Website Design, Strategy, Social Networking, SEO, Susan Pomeroy, Ph.D.

The Ten Most Alienating Website Mistakes

by Susan Pomeroy

Are you driving users away—and losing business—because of any of these easily fixable goofs?

global business cliche

The "global handshake" is now a global business cliche.

1. Cliches

Use language and images with originality, precision and skill. If you write in cliches, I know you’re either (a) talking down to me, and/or (b) not offering me anything unique or original. And please, don’t give me boring visual cliches either. I’m not apt to buy, sign up for anything, or even stick around to check out your site.

2. Jargon

Plain talk works best. “I offer my web 2.0 clients techniques for listening to users, establishing full transparency, and  SMO.” If you don’t know what this means, are you going to buy from, listen to, or recommend me? Or even stay on my site? Doubt it. (Jargon decoder here.)

3. Squinting and peering

Can I read it? Avoid text/background contrast that is too low (or too high), and text that is very tiny or in a strange, decorative but unreadable font. If I have to squint, peer, or put on/take off glasses to read your site, I’m probably going to forget it.

4. Nobody home

I want to know there’s a real person or people standing behind your site. If there is no name, no bio, no picture, no address, no phone number, nothing but an email contact form, I’m not going to contact you. Period.

5. Circularity

Give me a simple, logical structure. Can I find, and get back to, information I want on your site without  having to think about it, and without feeling like I’m going in circles? If I can’t find things… or can’t get away from them…. buh-bye!

6. Flash

Steve Jobs isn’t the only one who hates Flash. If you must have a Flash intro, make the “skip intro” link big, front, and center. Otherwise I might not see it before I leave—because I probably won’t wait around for the Flash to load. And if I have to download a plugin just to see your site? Fuggedaboudit.

7. Expired third-party services and content

Check your site regularly. Do you use a third-party service like Wufoo for your contact form? Third-party search? Any kind of third-party-provided content… news crawls, RSS feeds, affiliate banners? If your contact form is non-functional because a service like Wufoo changed its link structure… or because you forgot to pay your bill… it shouldn’t be on your site.

8. Not enough information

Give me information I can sink my teeth into. Yes, hyper-designed, text-minimal sites can be gorgeous. But in order to sign up for your mailing list, I have to be interested, not just dazzled. And to buy something, I have to trust you. Where’s the beef?

9. PDFs

Use html for “perishable” information. I’ll gladly download a PDF if it’s a report, a list, an article, an itinerary … something that I’ll want to print, read later or in installments, study, or carry along. But I really hate having to wait for a download that I know I’m going to have to trash the moment I’ve glanced at it. Put non-download info into browsable html, please, or I won’t bother.

10. Repetition.

Let me choose whether to read repetitive copy. Do I need to read the same intro text word for word on every page, or every similar item you sell? Yes? Then put it on its own page, linked with a “more info” link so I don’t have to skim it over every single time I click on an item. Or use a “hide content” widget like WordPress’ Collapsible Elements plugin (currently due to be discontinued in August 2010) so that I can read it if I want, or skip it easily.

User-friendliness means better business

It’s all too easy to get lazy or rushed and miss something super-obvious on your site. We’ve all done it. But it’s a lot better for your business to give people an interesting, well-conceived, efficient site that lets visitors know that you have their needs in mind.

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