17 Website Design Mistakes That Will Kill Your Sales

By Ben Hart

I have assembled here a checklist of 17 mistakes to avoid when designing your website if your primary goal is to make money with your website.

Mistake #1 – Opening your website with a Flash page

Opening a website with Flash (a mini-movie) can be very cool looking. Website designers and graphic artists love them because they are so pretty and showcases their technical skill. But Internet surfers can’t stand them because they are searching for information.

A Flash page (which often takes a long time to load) stands between the surfer and the key information she’s looking for — also between your reader and your sales pitch.

When people type keywords into a search engine, they are looking for information. No one types “only show me sites with Flash page introductions.” In fact, if a searcher gets to your site and is greeted with an elaborate Flash presentation, half your visitors will leave your site before they ever get to your sales presentation. Search engines also hate Flash pages. Search engines are interested in content and in delivering information to searchers.

A Flash page is a big stop sign to both your readers and to search engines.

Mistake #2 – Requiring readers to click a link rather than scroll to finish reading the information or sales presentation.

The award-winning websites want all information on a page to fit on your screen because it looks neater and tighter — more award winning. But it’s easier for readers to scroll than to click a link.

Scrolling allows readers to hold their finger on a button and scan your headlines and subheads. If something grabs their interest, they can read (without clicking). Clicking and waiting for another page to load takes time. It’s annoying to a reader. It’s a stopper — kind of like intermission at a long movie or play. If the movie isn’t much good, the Intermission is often when I leave, for good.

The average time a surfer spends on a Website is about six seconds. Don’t waste time by making your reader click and wait to read. Put the entire article, your entire presentation on one page, even if your reader must scroll and scroll and scroll to read everything on the page.

Mistake #3 – Too many graphics, not enough attention to copy

Copy sells. Pictures and graphics are supporting exhibits for the copy. The award-winning websites are all graphics-heavy — and beautiful to look at.

Copy sells because copy is needed to provide your readers reasons and compelling arguments for why your readers should buy and buy now. And copy allows you to start building a relationship with your reader, essential for having any chance of closing a sale. The Bible has no pictures, no photos — just lots of text. And it’s the bestselling book of all time.

People search the internet for information (text), not graphics or pretty layouts. No one types “beautiful site” as a modifier to keywords describing their topic of interest. Plus, search engines can’t read graphics and so can’t index graphics. And graphics take time to load.

What you want for you site is a nice, clean professional layout that’s almost all text.

Mistake #4 – Lack of focus

So often I get to a website and can’t quite figure out what the website is selling or what I’m being asked to do. Websites should be dedicated to selling one thing or one service, or asking your reader to take one and only one action (even if the only action is to read the article).

If you sell many different products and services, you should have many different Websites dedicated to each product and service you sell. The reason is, when people search the internet with their keywords, they are looking for one and only one thing. They will buy from the website that is selling that one and only one thing — because it appears to visitors that this is your area of specialty.

If you have a plumbing problem, you want a plumber to fix it — not a jack of all trades handyman. If you have cancer, you want to see a cancer specialist, not a general practitioner. So if you fix roofs and pave driveways, have two websites, one dedicated to fixing roofs, the other paving driveways. Narrow has always been the gate to paradise in direct marketing. This is even more true in the age of the Internet, where people are looking for your service or product with highly focused keyword searches.

Mistake #5 – “Welcome to My Home Page”

This is a little like starting your sales letter with “Welcome to My Letter” or the book you are writing to “Welcome to My Book.”

I see “Welcome to My Home Page” all over the Internet. I guess these people think this sounds warm and friendly — like “Welcome to My Home.” Don’t do this.

Your home page should feature your main sales presentation. It should launch right in with an attention-getting headline. It should look exactly like a sales letter you might get in your mailbox — except, instead of an order form and reply envelope, you’ll have links or buttons that say “Click Here to Order” that will take readers right to the credit card form.

When the average surfer spends 6 seconds on a Web page, you don’t want to waste time with pleasantries. Launch right it to the performance — the sales pitch.

Mistake #6 – No attention-getting headlines or subheads.

Web surfers are scanners. A headline is like hand that taps your scanner on the shoulder and says “look here.” Headlines and subheads tell your scanners what all this text is about. And it’s good for your headlines to say something unusual — if possible “human interest.” Here’s a pretty good one: “How My 10-Year-Old Daughter Earned $750 Last Week With Her New Online Business.” Free offers make good headlines, i.e.: “Here’s Your Free . . .”

Headlines are what suck your readers into your copy. If your headlines are fascinating, your readers won’t mind reading a lot of small print to get the details.

Mistake #7 – Boring Writing

You can’t sell by boring your reader. Your headline is designed to get your scanner reading. But if your first sentence is boring, your reader will go on to the next site. The easiest next step for a reader to take is always to stop reading and go onto something else that’s more interesting. Each sentence must be so interesting that your reader reads the next sentence. Stephen King is a master of this.

He writes 800 page books packed with tiny print. But the stories are so interesting that people cannot get enough. They can’t wait for his next book to come out. What makes for good writing is the story you tell and the facts and details you include. There are no boring subjects, just boring writers. The great salesmen are great storytellers. Everyone wants to listen because they always have interesting things to say. Interesting writing makes for great salesmanship.

Mistake #8 – Failing to build copy around the keywords and phrases your customers and prospects are typing into search engines.

The search engines want to make sure your website is in line with the keywords you’ve selected to include in your Meta Tags and with the keywords people are typing into search engines. What makes a search engine valuable is that it does a good job of taking searchers to websites that are exactly in line with their keyword searches. You want your site high on the list of search results listed for the keywords you’re using to bring people to your site.

Mistake #9 – Frames

Don’t use frames in your website. Search engines don’t like them. They also increase the time it takes for your site to load. Pages using frames often can’t be printed. Not all browsers support frames – especially the older versions of browsers. If you reader likes an article they read in a frame, they often can’t book mark it.

Mistake #10 – “Mystery Meat” Navigation

This term, I believe, was coined by Vincent Flanders who runs a good site on website design provocatively called www.webpagesthatsuck.com.

The term “mystery meat” refers to processed meat (i.e. hotdogs, baloney and school cafeteria meat) where you have no idea what’s really in the meat. Flanders is referring to navigation buttons on websites that don’t tell you where they will take you.

Mystery meat is also produced by links that don’t explain what they are until your mouse rolls over them. Website designers love these rollover links because they look cool. But they create frustration for the site visitor. Make it easy for visitors to know instantly what your site is about and where the link s will take them.

Imagine if you could not read a road sign until you got out of your car and kicked it. Then the instruction would flash into view. Navigation links should be like road signs, telling your reader exactly what will happen if she clicks on the link.

Mistake #11 – Navigation Buttons in Odd Locations

This is another favorite trick of site designers trying to show how artsy they are. They put navigation buttons in strange locations – behind balloons, floating around in the air, or sideways so you have to twist your head to read them.

This is like putting the Table of Contents somewhere in the middle of the book or maybe inside the dust jacket instead of at the front of the book where you expect to find the Table of Contents. Put the main site navigation buttons  where you’d expect to find them – either along the top of the page (preferred) or down the left side of the page.

Mistake #12 – Confusing Navigation Structure

Don’t require your visitor to have to figure out how to get around your site, like a puzzle to be solved. Have a simple, clear navigation structure.

It’s frustrating for visitors not to easily be able to find what they are looking for on your site, or to know exactly where they are going when they hit a link. The visitor then gets lost in your site and can’t figure out how to get back to the original starting point. Imagine if a grocery store had no rhyme or reason to how it organized its products – just put products on the shelves randomly. Lots of sites are organized like that. Actually, it’s lack of organization.
Too many links on your home page also creates a “mystery meat” effect by confusing your visitor. Have no more than eight buttons on the index of your home page. Fewer than eight is better.

Mistake #13 – Music

Unless you are a band selling a song, having music start playing automatically when your visitor reaches your home page is a very bad idea. It’s cheesy and screems “high school. A kid must have designed this site.” Plus people have their own tastes in music – most of them different than yours. Having music play on the home page of your site might be just about the fastest way to cause the majority of your visitors to hit the exit button as fast as they can.

Mistake #14 – “This site requires [browser name] version x or higher.”

Imagine if you have a TV that’s not configured for High Definition and every channel you turned to required High Definition TVs. I don’t watch much TV, so that’s what my TV is like. Don’t require your visitors to have the latest, greatest, most up-to-date browser. Your site should be designed for your low-tech visitors. Not everyone keeps up to speed with the latest.

As I write these words, nearly half of America still uses dial-up for the Internet connection. Not everyone lives on the Internet. They use the Internet to send and read email, check sports scores and do a little research sometimes. Make your site accessible to them.

Mistake #15 – Too much Java Script

About 10 percent of people do not enable Java Script on their computers. So you should design your website so that it can be read and enjoyed by these people.

Now, you might need some Java Script on your site for sign-up forms and other interactive features. But use Java Script sparingly. Search engines don’t like to see too much Java Script.

Java Script is sometimes used by crooks to hijack information in browsers and other dastardly purposes. Java script is also used for pop-up ads, to change the appearance of scroll bars, to create rollover navigation (“mystery meat” navigation) and other annoyances. JavaScript is a very powerful tool. Judicious use of it can enhance your the appearance and usability of your site. Use it poorly and you’ll annoy your visitors and the search engines. If you are running a Google AdWords campaign, a Java Script pop-up ad on your site can cause Google to disable your Google ad campaign.

Mistake #16 – Absolute Font Sizes

Do not set your font sizes with absolute values (i.e. 12pt, 15px, etc). Instead, use the relative sizing that HTML supports: +1, -1, etc. or small, x-small, etc. in CSS. Doing this will allow the user to increase or decrease the size at which the text appears in their browser. Users who have poor vision or high-resolution screens will thank you for it.

Mistake #17 – Making it too difficult to buy

Make it as easy to buy from you as possible. Sites often require too much information from the buyer. And filling out the order form is a multi-click process. The first page you provide your name and email address. The next page your provide your address. The next page you provide your credit card information. The process takes too danged long. There’s too much friction.

Half the people who are trying to buy abandon the process half way through. It’s just too danged difficult. People shop on the Internet primarily because it’s convenient.

Always strive to reduce friction to buying. Amazon’s one-click purchase system is one of the best at this. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos says the one-click purchase system Amazon pioneered is one of the secrets to Amazon’s success. Make buying super-easy and super-simple.

You can also choose various levels of credit card verification. You can require an exact match of your buyers name, address and phone number, a CVS number, plus throw in another verification code or two. Or you can require just credit card number and expiration date. That’s all I require – a credit card number and an expiration date.

Because I choose the lowest level of verification (just card number and verification date) I pay a higher transaction fee (about 1.5% higher) than if I required all the other possible verification steps. But I cut way down on my shopping cart abandonment rate. I get more sales. I have yet to have anyone claim fraudulent use of their credit card. My gut tells me all the panic over identify theft is overblown — just like the Y2K scare never materialized, and most other scare mongering.

Now, I realize my sites are pretty ugly. They are not going to win any “design awards” — which go to the prettiest sites. I’m no graphic artist. But my sites do generate $87,000 in sales per month for me. So they do a good job of selling.

Still . . . as I review my list of 17 mistakes, I see indeed that my sites have some of these problems. I can see that I need to retool. Mostly I need to simplify. Always strive to simplify your site.

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