Every new business should have a website, whether it’s for lead generation, e-commerce, or just general branding. Having even the most bare-bones site puts your business ahead of more than half of US small businesses, which don’t have a website at all. However, your site may not be helping your business as much as it could, or should. In fact, marketing researchers have found many design problems that work against the business the site is supposed to promote. Here are some common web design mistakes that confuse visitors, erode their trust, or run them off, along with suggestions for design improvements.
1. Slow-loading, wordy landing pages
Web users wait no more than 250 milliseconds for a page to load before they give up and leave, according to the New York Times. The Nielsen Norman Group found that many site visitors spend 20 seconds or less on a page unless the content grabs their attention, and they only read about 25% of the text on a page.
That means your home page needs to load fast and explain your business quickly, in as few words as possible. Anything that negatively affects page load times, such as complex graphics or auto-play videos, should be removed (or at least moved off the home page). Long blocks of text are a waste because visitors almost never take the time to read them. Focus on clean graphics, a strong logo, a short explanation of your business, and an easy-to-navigate menu on your home page.
Speaking of your home page, make sure you’re not making these mistakes, either.
2. Design without market research
Effective web designs factor in the target audience’s age, educational background, and purpose for visiting the site. For example, businesses catering to customers over age 60 should follow design guidelines from the National Institute on Aging. They include the best fonts and type sizes, color combinations to avoid, and recommendations on graphics and content. Businesses catering to working parents, busy professionals, and Millennials – many of whom who rely on their smartphones for product research and shopping – should make sure their site is optimized for mobile use.
3. Cluttered pages
Too many graphics, too much text, clashing colors, and confusing navigation tools are common problems. Visual clutter makes it hard for your audience to find the information they want. It also damages your credibility. In a study reported by Forbes, design elements including busy layouts and obnoxious ads were among the factors that created feelings of distrust in site visitors. Remove page elements that distract visitors from the main purpose of their visit.
4. Too-trendy design
Every year, there’s a fresh crop of web design trends to watch and another crop that’s declared dead. Just-because-we-can trends like tag clouds and photo carousels are dated for a reason: Almost no one finds them useful. Adopt trends only if they offer value to your visitors. For example, a custom illustration for your site builds authority better than a thousand cheap stock photos.
5. Stale content
Fresh content helps your site rank more highly in search results, and it also guides visitors through your sales funnel. Abandoned blogs, neglected Twitter feeds, and Instagrams with three old photos say your business is neglected, overwhelmed, or doesn’t finish what it starts. Your site should only feature a blog or social media feeds if you can regularly update them.
6. Poor-quality images
Even when you’re starting up on a shoestring, high-quality images are an important investment. Low-end and free stock photos don’t build credibility, and they often don’t do a good job of illustrating your business services. As marketing psychology expert Derek Halpern says, “If you pulled your image from Flickr or a popular stock photo website, you probably have the wrong image.” Use high-quality product images, include professional shots of you and your employees, and leave it at that.
7. Broken links
Broken links frustrate visitors, erode their confidence in your business, and hurt your site’s search engine performance. Review all the links on your site regularly to make sure they’re still good, and fix broken ones right away.
8. Bad logo design
Your logo is a central piece of your branding, and its design should involve the same level of care and research that you put into your business plan and site design. Consider your audience, your company’s “personality,” how the colors affect your message, and more. If you already have a homemade or cheaply done logo, work with a designer who specializes in logos to improve or replace it.
9. Hard-to-read or silly fonts
Remember, most users will only spend a few seconds glancing over your page while they decide to stick around or leave. Stick with fonts that are readable and professional-looking – and make them big enough for the average glasses-wearer to read them easily. When it comes to font size, “14 is the new size 12,” according to Halpern.
10. Hard-to-find contact information and calls to action
Your contact information and call to action should be above the fold on each page of your site, not buried on a “Contact Us” page. Speaking of contact pages, don’t offer a contact form as they only way customers can contact you. They probably won’t – especially if they can call the competitor with a phone number at the top of their site. Unless you’re willing to optimize your form carefully (and maybe even then) you’re better off listing a phone number and email address so customers can reach you in the moment.
Each of these design mistakes is fixable with the right combination of audience research, expert help, and effort. Each mistake you fix can increase your audience’s trust in your business, the amount of time they spend on your site, and the likelihood that you can earn their business. That’s when your site becomes a true asset to your business.
Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelancer who enjoys writing about business development and marketing, e-commerce payments and fraud prevention, and travel.