Five Web Mistakes I See All the Time

By Lisa Hazen

thumbDownFor years, Glamour Magazine has had a recurring column of “Glamour Don’ts”. The idea is that they find offenders out on the street and show their fashion transgressions, while using a black box to obscure the offender.

It made me think of how I am always finding Web “don’ts”—things I stumble across online that aren’t fatal flaws, but that still make me cringe and want to stage a polite intervention. As a public service, here are some of the most common offenses I find.

Cramming everything possible on the homepage
I get it. When people hit your site, you don’t want them to miss a thing. You want visitors to get a good sense for the breadth of information inside. There’s nothing that you want to obscure.

But when you load up your homepage with too much content, you’re actually having the opposite effect on your users. Studies show that when confronted with a ton of content, users tune out and (worse) leave. Studies show that users spend between 10 and 20 seconds on a homepage—when you overwhelm it with content, you’re actually making it harder for them to find what they’re looking for.

Streamline copy, make your navigation direct and intuitive, and use graphics that illustrate your content. For an author site, you should prioritize the author photo, name, book title, and brief description on the homepage. Then actively link through to more content deeper in the site.

Infinite “coming soon” text
I’m OK with a “Coming Soon” page if something is, indeed, coming soon. (Like within the week.) But leaving those pages empty for weeks, months and even years frustrates users and makes you look bad.

This isn’t to say that you should wait until you have every last piece of content before launching your site. Quite the contrary. Keep in mind that it’s easy to add new menus and pages if you’re using a CMS like WordPress. Launch with what you have an keep an eye to content that will help your site grow in the future.

Badly out-of-date information
In my opinion, nothing on a site looks worse than woefully out-of-date content. Maybe it’s a long-neglected blog. Or a page promoting events that have past. Or the obvious omission of something new. (I can’t tell you how many authors’ sites I find that don’t list their most recent titles or articles.)

Updating your site content isn’t just a good idea, it’s necessary. When you update your site, you are telling search engines to index your site, you allowing your brand to grow and evolve, and you are (most importantly) providing your visitors with accurate, up-to-date information that represents you well.

No obvious contact information
The main point of having a site is to make a connection with someone. When you obscure or outright omit contact information, you are missing an opportunity to connect with your audience.

Obviously, not just anyone should have your home number or personal email. But there are lots of opportunities for people to connect with you in less obtrusive ways. One of the reasons why sites like Twitter have blossomed is that it allows people to have a direct line to someone who is important to them in some way—so use your Twitter feed as a contact point. You may not want to use your personal email as a contact address, but using a separate email address specifically for Web users can help you filter messages and pick them up as you need them.

Out-of-date software
This one is subtle, because it isn’t always obvious. But more often than not, when I look “under the hood” of a new site I’m taking on, there is outdated software. Keeping your software up-to-date is so important that I wrote a whole article about it. If you are using a Web-based content management system like WordPress, and not keeping your software up to date, you are putting your site and your content at risk. Click above to discover ways to keep your site software updated.

Lisa Hazen is a Chicago-based Web Designer specializing in author Web sites. She’d love to hear from you at www.lisahazen.com, on Twitter or by email at lisa@lisahazen.com.

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