Nobody goes into a web project planning to make the next Hindenburg – which is a good thing, because that project took five years to get off the ground. Still, otherwise-respectable companies with good intentions manage to churn out aberrations that would make the MySpace faithful blush with shame. Here are the most common mistakes, and how to avoid them.
1. Overestimate Your Commitment
The rush of planning a website is like the rush of a New Year’s resolution – just as people plan to attend eleven spin classes a week, companies design their websites so that current news is front and center. Twitter feeds, blog feeds, and social media streams litter the site, as if screaming to the world that this is a hip and timely company.
Months later, these feeds serve as monuments to prior optimism, like a treadmill used as a clothes rack. A lone blog post lingers at the bottom of a feed designed to hold seven, and customers are turned off by the collection of months-old tweets on the home page.
How to Avoid This:
Be realistic about how much time you want to spend adding new content to your website, and how many resources you have available to do so. If it takes 20 hours a week to update the news items and social media in a way you’d like, who is spending this extra time on the site? And don’t say “the unpaid intern” – the person who can’t even get paid for his/her labor might not be the one you want in charge of your company’s image.
2. Forget Your Audience
Many companies decide to get websites because all the other companies have websites, and they don’t want to be left out. Similarly, other companies spend an insane amount of time and money developing an overly complicated site because someone had a bad idea.
Consider the Bounty Paper Towels site:
*Editor’s note: this site has been updated since this article was written!
Here’s a site that obviously had its origins in an executive exclaiming “Towels! We’re a towel company, so we’ll make the website like towels too!” But the site itself is impossible to navigate, and neglects its audience – namely, people who want paper towel coupons.
How to Avoid This:
Ask yourself a simple question: what do you want your site to do? Follow it with another: what do your (customers/readers/clients) want your site to do?
If your site is a cooking blog, chances are your readers want to be able to find, read, and print recipes. Make sure they can do this. If you’re a doctor and you have a website, people want to either know your contact information or research to see if you’re the right doctor for them. Make this information easily accessible.
Later on, you might wish to enhance your site’s online presence through the use of keywords and other techniques designed to boost your ranking in Google searches. It will be a lot easier to do this if your website is organized in a way that makes sense to your users.
3. Ignore the Insides
A great website is like a picture frame – it accentuates the content within. The best web content is vibrant and engaging; it caters to the reader’s desire to scan, but is also informative.
Bad web content is often recycled print content – for example, a marketing brochure used to populate a website. The end result is a site that resembles a grandmother’s sitting room: it’s all very proper, but nobody will want to spend time there.
How to Avoid This:
While it’s common for a mediocre website to excel through great imagery, it is significantly more difficult to make a great web design compensate for bad pictures or rambling text. Remember, a purpose of your website is to differentiate yourself from the competition. You can’t answer “why me and not the others” when you’re using the same photo of shaking hands as everyone else.
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