What Message Does Your Local Small Business Website Deliver? – 5+ Pitfalls to Avoid

When I am preparing to speak to clients, the first thing I usually do is go to their website and have a look around. Every small business has limited resources, but in today’s online world, you need to be careful how much you skimp on your website. I’d say it might be better not to have a website than to have one that conveys the message that you are sloppy and might be out of business soon. Your site doesn’t have to be overly fancy, but it needs to avoid some all too common pitfalls.

It’s not uncommon for people to tell me that their website has been built by a friend, a relative, or a volunteer and that it has been done over many times. Usually these are well meaning people who have some experience in coding and decide they will create a website “to help out”. Well, not so fast, there is a lot more to building a website than just throwing up a few screens.

Through my experience working with businesses on local online marketing, I want to share 5 of the most common website pitfalls you must avoid. Your website developer might not like me, but avoid these pitfall through your contract:

The site looks bad or doesn’t work right due to browser incompatibility: First and foremost, the site has to work and it has to work in multiple browsers. Don’t let someone build you a website and then not test it in all common browsers. At a minimum you want to make sure they test with Google Chrome, Apple Safari, Microsoft Internet Explorer (notorious for not working, so make sure they test at least with IE release 7, 8, and 9), and Mozilla Firefox browsers. There are many others, but at least make sure these are tested. There is a debate that always brews over support of IE 6. It’s not a very good browser and so almost everyone is dropping support of it.

The content is not marketing and business focused: The problem with friends and family when it comes to building websites is that they don’t have a strong business and marketing background, so they don’t know how to write the text of your website or even what’s important. It needs to be compelling. It needs to call people to an action. It needs to be well written with all the grammar, punctuation, and spelling right. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? Well don’t take for granted that a fresh out of school programmer will understand marketing and/or possess the level of attention to detail that you need. They may, but probably not. Make sure that your most important action is clear to your website visitor – do you want them to call, visit your physical location, or download information? Make sure the call to action jumps out at you right when you look at the site. Also the site should have on-page SEO, so check to see if you are getting that.

The home page is so crowded with information, the reader leaves: Have you ever been to a website in which the landing page is SO busy, you have no idea where to start so you leave? I have and I’m sure you have too. Make sure the home landing page puts your best foot forward. You don’t have to cram everything on that page, that why you have multiple pages. And make sure the pages are laid out well. I honestly chuckle sometimes when I look at a site’s layout. I often find the strangest things, like the directions to the store or location hidden under a product and services tab. It may have made sense to someone, but think about how people will use the site and create the layout that seems self-explanatory. Ask others for feedback on the layout as well – could they find what they were looking for?

Links to dead social networking pages: You’re hip, so you need your website to have links to all the social networking sites: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and more, more, more, right? Wrong! You only want links to social networking sites on your website if you have a proper, business focused social network page. For example, if you have a link to Facebook and all your family and friends post all kinds of personal stuff there – is that really where you want your customers to go? Now if you have a business fan page that you keep up at least 1-3 times a week and monitor daily, then great, by all means use that site. Same goes for all other websites. Let’s say you have a link to LinkedIn or Twitter, but you aren’t active there. You might have a nice, clean, business focused profile, but you never check for comments. Now’s let’s say that Twitter is how one of your hot prospects communicates, and tweets you, but you don’t reply. They may think that you are ignoring them and go elsewhere. Not good, so if you aren’t active, don’t put up a link.

External links don’t work or they open causing the user to leave your website: Make sure all internal and external links work and request that external links on your site open in new browser windows so the user doesn’t leave your site. External links to relevant information are good and important, but you don’t want the customer to prematurely leave your site. If you have external links, they need to be checked before the site is launched and then again in the future to make sure they still work.
Finally, I promised 5+. Keep your copyright up to date or leave it off. Ever go to a business site and see something like 2008-2009 xyz All Rights Reserved? Makes you wonder if they are still in business, doesn’t it. Simple thing – keep your copyright up to date.

People will claim they can build you a cheap website fast, but remember there are 3 things involved and you CANNOT have all three: quality, speed, and low-cost. Over 25 years of experience in R&D, product management, and marketing has shown me time and again: you can get it cheap and fast, but it won’t be high quality; you can get high quality and fast, but it won’t be low cost; or you can get it high quality and low cost, but it won’t be fast. That pretty much holds true for most things in life. So, talk to your web designer, get a contract, and avoid the pitfalls. Your online presence is important, so make sure it represents your business well. For more business website ideas and local online marketing tips see some of my other blog posts.

Gwynne Wade

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