This excerpt is part of Entrepreneur.com's Second-Quarter Startup Kit which explores the fundamentals of starting up in a wide range of industries.
In Start Your Own e-Business, the staff at Entrepreneur Press and writer Rich Mintzer explain how to build a dotcom business that will succeed. In this book, you'll find recipes for success, road maps that pinpoint the hazards, and dozens of interviews with dotcom entrepreneurs who've proved they’ve got what it takes to survive in this sometimes fickle marketplace. In this edited excerpt, the authors discuss the 10 things you should never do when it comes to designing your e-business site.
This article could probably be called the 100 most deadly mistakes in website design--there are so many goofs site builders make--but let’s narrow the focus to the most disastrous 10. Avoid these gaffes, and your site will be far better than much of the competition.
1. Disabling the back button. Evil site authors long ago figured out how to break a browser’s back button so that when a user pushes it, one of several undesired things happen: There’s an immediate redirect to an unwanted location, the browser stays put because the “back” button has been deactivated, or a new window pops up and overtakes the screen. Our advice: Never do it. All that’s accomplished is that viewers get annoyed and do not return to your site.
2. Opening new windows. Once upon a time, using multiple new frames to display content as a user clicked through a site was cool--a new thing in web design. Now it only annoys viewers because it ties up system resources, slows computer response and generally complicates a visitor’s experience. Sure, it’s easy to use this tool. But don’t. With tabbed browsing common in browsers like Firefox, users who wish to open links in new tabs can do so if they wish.
3. Failing to put a phone number and address in several easy-to-find locations. If you’re selling, you need to offer viewers multiple ways to contact you. The smartest route is to put up a “Contact Us” link that leads to complete info--mailing address, phone and email address. That link should be on each and every page of your website. Even if nobody ever calls, the very presence of this information adds real-world legitimacy and transparency to your site and comforts some viewers.
4. Broken links. Bad links--hyperlinks that do nothing when clicked or lead to “404” error pages--are the bane of any web surfer. Test your site--and do it weekly--to ensure that all links work as promised. Include a “Contact the Webmaster” link in your site’s footer so users can quickly let you know if they find a broken link or other mistake on your site--and fix those errors immediately.
5. Slow server times. Slow load times are inexcusable with professional sites -- it’s an invitation to the visitor to click away. What’s slow? A recent study by Akamai Technologies, commissioned through Jupiter Research, showed that online shoppers, on average, will wait only four seconds for a site to load before clicking away. If your site is loading significantly slower than this, put it on a diet--images may be too large or special add-ons, like a Flash introduction, may be slowing things down.
6. Outdated information. Again, there’s no excuse, but it’s amazing how many sites include old, dated content. Make sure to keep your site fresh and updated daily for best results. You can't afford the loss of credibility that can come from having dated content. Also, make sure your content is accurate, and if you should find a single error, fix it immediately.
7. Poor navigation. The internet promises speed. If surfers can’t figure out where to go next quickly and get there easily, they’ll simply surf on to the next website--your competitor’s! It’s very frustrating to be forced to go back two or three pages to get to other areas of a site. It’s also a waste of time. There should be a navigation bar on every page that guides visitors to other areas of the site. Position the bar along the top of the page or along the left side so it will always be visible regardless of screen resolution. Add an easy-to-find site map in your main navigation bar and/or footer to provide visitors with an at-a-glance view of every page on your site.
8. Too many font styles and colors. Pages ought to present a unified, consistent look, but novice site builders--entranced by having hundreds of fonts at their fingertips, plus dozens of colors--frequently turn their pages into a garish mishmash. Use two or three fonts and colors per page, maximum. The idea is to reassure viewers of your solidity and stability, not to convince them you're wildly artistic. Also remember to make sure your font and colors look good on all possible devices from desktops to tablets to iPhones, etc.
9. Orphan pages. Memorize this: Every page in your site needs a readily seen link back to the home page. Why? Sometimes users will forward a URL to friends, who may visit and may want more information. But if the page they get is a dead end, forget it. Always put a link to “Home” on every page, and make your site logo (usually found near the top left side of the screen) link back to your home page--that will quickly solve this problem.
10. Failing to link with your social network sites. Most businesses have their own Facebook pages, others use Pinterest with boards full of photos, while some broadcast their latest activities on Twitter. The point is that social media is here to stay and businesses are benefitting from having a presence in it. Forgetting to link to your social media platforms is a big no-no. People should be able to go from one to the other effortlessly. Using social media to market your business and drive customers to your website will only work if you make it easy for users to move from one to the other. If done right, you can drive a lot more traffic to your site.