8 Common Website Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Originally published
Originally published: 2/1/2011

Strategy and planning will make your website more effective than just good design and flashy graphics.

After spending hundreds and even thousands of dollars to build a web presence, many small businesses are disappointed with the promised results. Most of these underperforming websites have two basic problems: They were designed without a written plan for results, and they’ve been created by technology and design specialists who are good at their crafts, but have no marketing experience.

Having reviewed literally hundreds of small business websites, I have seen the exact same mistakes being made over and over. In this article, I discuss eight of 16 common website mistakes I see and recommendations on how to avoid or fix them. I address the remaining eight here.

Mistake 1: Not differentiating your business from competitors in a meaningful way.

How many websites have you seen that look the same, have the same functions, and generally are just same-old, same-old websites — probably lots.

People come to your site to find information on how you would help them to solve their problems. If a visitor doesn’t have a clear understanding of why you are different and the best choice — and you have only five to 10 seconds to do this — the visitor will click on over to your competitor.

What is on your website must be meaningful to the visitor. It must matter to them and be something that they desire; so your website content should be based on your unique selling proposition, which is part of your marketing plan. (If you don’t have a marketing plan or a unique selling position, then step back and work on those before investing any more money in your website.)

Do you promise reliable 24-hour service? Or specialize in retrofits of older homes? If this is what distinguishes you, it should be the focus of your website. Make sure that your unique selling proposition is conveyed throughout your website as well as in all of your marketing messages.

If you’ve done your job right, your visitor will feel that they would be foolish to not buy your product or service.

Mistake 2: Assuming that a goodlooking website will naturally attract visitors.

You need more than good design. You need a strategic plan. Your website marketing plan should include, but shouldn’t be limited to, the following marketing strategies:

  • Search engines — I use both free search engines and paid search engines. Before building your site, decide on the keywords for which your site should be optimized. This way you can build content for keyword optimization from the start. You can also use those keywords to begin researching your pay-per-click keyword strategy.
  • Linking strategy — Make a list of complementary sites you would like to approach to request a link, such as other local businesses you may have a working relationship with. Not only does linking bring you direct traffic from other sites, it is a key factor in your search-engine position in several important search engines.
  • Banner advertising — Although banner advertising is not as effective as other marketing strategies, it is still a method used by major websites to sell advertising. Contact the owners on your list of complementary websites and ask for a media kit or advertising rates.
  • Affiliate program — The ultimate marketing strategy for successful website owners is in creating an affiliate program, which is a type of referral program.An affiliate program is much like establishing a group of commissioned salespeople that you pay only if they sell something. 
  • Email and ezine marketing — Email advertising includes either renting opt-in email addresses that have agreed to receive your marketing message, or doing bulk email messaging (i.e., spamming) by purchasing and sending your message to large quantities of email addresses that have been extracted from websites. (Don’t spam. Your message will automatically be viewed as negative. Stick with opt-in email.) Ezine advertising is much like email marketing but you actually purchase advertising space from an ezine (online newsletter) owner, such as another local business you have a relationship with that has a similar type of customer base. You can purchase top placement ads, solo ads, or body ads that are usually priced by CPM much like banner advertising. You might even trade space in your ezine with others. 
  • Viral marketing — By “viral” I mean, something that compels people to tell others about your site. A few of the best ways to “go viral” are: Give away a free e-book that contains links back to your site. Offer a free multi-part e-course containing links to your site. Install a tell-a-friend script. Offer greeting cards that people can send from your site. Write articles for other web publishers with links to your site.  Publish an ezine and encourage people to pass it on. Post an attention-getting video on your site that can be forwarded to others. 
  • Offline marketing — Put your website address on everything that has your company name on it, including uniforms, vehicles, stationary, stickers, signs outside your business, etc. 

Mistake 3: No strategy for capturing visitor names and email addresses.

One of the biggest mistakes that website owners make is failing to proactively capture their visitors’ names and email addresses. This is critical because once you have your visitors’ names and email addresses, you can contact them again and again free of charge. Here are ways to capture visitor names and email addresses:

  • Place your opt-in box on every page of your site: As your visitors roam your site and are impressed with your content, they may feel impressed enough to sign up for your newsletter. By placing your opt-in box (a form that captures your customer’s email address) on every webpage, you’ll continually remind your visitor to give you their name and email address.
  • Place a popup on your site offering something of value: Although popups are annoying, they are undeniably effective. My opt-in rate (percentage of people that give me their name and email address before they leave my site) is hovering around 40% (versus the industry average of 5%), which is phenomenal. I advise using entrance pop-ups sparingly, but I recommend using an exit popup and possibly even a pop-under to entice your visitor to give you a name and email address.
  • Withhold access to helpful tools: A powerful way to capture a visitor’s name and email address is to create tools that your visitor would find useful and offer free access to the tool(s) in exchange for their email address. These tools may be energy-savings calculators, financial calculators, e m a i l r e m i n d - ers, etc. But remember — it must be something useful and of value to them.
  • Withhold access to interesting and helpful information: Allow your visitors to have access only to the introduction of your content and articles, but offer them full access by giving name and email address. If they are interested enough in your content, they’ll gladly hand over their contact information to have access.
  • Withhold access to full demos of your product(s): Much like the prior strategy, you can require a name and email address to provide full access to a demo of your product(s). This might be an actual download of your software product, access to a Flash demo of your product or service, or access to a part of your information product. To see a good example of this strategy visit

    Notice that on my Boot Camp webpage, I offer “The 8 Deadliest Marketing Sins That Stop Small Business Growth!” report for free in exchange for your first name and email address. On another page I offer “10 Ways To Drive Traffic To Your Website!” report. In each of these strategies to collect names and email addresses, you’ll notice that I am offering something that my visitor will find valuable.

Mistake 4: Dull, Mind-Numbing Content

Many web developers just don’t know how to write web copy. The result is copy that is boring and useless. The following are some suggestions on how to spice up your copy to pique your visitor’s interest.

  • Include stories of real people: Humans like to look inside the lives of real people. If you don’t believe me, then please explain the explosive popularity of “reality television” shows. Including stories of real people will magnetize your copy. For instance, who can resist the headline “An Open Letter from A Once- Flat-Broke Nebraska Housewife Who ‘Stumbled Across’ A Business That Made Her Rich, One That You Can Start Too For As Little As $15.” This headline almost forces you to keep reading. By the way, this headline was written by Dan Kennedy and has continued to appear in nearly all the home-business magazines for several years.
  • Use case studies: Case studies are important for several reasons. First, they take advantage of the effect I explained in the previous suggestion. Second, they demonstrate your credibility by proving your ability to get results. Third, they give the reader what they want most — a glimpse of the benefits that they can expect to achieve if they use your product or service.
  • Use surveys, studies, charts, graphs, and evidence: People like to “see” the proof. People seem to find the results of surveys and studies not only interesting, but very credible.
  • Use thumbnail photo galleries: Humans like to look at pictures because people are visual. By using photos, you can convey a lot of information; and by storing them in thumbnails, you can enlarge the picture for better viewing and control the loading time.
  • Use short words and paragraphs: Make your copy easy to read by using short words and paragraphs. There is nothing more uninviting than a 20- line paragraph that looks like a sea of words. People won’t read it, no matter how interesting it is. If you take the same copy and break it up into smaller paragraphs with no more than five lines each, and throw in sub-headlines to introduce new topics, the amount of your copy that will be read will increase dramatically.

Mistake 5: No Use Of Compelling Headlines and Sub-headlines

Eighty percent of the success of any message is attributed to its headline. It is no different with website copy. The web has brought us universal access to photos and graphics, but in the end, it’s the copy that sells. Period.

The trick to getting your visitors to read your copy is to use dynamic, attention-getting headlines and sub-headlines. The sole purpose of your headline should be to make your visitor want to continue reading the text below it.

Each and EVERY page of your website should start with a compelling headline. You may even want to use a sub-headline to support your main headline. Continue to use sub-headlines as a way to break up your copy and to allow your visitor to skim your content. (Most web users are skim readers, so the chances of having your copy read without the use of subheadlines is slim.)

Be sure to use headlines also for testimonials, guarantees, and under photos or graphics (as captions).

Mistake 6: Confusing navigational instructions.

The cyber world is impatient and unforgiving. If a visitor lands on your site and gets confused, they’ll leave. Providing good navigation on your website is a must if you want to convert your visitors into customers.

Let’s go over a simple three-step formula for developing a good navigational scheme for your site:

1. Determine your “Most Wanted Response” (MWR). Your MWR is the response that you most want your visitor to have when they come to your site. The reason your website exists is to achieve your MWR. This might be subscribing to your newsletter, entering a contest, filling out a form, calling your office, or purchasing a specific product. Whatever it is, you need to decide what it is and develop a pathway to your MWR.

2. Provide a “pathway” to your MWR. Providing a pathway means strategically designing your site to lead your visitors down a specific path that gets them to act on your MWR. Start by asking yourself, “What is the FIRST thing I want my visitor to do when they land on my site?”

Once you’ve decided that, it becomes much easier to design a site that starts your visitors off on their pathway. At each turning point in the pathway you need to ask yourself the same question: “What is the first thing I want my visitor to do now?” Then design your site to help your visitor accomplish that thing first.

3. Provide a “closing” page. Your closing page should provide an irresistible offer that even you couldn’t pass up. Make sure to remind your visitor of the benefits they’ll receive, the relatively small risk that they’re taking, and why they need to act right now.

Mistake 7: Use of annoying and overwhelming graphics.

Many web developers just can’t resist the temptation to use flashing and overwhelming animated graphics. However, it’s been shown in many user interface tests that overwhelming graphics can have a negative effect on the user experience. Using overwhelming photos can also be distracting. With that said, there are appropriate times to use Flash graphics.

For instance, if you have a process that you want to explain to a visitor that may be a bit complex. Or if you want to demo your product without giving your visitor the actual product. I find using Flash Video is better than using Windows Media. Try to avoid using Flash splash on entry pages. Very few people will wait to watch the Flash intro splash presentation.

The use of blinking graphics (commonly called “GIF animations”) can have its place as well. In fact, as I mentioned above, if you want your visitor to do something first, you might want to apply a subtle blinking arrow pointing to where you want your visitor to go.

Mistake 8: Using only boring specs and data to describe your products or services. '

The No. 1 sin in marketing is being boring. You can’t be boring and expect to get people’s attention — let alone hold their attention for any length of time. Service industries are notorious for presenting their products in a boring way. Use these strategies to liven up your website copy that describes your products or services:

  • Show an action photo of your customer enjoying your product or service: People want to visualize what life would be like using your product or service. If they can see someone else enjoying its benefits, it will be easier to visualize. This is the secret behind successful infomercials.
  • Use benefit-oriented captions: The third most-looked-at area of your website (after an eye-catching graphic and headline) will be the caption under the graphic, so make sure that it is laden with benefits for the customers. For example, if you display a photo of your trucks on your website, you might include a caption that says, “Company ABC’s state-of-the-art truck fully stocked with the most energyefficient equipment available.”
  • Display testimonials of people who have used your product or service: In B2C (Business-to-Consumer) retailing, it’s just hard to beat a good testimonial. Testimonials on the retail side of business provide a credibility factor that is difficult to duplicate. When using testimonials, always try to get your customer’s picture or live video. Also, make sure that the testimonial is specific to your unique selling proposition. By this I mean that your testimonials should testify to the fact that your product or service really does deliver on the unique selling proposition that you advertised. Video is best.
  • Use Flash demos, video, or website audio to explain your product or service: The Internet was made to be an interactive medium. If you’re just providing text to persuade your visitors to buy from you, you’re only taking advantage of half the medium. Consider adding audio or video to your site to present your product or service. When is a good time to audit your website for these eight mistakes? Now! Everyday that a mistake remains is a day you are losing customers.

Rich Friedel is the Station Manager at HVACR Live Web Rich has over 40 years of experience in the HVAC industry. With 25 years as an HVAC contractor in three states, Rich has frontline experience. With 10 years as a business coach, Rich has trained thousands of small business owners across the United States. Contact Rich by  visiting or (406) 672-3464.

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