Jul 9 2013

5 Things to Avoid on Your Website and One Thing Not To

Technology | Website       Clif Render      

So, you're thinking about putting together a website and you're telling your computer guy about what you want. Did you notice his eyes glazing over a bit when you ran through the list of songs you wanted to auto-play for your visitors? Do you see those little beads of sweat bubbling up on his forehead as you explain the really cool animation that you want to see on the home page? Well, there's a reason for his discomfort. The web has been through many iterations in recent years and the chances are that you're a bit behind. Many of the things that were cool back in the day are major problems for the web now. I'm going to share with you five of the most deadly sins in putting together your web site along with the single one most powerful thing that you can do to really establish a solid presence on the web. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Let's start off with the Naughty List first.


The number one thing on the naughty list is the thing that I hear most often from people who haven't really kept up with technology lately. "When I first pull up my website, I want to see a tennis ball spinning into view and then I want it to explode and then..." Well, you get the idea. It's a splash page. Everyone whose ever seen a movie knows how cool splashy images and animations can be in a movie theater with surround sound and popcorn. Keep in mind, though, that you go to the theater and pay them the big bucks specifically because you want to see that kind of thing. When you go to someone's website, that's not at all why you're there. You probably went there for a specific purpose and then they made you have to wait. Ugh. "Well, yeah, but that's okay, It's going to look really cool so they won't mind," you say. Okay, maybe that's true the first time they visit your site but what about the second time they visit, or the third time or the fourth time? What if they're in a huge hurry and just need to see what time your tennis lesson is before they run out the door. There's nothing worse than having to wait when you're in a hurry. Except, maybe, having to do it again the next time you're in a hurry. There are other more technical reasons that splash pages are a bad idea, as well. Search engines don't like them so splash pages can hurt your search engine placement, they take a lot of time to put together and They usually deliver very little bang for your buck. In short, Just say no! If you absolutely have to have that cool animation, make it optional by including a link to it on your website for those who want to see it. Or, better yet, make it the intro to that great Tennis Tip Video you've been meaning to put together. People's time is extremely valuable. Respect it.


Numero dos on the Naughty list is similar to numero uno in that it involves you sharing something that you think is great in a way that could cause problems for your visitors. It's a soundtrack. So, you absolutely love that song by the Black Eyed Peas and it says absolutely everything you want to say to your visitors and it does so in such a powerful way. Great. Just please don't ask me to make it auto-play. Not even the first time they visit the site. What if, heaven forbid, someone visits your site for the first side on their iPad during a really boring meeting at work. All of the sudden, that really boring meeting turns really really interesting as Will I Am makes an appearance in a "Boom Boom Pow"-erful way. Congratulations. You've just embarassed the one person in the room who was really interested in finding out more about you and what you have to offer. Not good. You're free to mention the song, provide a link to the song or, better yet, use it as the background music for that really cool animation you're going to put in that cool Tennis Tip Video you're working on. Just please don't force it on someone who may not be ready for it. Value your visitors and they'll value you.


That brings up to number three on the list. This one is actually a collection of several things but they all center around the same idea: Distraction. I know that you may have a message that everyone needs to read ASAP. Practice is cancelled and the message really needs to stand out. Okay, great. Send an email, send a tweet or post it on facebook. Posting Urgent information on your website is not an excuse to use flashing text, multi-colored text, scroling text or irritating eye popping graphics. Remember that your website is about more than just a single flashing message. Your website is about you, what you have to offer, and what it can do for your visitors. While you certainly can use it for urgent messages if you have to, there are better ways to disseminate time sensitive information. And flashing text isn't the only concern here, either. The same principal applies to images, pictures, or ads that are highly distracting. The last thing your visitors need to be confronted with is a strobing ad for a prescription drug or Credit Card. I understand you've got to make a living but, come on! Stay focused on the goal.


Next up is one that many of you are going to have trouble with: Widgets. Widgets are those little bits of code that you add to your page that add someone else's functionality to your web page. Something like visit counters, international clocks, Temperature displays, etc... No one cares how many people have visited your website. Most of those clicks are probably you and your web guy, anyway. While I do appreciate knowing the time in Melbourne Australia during the Aussie Open, I'm probably not going to be going to your site for that. Remember to stay focused on your message. These widgets will slow down your site, get in the way of what you're trying to say, and cause nothing but trouble for everyone involved. Stay on point!


My final prohibition for you in this new age of the internet is to not give in to the temptation of the Comming Soon page. No good can come of this. I know you have ideas, I know you want people to be as excited about all this cool stuff as you are but the only thing that a visitor to your site will experience when they see that some awesome new feature is "Coming Soon" is that that awesome new feature is "not on the site." Now instead of being impressed at your plans for the future, your visitors are bummed that they don't get the cool thing that they just clicked to see. If you want to let them know what's coming, post a blog or news article or provide an "In the works" page. Better yet, ask for feedback as to what features your visitors think would be useful. Involve them in the process. You may be surprised at what they say. Just don't give them the old "Coming Soon."


So, now that I've told you what NOT to do over and over and over again, what CAN you do on your site? You probably already know what I'm going to say. I never was very good at keeping a secret: Deliver your Message! Stay laser focused on the purpose of your site and exactly what it is that you are trying to get across to your visiors and keep it coming. It's a maxim in the web industry that "the first priority on the web is content and the second is also content." Start a blog, Add some pro tips, start tweeting. Do something to engage your audience in a way that allows you to deliver your message concisely and efficiently. Keep people involved. Build a community. Change your world.


If you have any questions or need any help, please let me know. In the meantime, focus, focus, focus! Or, at the very least, hire someone who can do the focusing for you!

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