win-win!

10.) Responsive Design

I'm a huge fan of responsive design. In my opinion, it's definitely the future of website development. First, for those who are unfamiliar with the phrase, Responsive Design is a way of constructing your website so that it shapes and morphs to all types of displays (desktop, mobile, tablet, etc.). With consumers now shifting towards mobile device adoption, it's become important to construct websites that are viewable on multiple platforms. One huge payoff of responsive design is that it eliminates the need to build out a separate "mobile" site for your business. No longer are the days where you'd need to update both sites separately-- responsive design allows you to manage one website and not worry about formatting. So, now you're asking, why is it in this list? Firstly, I think it's something every business should consider for their next website. HOWEVER, there is a flip-side to this as well. I would NOT get responsive-obsessed, ensuring that every element of your site is responsively designed if you get very LITTLE traffic. All too often I run into clients who are so focused on design that they don't realize where their priorities should be. Why spend 8 hours ensuring that your latest landing page looks good on an iPhone when you only get ten website visitors a month, none of which are on a mobile device? It's my opinion (you may think differently), but I believe you should focus on content development and actually getting folks to your website before wasting efforts in responsive design.

11.) Overly Long Contact Forms

Clients sometimes ask me, "Hey Al, why are you so gosh darn good looking?" To which, I usually say that it's just my likeness to Christian Slater. After briefly discussing what the actor is up to nowadays and neither of us coming up with an answer, my clients then ask "why am I not getting any leads through my website?" Well, it could be one of many causes. Not website traffic, the wrong website traffic, unclear value proposition--the list can go on. However, if they ARE driving the right types of traffic to the website and have relevant, clearly visible, value-added opt-in instances throughout the website, then I usually take a look at the contact form. Believe it or not, people really don't like filling out overly long contact forms. Especially overly long contact forms with ALL required fields. Developing an effective contact form is a balancing act--on one hand you want enough information to benefit you or your sales team throughout the sales process. On the other hand, you want to avoid making it too long so you don't scare away any potential leads. Success is finding a happy medium and then shortening it one or two additional form fields. To get there, do a critical analysis of the form field. If you don't absolutely need that piece of information, omit the field. C'mon, it's what Christian Slater would do (WWCSD?)

12.) Shameless Keyword Stuffing

Why rank for one keyword when you could rank for...DOZENS? It's true! You can rank for more than just one keyword. The right way to do this is through blogging. Create a piece of content that focuses on a specific keyword, optimize it, publish it and share it. There you go, another opportunity to rank for a keyword of your choice. The wrong way to do this is through keyword stuffing. Google isn't going to crawl your home page that's plastered with keywords and be able to effectively index it. In fact, with the most recent animal-themed updates (Penguin and Panda) Google is actually penalizing sites that try to do too much with keywords. So how much is too much? I recommend optimizing each page on your website for only one keyword. That way, Google isn't confused as to what that page is trying to rank for. Otherwise, it would be like trying to figure out which film genre the move The Mummy falls into. Is it action? Horror? Romance? Comedy? Sci-Fi? Don't be the Stephen Sommers of website optimization.

13.) Amateurish Content

Interns are great for helping out with a business' basic execution items. From a website initiative standpoint, they're also great at writing content. That doesn't necessarily mean they should have free rein on a website's content development. While I've read my fair share of well-written content by an intern or an entry level employee, I've been subject to far more, poorly written content. Sure, they're getting experience and someone needs to do the blogging, right? Well, the two most fundamental reasons (in my opinion) to blog are to get found and to educate website visitors. If you have content that's getting you found, that's great. But if it's poorly written, you're bringing people to you website and subjecting them to whatever the person who's blogging is saying. If you suspect it might not be up to par, it's probably time to evaluate. Or at least instate some sort of approval process to ensure whatever's published is representative of the quality your business wishes to produce.

14.) The Unnecessary Redesign

A lot of times, a client will be doing a redesign just because the current site "isn't working." That usually prompts me to ask "what" exactly isn't working. If the client has trouble pinpointing the answer, chances are a redesign isn't the answer. I can understand why a redesign would seem like the right solution--it's a change we can see. The underlying problems to a website's effectiveness pretty much always stem from the "not driving leads" or "not bringing website visitors" issues. Real solutions to these issues would be blogging, optimizing for SEO, or setting up more effective conversion opportunities. It might even be diagnosing several of the points listed above and making the change. Rarely is a redesign the solution needed in a situation like this. All too often SEO factors aren't considered in a redesign, and failure to transition over search engine credit in the correct manner can severely effect the traffic to the new site once it launches, a huge letdown for those who believed a redesign was the answer to their traffic woes. Plus, redesigns always take much longer than anticipated. Before undergoing a redesign, it's best to diagnose what the real problems are and connect them with the solution that will help solve those problems.

Well, that's fourteen. Catorce, if my Spanish serves me right. What other website faux pas do you run into? I'll keep a running tally of these, maybe even make a glossary. Until next time!

Is Your Website Dropping the Ball?

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