The biggest mistake that many small business owners might make would be to build and maintain their own website. Sure, companies like GoDaddy, Wix, Weebly, and Vistaprint make it look like an easy task that anybody can handle, but do you simply want a website or do you want a website that can effectively compete online? Whether you insist on building your own site, or whether you simply want to keep an eye on your webmaster (particularly if that webmaster is a family member or that “nice kid who knows a lot about computers” down the road), there are a few common mistakes that you will want to avoid.
Usually these mistakes are errors of omission, but they can also be reflections of careless work habits. Just this week, my company took over the hosting of a campground website that had been built by another company. In the process of fixing a few things that were broken, we noticed that no Google Analytics tracking code was installed on the site – even though the client insisted that he was accessing his Google Analytics data on a regular basis. It turned out that we were correct. Google Analytics was not installed on his site, but the site-specific tracking code had been mistakenly installed on one of his secondary websites, giving him the impression that the data that he had been digesting for over a year was based upon traffic to the main site.
- Google Analytics: Yes, let me make that #1 on the list. One of the biggest mistakes that can be made is to have a website without the advantage of running Google Analytics. It is a free tool, it is easy to install, and it provides a wealth of extremely valuable information regarding the visitors to your site, traffic sources, and much more.
- Flash: Leisure suits were really popular for a brief period of time in the late 1970’s, but even John Travolta would not be caught dead wearing one today. The same with Flash. It was “really cool” for a while … until support for Flash was dropped by iOS and the latest Android devices. There are new ways of presenting rich content, but steer clear of Flash.
- Orphans: I am not talking about Mickey Rooney and Boys Town. I am talking about pages on a website that fail to link back to the other pages of the site. Sort of like a dead end in a corn maze or a hall of mirrors, orphan pages are very frustrating to site visitors.
- Broken Links: Formula 409 is a well-known cleaning and degreasing product that has been around since the 1950’s, but 404 error messages on a website are about as popular as a “door-buster” item at Wal-Mart that is out of stock the moment the store opens and the sale begins. People see these frustrating messages when they click on a broken link, typically because a page has been deleted without updating its incoming links.
- Unencrypted E-Mail Links: You would not display your credit card number on a poster in Times Square, and you would certainly not hand out keys to your home or automobile to total strangers, so why would you display an unencrypted e-mail address on your website? Without encryption, the message to e-mail address harvesting spam robots is “Here I am. Come get me!”
- Broken Graphics: One of the telltale signs of a beginning webmaster are broken graphics. If graphics are linked to files on a local computer, they will appear normally, but only on that computer. Anybody accessing the page from any other device anywhere in the world will see a broken graphic link.
- Slow Loading Images: Have you ever visited a website, only to watch images slowly loading, as if they were being slowly painted onto your screen? Almost inevitably, it is because the person maintaining the site has placed enormous photos onto the page, then has those images being scaled down to size by the browsers of end users. The enormous file is being needlessly downloaded, then resized, when a properly sized image would have loaded immediately.
- Ignoring Mobile Devices: All the talk these days is about mobile-friendliness and the fact that over 50% of the traffic to most websites is coming from people using smartphones and tablets. If your site is not mobile-friendly, you are turning away a tremendous portion of your market. Do not be deceived by the fact that almost any website may be viewed on a smartphone. There is a big difference between being able to view a site and actually engaging in a non-frustrating experience. Is your content scaling down to the size of the display, does the navigation work with pudgy fingers, and can users tap a phone number displayed on your site to initiate a phone call?
- Out of Date Content: You would not buy a gallon of milk that was past its expiration date, would you? Well, why would you expect people to “buy” what you are selling on your website if its content looks like it is way past its “best used by” date? Specifically, rates and schedules should show the current year. I know of another website design company that circumvents this maintenance issue by never including the year on a rates page. That is a big mistake because it fails to offer users the assurance that the content is current. Particularly when it involves pricing, nobody wants to make a buying decision when there is pricing uncertainty.
- Missing Meta Content: Meta content consists of essential elements written into the code of a website that are not generally visible when the site is viewed by an end user. This basic content is mission-critical for search engine optimization and to influence search engine users to choose to click on your site’s listing over another. This meta content only begins with a proper page title, page description, and “alt” tags that describe photos and graphics. That same site that was missing the Google Analytics tracking code also had a site title tag that read “My Blog | My WordPress Blog”.
These are only 10 common mistakes that webmasters can make. The overall best advice is to avoid working with that webmaster in your mirror (or that clever kid down the road) and to choose one of several professional companies with reputations you can trust. You have better things to do than to look for mistakes on your website … or to deal with the consequences of those mistakes.
This post was written by Peter Pelland