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March 3, 2009

Top 5 Web Mistakes Small Businesses Make

Today, most consumers check out a company’s web site first – way before they consider making a purchase or contacting a business for more information. It’s often the first encounter they have with the company, and can result in visitors making snap judgments about the company and whether it’s credible or desirable to do business with. These types of judgments are based solely on their impression of – and experience on – the company’s web site.

Making a great first impression and establishing credibility are vital to turning web visitors into paying customers, so it’s important to avoid the web mistakes that can drive them away, rather than drawing them in.

Here are five common mistakes that small businesses make with their web sites, so be sure you site isn’t guilty of any of these offenses!

  1. Not updating your web site. – Let’s face it, there’s not much point in a visitor coming to your company’s web site if it is outdated, uses old technology, or never gets new information added. There are millions of web sites to choose from, so why would a user want to spend time on a site that isn’t useful and that you don’t seem to really care about? Today’s users have very high expectations, and if you don’t meet them, they will simply move on to a site that does.
  2. Skipping SEO. – How are customers going to find you if your site doesn’t come up in the search engines? Even if you have the best web site ever built, it’s not doing your business much good or generating new leads for you if customers can’t find it. Search engine optimization (SEO) is a necessary step if you want web visitors to find and visit your site, so don’t put it off. It’s a great investment in your business and helps you leverage the investment you’ve already made in building your web site in the first place.
  3. Using Flash-based or image-based architecture. – This is a big issue for small businesses that have already been talked into creating a Flash-based or image-based web site. These sites are typically more expensive to build and maintain, nearly impossible to update in-house, and are not WC3 (World Wide Web Consortium) compliant for accessibility. They are also invisible to the search engines, which means you cannot implement the SEO techniques necessary to get your site read and indexed in the search engine databases. The best thing to do with a Flash or image-based site is to convert it to a standards-based web site as soon as you can.
  4. Talking too much about the company and not focusing on the customer. – Web visitors do not want to read about how great your company is, how many awards you have won, or how your grandpa taught you about the family business. They want to hear how your company can help them solve their problems, and what the benefits will be (for them) if they decide to do business with you. Don’t go on and on about yourself – instead, focus on your customers’ needs and how you can improve their lives, jobs, families, or whatever it is that you solve for your customers. Limit the company bragging to a separate “About the Company” page, so users can decide to read about it only if they are interested in doing so.
  5. Using a “splash” page or “enter here” page before displaying the actual web site. – Few things are as frustrating to web visitors as wasting time trying to access the information they are looking for. If you display a splash page (or worse, a Flash intro!) before users can access any useful information, you are making them take an unnecessary extra step just to enter your site. Today’s users are extremely time-sensitive and impatient, and studies have shown that when faced with a splash page, Flash intro, or “enter here” link, they would rather click on the browser’s “Back” button than take that extra step or wait any longer to access information. The goal should be to make it as easy as possible for your visitors to get to the information they are looking for, not create barriers to it. The same principle applies to graphics-heavy pages that take too long to download – users simply won’t wait (plus these pages are invisible to search engines, since search engines cannot read Flash files or images).

Your web site communicates with more than just the text on the page; the site as a whole tells visitors a lot about your business. But you need to be careful that the message your site sends to visitors is an accurate one. By avoiding these five web mistakes, you can also avoid sending an unintentional message that your business is behind the times, doesn’t have the time or resources necessary to maintain your site, or that you don’t care about the impression you make to the world.

Lauren Hobson, President of Five Sparrows, LLC, has more than 15 years of experience in small business technology writing, marketing, and web site design and development. Five Sparrows provides professional web site and marketing services to small businesses and non-profit organizations, giving them access to high-quality services at affordable prices. To read articles or subscribe to Biz Talk, please visit