5 Common Pitfalls to Avoid When Developing a Website

There are well over a hundred million websites on the internet. The number is increasing by the minute, but most web surfers will see a tiny fraction of these sites because of some common mistakes. The following is a list of 5 common pitfalls to avoid when developing a new website.

1. Choosing a domain name / buying related domain names

It’s easy to get carried away with very (too) creative or long domain names, especially since most simple domains are already in use. Be sure that you keep the domain as short and relevant as possible, and make sure it makes sense when you look at it. And, please don’t buy a domain name ending in .tv, .biz or .mobi because your preferred .com is unavailable. It is poor form and it will look like an attempt to ride the coattails of a successful .com domain. Consumers who stumble upon your site in the search for the .com domain will feel like you are trying to dupe them into visiting your site whether you intended to or not.

By the same token, when you purchase your .com domain, don’t be afraid to pick up your domain ending in .info, .biz, and / or .org (if appropriate to the nature of your business), especially if you think your site will attract copycats. As mentioned above, successful .com sites will often see their domain name popping up ending in .biz, .info, etc, because the owners of those sites really are hoping to ride your coattails by duping your visitors into coming to their site.

2. Spending too little or too much on your website

We can’t tell you in one article how much you should spend on your site, but we can give you some ranges and guidelines. If you pay under $1000, you are dealing with a price leader, which is ok. Just know that this individual or company is in the business of getting customers based solely on lowest price and not much else. You are going to get an extremely basic website or what we call an “online brochure” that doesn’t change much and doesn’t compel visitors to do business with you. And that is the best case scenario- if you pay this little for a site, chances are you aren’t dealing with a seasoned expert who knows the fine ins and outs of inserting metadata for search engine indexing, or who utilizes professional copy writers, designers or project managers. Your site design will likely be a template, and probably will lack the functional and interactive elements that consumers are looking for online these days.

Conversely, there are developers that charge staggering hourly rates, and huge companies who have to support major overhead. These companies may charge upwards of $50,000 or more for a site with all the bells and whistles and ongoing maintenance retainers. If you work with a creative, successful developer or company, they should be able to prioritize your immediate needs with future wants and give you a firm estimate and solid contract.

Talented, professional web developers know that their time (and yours) is valuable- they charge more than the “price-leader” for an effective online marketing tool, and they will work hard to give you exactly what you need. However, be leery of large companies and all the bells and whistles they throw at you- you may end up supplementing their sky high overhead. A fantastic, effective website doesn’t have to cost a fortune.

3. Too many “dynamic” elements

Dynamic elements are FABULOUS ways to get your visitors interested in your website by allowing them to learn new things or interact with you. For example, you may have a weekly column on your site written by a guest expert in your field- your loyal and interested patrons will subscribe to a feed or visit your site often for this information and they will think of your business anytime a similar topic comes to mind.

However, if you also add a blog to share your personal musings, a photo gallery, calendar of events, an invitation to ask questions and…. How can you keep up with all of this? Pretty soon visitors notice that the information is stale and they don’t come back anymore, and don’t think of you or your company. At worst, the information that you no longer update will look stale and become a turn off to visitors.

Using all of these elements appropriately can send the message to a visitor that your business is the expert in your industry, that you are professional, and makes you stand out among the competition. But, it is crucial to have a plan to manage these elements, and choose which of them to use very carefully based on what you can handle. For instance, a reputable company (ahem, MetaMorph!) can manage your updates for you, or train one of your employees to manage these updates for you.

4. Lack of relevant, useful or entertaining content

The previous example is what happens when trying to manage too much content. Another common pitfall is not having enough information that the visitor finds useful, relevant or interesting to read. Make sure that articles are updated often and that they contain the kinds of information your target audience is looking for on your site- answer common questions about your product or service, address trends and developments or your industry in the news.

5. Typos, misspellings, dead links

This is a pet peeve for us! There is an incredible invention called Spell Check and it is your friend. Check and double check everything you publish. Have some other people read it before posting it, and go back and read things you have posted in the past. Test your links often (both those leading to other pages on your site and those going to outside sites) and make sure they are functioning properly.

A note on linking to other sites- make sure that those sites also link back to you unless you think the other site is such an amazing resource that you must share it with your visitors. Having too many links to other sites and not enough links coming to your site can make you rank lower in natural or “organic” search rankings. Also, make sure that your links don’t jettison your visitors to other sites- set your links to open in a new window or you risk another abandoned shopping cart and losing your customer’s attention forever.

How Much Text Should You Place on a Web Page?

A frequent question that arises amongst web designers is how much text should be placed on a web page. However many web designers use decisions based on subjective feelings rather than basing their decisions on quantitative research.

Page density refers to the proportion of a web page that is occupied by text and graphics whilst white space is the portion of the page where nothing is displayed. The percentage of page white space and the percentage of the page density will amount to 100%.

Long before viewing hypertext pages on the web researchers conducted studies to investigate the relationship between the amount of information contained on a page and the amount of time that it took for a user to find an item as part of a predefined task.  Not surprisingly and in accordance with what many would intuitively think they found that the more information that was placed on a screen then the longer it took to complete the task.

In light of this research many authors have suggested guidelines on the amount of information that should be presented to users at any one time.  Some authors have issued guidelines stating that screen densities of 25% shouldn’t be exceeded at one end of the scale and 60% at the other.  However one aspect these items didn’t cover which the web designer or web developer should be aware (but frequently aren’t) is that other components of a web page have a significant effect on a web users interaction with a website and consequently the effectiveness of the site other than just the page density.

Furthermore, the main question for a web designer who has a fixed amount of information to present on a webpage is what page density to use as that will directly affect the number of pages required by the site.

One study tried to address this question by presenting a fixed amount of information with different numbers of pages. There were a large number of low density pages, a medium number of average density pages and a low number of high density pages. Other factors such as the need to scroll the screens of information were removed from the study.

What the result of this investigation found and should be remembered by web designers at all times is that performance was significantly faster on the low number of high density pages, with the performance being worst on the high number of low density pages. Another interesting attribute of this investigation was that there was little difference between novice and experienced users, high density pages always won.

These results suggest, to a certain extent, that the best approach for web design is that lots of information should be placed on a webpage as densely as possible without risking the loss of user accuracy or satisfaction. This will also result in a lower number of web pages which a user will have to navigate through. Some people may take this to the apparent logical conclusion that everything should be placed on one page. However, to keep the web designer on his toes, other factors come into play, such as the need to scroll and how the information is presented on page, let alone the time to load individual pages.

A further study which supports high page densities which involved users searching for information on commercial websites found that the more white space, the less successfully people found information. The authors however speculated that although this aided readers who were looking for specific information, it may not be helpful to people skimming pages, who will be most successful when they can skim the most material the most quickly.

However before the web designer or web developer set out to create the ultimate web design there are other design tricks that can increase the effectiveness of a web site.  There are four items that should be remembered:

  • Abbreviations. By using abbreviations which the users will be familiar with rather than the full text the density of information that be conveyed in a limited number of words is dramatically increased.
  • Reduce unnecessary detail. Don’t get carried away with superfluous detail. Winston Churchill once apologised for writing a long letter to someone as he didn’t have time to write a concise letter. Spend time by rigorously reducing the amount of unnecessary text.
  • Familiar format and presentation. By presenting information to users in a familiar way so that they don’t have to think increases the speed and accuracy. Examples of this would be presenting dates in d/m/y format for Europe and m/d/y for the US. Other items would include postcodes (zip codes), thousands separators and telephone numbers (don’t use full international numbers if the users will be from the same locality).
  • Tabulate. If information can be presented in table form then the web design should reflect that. Tables have the advantage of allowing the use of descriptive column and row headings that exquisitely eliminate the need to keep repeating the same label to data elements. The result being the same amount of information with reduced text.

By being aware of these web design guidelines it is possible to create a web site that will allow users to effectively interact and leave a lasting good impression of your hard work.

Web Designs Presentation – Does It Matter?

When you sit down to develop a web site there is much to consider. For instance how do you envision your business? How can your vision translate into design? Does that design signify window dressing or is there a greater purpose for the design?

If a homeowner is trying to sell their house they will often reduce the amount of material in their home and neutralize the color so potential buyers can come to terms with what the house could be rather than what you have made it to be. On the other hand if you are at a trade fair and you want to catch the attention of those passing by you will likely utilize loud colors and intriguing designs.

What is the common denominator between these two approaches? The both work to hit the audience they are marketing to. Different approaches with a similar desire.

If you are a restaurant trying to appeal to parents with young children you market the toy with every meal and you make everything about your business colorful. If you are marketing to adults you supply meal choices with color, variety, tastes and adventure with an ample amount of comfort thrown in for good taste.

Once more the common denominator is knowing the audience you are marketing to and meeting their needs.

Let’s say for example you are selling hand crafted and upscale handbags. Would your website be colorful and busy or stripped down and refined? If you sold party supplies would your site be muted in tone and discreet or would it scream excitement?

These are questions that must be addressed in relation to the growing need for individuals to come to terms with how they develop their site.

You can go online to find a coffee shop franchise. One site will feature bold colors and an exciting online presentation where another site is more sedate and invites you to come by and relax with a cup of coffee.

Web development has to coincide with the image you want to project for your company. That’s true whether your company is only found online or if you feature a web presence for a group of brick and mortar locations.

Your image can be enhanced or minimized through the use of photos, colors and even font type.

It is my recommendation that you use web builder technology to construct your site. I’d like to explain why. Yes it is less expensive and it is also true that you can manage changes much more efficiently. However, in reference to this article I must bring up another point altogether.

One of the elements I most enjoy about using web builder technology is that you can easily mix and match templates to get a feel for what might best work for your site.

If you’ve ever been to one of those home improvement websites with a room design feature than you know how much fun it can be to move furniture, change flooring, wall coverings and other design elements in order to best coordinate the vision you might have for your room or home. This is the beauty of web builder technology.

Use the software to tap into a site design that best fits your personality and vision for your site. Your ultimate design will say a lot about you. What exactly will it be saying?