Bad Websites

SEO can be very effective if done properly, but if your website looks like hell; what’s the point.  While SEO may get them to your site, it’s your site’s job to keep them there and initiate an inquiry or sale.  But it won’t work if you have a bad site.

That’s the topic of my little rant, bad websites.  Small businesses have a tremendous amount of tools at their disposal today for building their own websites, compared to when I started building websites in the mid/late 90s.  The templates that are available today are incredibly rich and visually pleasing, unlike in the 90s which were awful.  But if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can still screw it up.

I have seen usability deteriorate over the years which has effected the designs as more small business owners try to do it themselves.  They need to add this, move that, alter this, etc. and the more they try to “tweak” the design the worse it gets.  It is understandable that a small business owner would want to try and do this on their own to help save money.  But for some reason common sense gets thrown out the window when this happens.

So what am I talking about?  I’m talking about some of the basic principles of web usability.  If you have a small business and you built your own website or are using a predefined template.  Grab a pen and paper and write these three rules down:

  1. KEEP IT SIMPLE – If you are throwing every bit of information about you, your company, your product or service onto your website.  STOP!  They don’t care!  Give them the “Cliff Notes.”  They want to be able to find the information they are looking for and then move on.  They don’t care if you were inspired to open your business while ice fishing in Iceland one winter.  What they care about is whether you are good at your chosen profession or not; that you are capable of providing them with the product or service they are looking for.
  2. LEARN THE 3-5 RULE – The average user will spend 3 to 5 seconds scanning a web page looking for the information they need.  If you aren’t providing them with that information in that time, they are on to the next website.  If you’re wondering what they want SEE #1
  3. STOP WITH THE BELLS AND WHISTLES – If your homepage is loaded with Video, flash buttons, a cool animated GIF etc. chances are your page is a mess and is distracting.  For that matter if your homepage is nothing more than a video or a big “BUY NOW!!” type graphic, you’ve also missed the point.  If you’re wondering what they want SEE #s 1 &2

For those that used a predefined template, like for WordPress, take a look at the sample site for your chosen template and compare it with your website.  You’ll notice almost every predefined template adheres to a clean basic design and the pages are short enough where there is little scrolling if any.  You should be using that sample as a guide for your own.  Why?  Because the Designer is far more versed in what works than you are.  For those that built from scratch, look at some of those online templates; they are good examples of how to do it.

What is puzzling is that many small business owners who go the “do-it-yourself” route will pay for an SEO service, since they are experts; but because they bought a template or are even using a free template, the designers of those templates seem to be viewed as less than experts.  Yep that makes sense.  When they aren’t getting the response from visitors they get to their site they ultimately blame the SEO service.  “It’s just not working.  No one is buying or asking about my XYZ.”  REALLY?!  Could it be the 4.5 pages you have on your homepage that explains how you sacrifice small jelly beans to achieve a mental state of nirvana before you start whatever it is you do?  How about the 22 navigation buttons you’ve added to the top, left and bottom of the template all with different headings?  Gee that’s a tough one; Nope, Nope, it’s got to be the SEO.

I can’t tell you how many small business owners I have worked for or met that have told me, “Because it works,” or “That picture of my cat is extremely pertinent to how I do business,” or “Those 10 pages are critical in explaining the process before making the sale.”  Each and every one of them I have a simple question in response, “Then why did you hire/ask me?”  The truth is it doesn’t work, it’s not pertinent and they don’t care how you do it; just that you can do it.

As amusing as some of those examples may be, if you search the internet you’ll find plenty that aren’t far off that mark.  Many will insist that they are doing it right.  When it isn’t working the way they want, they’ll hire an SEO service.  When that fails to provide meaningful inquiries they can blame them.  But SEO will only be as effective as the website.  If your website sucks your SEO isn’t going to really work for you, it’s that simple.  Sure it will drive traffic to your site, but it won’t compel them to buy.  If you want to actually generate inquiries and sales then your website needs to be usable.  That will only happen if you follow those three basic rules.