1. No Brand
A website isn’t simply a collection of webpages; it’s an online brand. What is a brand? A brand is a symbol representing a concise and clearly defined vision. Most amateur webmasters set out with a great idea but no clear focus. In order to earn visitors/customers and their loyalty, a website must foster a brand image that welcomes, engages, provides value and is reliable.
2. Weak Domain Name
Online, the most important element of a brand is the domain name. The domain name is what visitors use to access the site, and it’s often the brand’s first opportunity to make an impression. A domain name should be memorable and relatively short. It should also give the visitor a clear image of the targeted niche. Alternatively, it can be a phrase or word, like Google, that the site can define and associate with the niche. A domain name that is too long, too complex, misleading or not memorable can have a significant impact on the way visitors perceive the site.
3. No Targeted Niche
Inexperienced webmasters often try to build websites that cater to all. The notion is that by expanding the audience, profit potential expands with it. Although it sounds good in theory, it rarely works. Small business websites simply don’t have the resources to compete with commercial sites, and sites with broad coverage are much more difficult to manage with small web teams. Webmasters can put their site in a position for success by catering to a niche with an attention to detail that isn’t available elsewhere.
4. No Voice
In the section concerning brand, we mentioned reliability, which is a crucial concern because readers/customers desire consistency. When it comes to a website, you can’t have too much of a good thing. Consistency fosters loyalty, and maintaining it is all about having a singular voice for the site. Visual elements, including color schemes, should be consistent throughout the site. Likewise, the approach to navigation should be uniform so that it becomes an afterthought for the regular visitor.
It is also important to have a singular voice in terms of content. That’s not to say that a website can’t have multiple authors with differing opinions. Many do with great success. However, sites should strive for uniformity by having authors use the same set of standards and parameters.
5. Delayed SEO
Proper search engine optimization is the lifeblood of most websites, and there should be a commitment to it from the earliest stages of design. By using properly optimized and formatted templates, the webmaster can ensure that all site elements important to SEO are present, properly configured and efficient. These SEO-important elements include file paths and names, title tags, description and keyword meta tags, and internal and external links. Targeting keywords and key phrases isn’t necessary yet; an early SEO approach will ensure that the naturally present key elements work optimally.
6. Keyword Stuffing
Overzealous SEO is arguably an even more egregious mistake than postponed SEO is. Some will argue that keyword stuffing works, and it does. But only in the short term, and it’s important to recognize that search engine placement is only part of the battle. Driving traffic is easy; converting it is hard. Online, content is king and a website is far better off with a few engrossing pieces than a library of spam. Also, keyword stuffing has an inherent risk: the ever-changing algorithms of search engines like Google. A keyword-stuffed page is far more susceptible to those changes than pages created organically are.
7. Profit-Generating Ad Overload
Many small business websites don’t sell products or services and instead generate all profit by serving ads or through affiliate marketing. The most difficult time for such a website is the beginning; the site is in the red and still bleeding, and there’s no source of profit on the horizon. At this point, there’s a great appeal to plastering the site with advertisements. The overly optimistic theory is that more ads automatically equal more clicks, more conversions and greater profits; this, however, is rarely the case, and often, the opposite is true. Web surfers don’t like ads, and the slightest annoyance can drive them away.
Early on, every visitor is crucial. Fight the instinct to generate profit via advertisement early on. Plan to sustain the site for a year without any profit at all. Build a reader pool and generate a steady traffic stream first, and then begin slowly integrating ads into the website. If readers balk, listen to their concerns, and remember that one thoughtfully placed ad is better than a dozen randomly strewn.
8. Impractical Visual Layout
A website’s layout is one of the most important elements of usability. A good layout is intuitive, aesthetically pleasing, readable, consistent, streamlined, fast and fluid. New webmasters tend to make a number of common layout mistakes: too crowded, overly complex, too graphic intensive, low contrast, poor font choices and so forth. Boring is better than unreadable. Don’t reinvent the wheel for the sake of it, and don’t try to win any graphic design awards. Study other websites in the target niche and learn from those successes and failures.
9. Low Readability
For most websites, the goal is to be read. Therefore, every decision made regarding a website should be considered concerning readability. The easiest way to promote readability is to use a standard font and the classic black-text-on-white-background design. Avoid other colors for text and backgrounds, and for links, choose basic colors that complement the overall color scheme. Avoid unusual fonts, fonts that are too small, blinking text and other effects. Recognize that many users will adjust font size via their browser, so ensure that the layout is not tightly coupled to any one particular font size or spacing.
Note that most web readers scan, and therefore, most web content should read quickly and be easy to digest. That doesn’t mean that a website should avoid in-depth or lengthy articles, but it does mean that sites should work very hard to make sure that those articles are accessible. Do that by breaking content up into paragraphs, and by breaking those paragraphs up with headers, bullet lists and other visual cues.
10. Imprecise Navigation
Earlier, we mentioned that layout is a crucial element of usability; another is navigation. When a person accesses a website, the site’s core goal is to keep that visitor there as long as possible. The more content a surfer reads, the more a site can profit from them. Intuitive and precise site navigation is nearly as important as the quality and quantity of content. Remember, online readers have short attention spans, and if a website gives them the slightest reason to move on, that’s precisely what they’ll do.
11. Broken Links
Links are a vital aspect of every website: They serve as the backbone of a site’s navigation system and are a crucial component of SEO. From a human perspective, faulty links make a site difficult to surf, and that frustration may motivate them to go elsewhere. From the perspective of search engine robots and spiders, defective links cause pages to score low, which causes lower placement in search results.
12. Inadequate Inline Search
A search box is an expected website feature, and even sites with only a handful of webpages should have them. In the past, inline search was sometimes inaccessible to the amateur webmaster. The modern webmaster, however, has no excuse: Options like Google Search are both free and powerful.
Inline search is a key component of navigation. The easier it is for surfers to find the information they want, the longer they’ll stay and the more profitable the website will be. An effective search box should be obvious and consistently placed on every page, and most importantly, it should be fast and accurate.
13. Slow Templates and Pages
Reader attention span has been a consistent theme thus far, and speed is an integral part of meeting that demand. Unfortunately, amateur sites tend to have template bloat, caused by code that is unnecessary or not optimized. Inefficient code can cripple page load times, even for visitors accessing the site on high-speed connections. Novice webmasters should use prebuilt templates, and then they can edit and augment those templates one change at time, testing for performance as they go.
14. No or Invalid CSS and X/HTML
One of the biggest mistakes new webmasters make is that they ignore browser compatibility or build sites that are specialized for a particular browser. With this approach, the webmaster is potentially alienating a significant portion of the site’s traffic. All sites should use standards, such as CSS3 and HTML5, and by validating that code, modern browser compatibly becomes much less of a hassle. In addition, track browser usage, and ensure an optimal experience for as many browsers as possible.
15. Mobile Unfriendliness
In the layout section, we discussed fluidness, and in the last section, we discussed browser compatibility. The concepts are similar, and one of our core goals as webmaster is to create agile sites, sites that can adapt to any medium in order to provide a rewarding visitor experience. The statistics regarding the number of sites that do not actively support mobile devices and platforms is simply staggering. Keep in mind that conservative estimates indicate that mobile web use will eclipse wired web use by 2015!
16. Requiring the www Subdomain
With a URL like www.w3.org, w3.org is the domain and www is the subdomain. Since www is the default, most of us don’t even consider it, and many users simply type w3.org into the navigation box, expecting everything to work out just fine. Webmasters should note that the www subdomain is, for all intents and purposes, deprecated and unnecessary. Always redirect from the root to the www subdomain. Otherwise, many casual web users will simply assume that the site is inoperable or gone.
17. Missing or Misdirected Redirects
In the last section, we discussed one kind of redirection, the root to the www subdomain. Agile websites must handle redirection on the fly. Errors in processing occur, and URLs get altered, especially on sites that use a CMS. A website shouldn’t ever allow a visitor to reach a 404, 403, 303, 302 or 301. Instead, the site should determine an alternative destination, and redirect them with a brief explanation and apology. In a CMS scenario, use a redirection agent that automatically determines the updated URL.
18. Improper Use of Images and other Media
Use images to augment a website, not consume it. Never use unrequested music. Beware ad networks that serve ads with sound. Disable them, or at least configure them to start muted. Note that not all visitors can access media like video and it has no SEO value. On images, make sure to include alt text. With videos and similar, create text descriptions that explain the video and have SEO value.
19. User-Unfriendly Shopping Cart and Checkout
For e-commerce sites, the shopping cart and checkout system is crucial. Cart design should always emphasize usability and ease for the customer, not the business. Consumers are easily dissuaded, so ensure that registration, the cart and checkout are not barriers to the customer in any way. Most importantly, never allow a shopping cart system to go live without comprehensive usability testing.
20. No Social Media Integration
Social media is a major component of the modern web experience. That consumer expects it, and if a site doesn’t have it, it gives the impression, at best, of being unprofessional and inadequate. All modern sites must embrace social media. All sites should have an active Facebook page and a Twitter account that finds a unique way to engage in the niche. In addition, sites should host an RSS feed. With engaging article summaries, RSS feeds can drive a lot of traffic to the main site, especially through platforms like Pulse News.