A couple of weeks ago, I sent a survey to my subscribers – small business owners with a website. The last question was:
“What are your main struggles with your website?”
It was a multiple choice question, and among the usual options (getting traffic to your website, growing loyal audience, etc.) there was this option as well:
“I generally feel overwhelmed and have no idea what I’m doing.”
Imagine my surprise when many people have chosen exactly that answer!
So, I took some time an looked through 50 small business websites* to see whether it’s really that bad.
A lot of issues I saw were common among many small business websites – mistakes I’ve also seen countless times while doing client website critiques. So, I decided to:
- list the 20 most common small business website mistakes,
- explain how they are harming your business, and
- show you how to fix them.
* – Update: Meanwhile, I’ve analyzed 100+ small business websites repeating this exercise for a guest post I wrote to see what common website mistakes small knowledge-based businesses make. No surprises there. Still the same 20 website mistakes you’ll find below.
Small Business Website Mistake #1.Unclear or too clever copy
Be clever, they said. You will stand out, they said.
What they probably didn’t tell you is that if you sacrifice clarity of your message for its cleverness, you risk to lose your visitors fast.
You mean like environment-friendly?
“We help you succeed online”.
How exactly? There is a ton of possibilities here, from SEO and marketing to copywriting and paid promotion. Which one are you?
And my all-time favorite:
“An Extreme-Agile Strategist Architecting Distributed Complex Adaptive Systems in Analytics and Finance.”
I got nothing on this one! (Except my brain hurts).
How to make the message on your homepage clear
As nobody’s got time to wander around your website looking for basic information, your homepage must communicate three things instantly to your visitors:
- Who are you?
- What do you do?
- Why should they care?
Be clear, and only then clever (if you must). Because when it comes to copy, ordinary but clear always trumps creative but vague.
Here’s a great example of a homepage with a clear message:
Actually, this clear copy thing holds for every piece of text on your website: body text, CTA copy, navigation, links, etc. (I’ll get to those in a minute).
6 practical ways to spot (and remove) unclear copy
There are actually several practical things you can do to spot and remove unclear spots in your web copy:
- The BS Test
- The Forehead Slap Test
- The “So what?” Test
- The Google Translate Test
- The 5 Seconds Test
- The Ctrl + F Ego Test
You can read more about these tests here: “6 Quick Ways to Spot (and Remove) BS from Your Website Copy”.
Small Business Website Mistake #2.No or too weak credibility enhancers
You can say the nicest things about yourself or your product, but they are worth nothing to your website visitors if you are the only one saying them. They just met you. They don’t trust you yet and won’t take your word for it.
To build trust quickly, you need credibility enhancers: Testimonials, logos of your clients, “as featured in…” section, awards, certifications, etc.
If you have nothing to back up your claims, your credibility suffers.
Sure, not everyone has won awards or written for famous websites. But even if you are just starting, you can get a couple of testimonials from friends in exchange for some free advice.
How to add credibility to your website
- Include testimonials, logos of your clients, logos of the media outlets that featured you, awards, certifications, etc.
- Don’t bury your testimonials on a Testimonial page (see #11 in this article). Include them in context, every time you need to back up a claim you are making.
- Make sure your testimonials include a name and a head shot of a real person.
- Vague testimonials are worse than no testimonials. Make sure the testimonials you use provide evidence of concrete benefits, address a problem or a fear and show how it was eliminated.
“After Jane wrote new copy for our lead page, its conversion rate increased by 20% earning us additional $5000 in the first week!”
Small Business Website Mistake #3.Too many links in navigation
If your website was a city and your website visitors were tourists, navigation would be the direction signs. And if direction signs in a city are confusing, the tourists won’t visit many places and leave soon for another city where the mayor cares more about his guests.
Also, did you know that your navigation contributes to your business message?
Your website navigation needs to be descriptive, scannable and intuitive. But when you use 10 navigation labels or labels that are too wordy or unclear, you have a problem.
How to make your navigation more concise
- Make it no longer than 7 items (the maximum amount of elements our short-term memory can hold). The fewer navigation links you have, the higher is the probability that your visitors will click on something.
- If your page is just one paragraph, it does not deserve to be a separate page in the first place and shouldn’t occupy valuable slot in your navigation. Apart from it not providing enough value for your visitors (how much can you learn from a paragraph out of context?), Google considers it low-value content, and it won’t rank.
- Keep your labels as short and as clear as possible. “About”, “Contact”, and “Services” are as clear as “About us”, “Contact us” or “Our Services”, but they make your navigation shorter and easier to process.
- Make it clear where each navigation item leads. Your visitors may not guess that “How can I help you?” actually leads to your “Services” page.
Also, navigation is the last place you should try to be clever. If your visitors don’t understand the label of that navigation menu item, they won’t click on it.
Small Business Website Mistake #4.No picture of the business owner (you!)
Sure, written words are a powerful way to make your prospects like and trust you. But you know what’s even more powerful? Your face!
Your prospects will start liking and trusting you already just by looking at your picture (assuming you are not posing in your pajamas).
So if you are a solopreneur or a small team and you don’t have your photograph on your homepage, you are missing an excellent opportunity to earn trust points with your visitors.
Small Business Website Mistake #5.Drop-down menus in navigation
Here’s something counter-intuitive: Your visitors don’t like your drop-down menus.
Making users suffer a drop-down menu […] is one of many small annoyances that add up to a less efficient, less pleasant user experience. It’s worth fixing as many of these usability irritants as you can.
Plus, with drop-down menus, your visitors are likely to skip the top item, because, “Hey, some new stuff just dropped down!”
Good news: If you are a solopreneur or a small business, you don’t actually need drop-down menus in your navigation!
Look at this “fun” example:
You can place all of this information on your About page. If you end up having a mega long page after that, you should fix your About page!
Because your prospects don’t care about your life philosophy. They care about how you can help them and whether they can trust you enough to do a good job.
“But what about a drop-down menu with my services?”
Oh, you mean this one:
Not a good idea, I’m afraid. Too much “marketing”. Too many items. Pressure of a decision that should be made asap.
This article will show you how to do it better: 4 Alternatives to Your Drop-Down Menu That Will Improve Your Website.
Small Business Website Mistake #6.No or too subtle call to action
Your homepage may have the most compelling copy ever, but if you don’t clearly tell people what you want them to do after they’ve read it, you are leaving money on the table.
Sure, they can also use the Contact link in your navigation, but a call-to-action button in context, next to a compelling copy is much more powerful and is more likely to make your visitors take action.
How to make sure your call to action gets noticed
- Add a call-to-action button after every section on your homepage. For example:
- “Download free eBook”, “Book a free session” or “Work with me” above the fold.
- “Get a quote” within the Services section.
- “Get in touch” at the end of the page.
- Make sure you don’t put too many CTAs next to each other.
- Your CTA copy should also make sense out of context. If your CTA says “Info” or “More”, it is not a good CTA.
Small Business Website Mistake #7.No or poor footer
Footer seems to be the most underestimated part of a business website. Which is ironic, because it’s an area your visitors see on every page! This makes footer ideal for drawing attention to important information, pages or products keeping your visitors longer on your website and helping them navigate through it.
How to improve your footer
Here are the things you can include in your footer:
- Navigation to main pages
- Postal address / link to a map
- Phone and fax numbers
- Social icons
- Email signup
- Search box
- Your mission statement
- Latest articles
- Call to action
Not all of these points have to be in your footer, of course. Just select the most relevant for you and your business. But whatever you do, don’t leave your footer empty. Make that precious space at the end of every page work for you.
Small Business Website Mistake #8.Not utilizing above the fold space
Above-the-fold space is a bit overrated.
Despite the popular belief, it’s ok if your first CTA comes slightly below the fold. Your visitors will scroll as long as they know there is something to scroll for.
But if the only thing your visitors see above the fold is a generic image and navigation, you are wasting these first seconds when your visitors are the most interested.
Above-the-fold space is what your visitors see first when they land on your homepage. Use it to make a great first impression.
How to better utilize above-the-fold space
Consider placing some of the following elements above the fold:
- Headline + subheadline of your website to instantly make clear what it is that you do and how you can help.
- Navigation to let your visitors find relevant information quickly.
- A lead magnet, if you have one.
- A call to action to make the next step clear.
- Your photo / a photo of your team to make them like and trust you faster.
Small Business Website Mistake #9.Things moving around by themselves
What’s worse than an element that doesn’t help your visitors do whatever they came to you for? Right, an element that interferes.
Does a self-moving element look fancy?
Maybe. But in most of the cases, this is the only good thing about it.
How self-moving elements harm the user experience
- Your visitors are likely to ignore the moving elements because they automatically assume it’s advertisement.
- Animated post carousels result in fewer clicks.
- Testimonial carousel doesn’t give your visitors enough time to read.
- Background images that move make it hard to concentrate on reading the text (and make your brain hurt).
- Client logos that fly in and out keep your visitors from moving along your sales funnel while they stare at your rotating logos wondering whether there is more to come.
Can it get any worse? Yes, it can!
It’s just plain annoying for users to lose control of the user interface when things move around of their own accord.
The only time it’s justified to have something that moves by itself on your website is when you are using a GIF in context. For example, to entertain:
Dammit! This post should have been ready 2 days ago!
…or to communicate something faster and more effectively than it would be possible with just words. This GIF that I use to explain my interactive website checklist is a good example:
But if your only argument to have stuff that moves by itself on your website is “because it looks pretty”, do your visitors (and yourself!) a favor and drop it.
Small Business Website Mistake #10.Poor contrast between text and background
Before your visitors can appreciate the value of your content, they need to be able to easily read it. But if your masterpiece is using a blue font on a yellow background (or orange on yellow, or anything with the low contrast between the font color and the background color), nobody will bother reading it.
Another common problem is using text on featured images where a part of the text becomes unreadable due to poor contrast.
It’s especially harmful if the unreadable text is your business website’s subheadline that is supposed to explain what it is that you do.
How to make text on your website more readable
- Use dark color for the font and light color for the background. Fun fact: Almost black font is easier to read than completely black.
- If you absolutely insist on using dark background and light font color, this article explains how to do it right.
- If you are afraid that your text on an image is not clearly readable, place a semi-transparent overlay behind the text picking a color from the image itself, like this:
Small Business Website Mistake #11.Visual clutter
I didn’t want to use an example of a website I reviewed, but here’s Yahoo homepage – THE definition of visual clutter:
Funny story: Even if you are not a global company but just a one-person-business, it’s still possible to visually clutter your homepage! (Trust me, I’ve seen enough of it.)
Visual clutter increases cognitive load (the amount of mental power your visitors need to process the information), which reduces usability and makes the user experience less fun.
How to avoid visual clutter on your website
- Remove everything that doesn’t serve a purpose of that particular page (irrelevant links, meaningless images, meaningless typography).
- Avoid too many focal points at once.
- Avoid conflicting colors and patterns.
Small Business Website Mistake #12.CTA not working out of context
Often, your visitors can decide whether they want to click that CTA button based on the heading and the CTA copy alone, without reading the copy in between.
But if your CTA says “Click this button” or “Evolve with it”, your visitors would need to spend extra time to understand whether they want to click.
And we all know how website visitors feel about spending extra time looking for trivial information.
Don’t test the patience of your website visitors and make your CTAs work out of context.
Examples of CTAs that work out of context
- Contact me
- Get in touch
- Drop me a line
- Get a quote
- Hire me
- Make a non-binding request now
- Learn more about website review
- Learn how we can help you rank*
* – If you think this is too long for a CTA, you can even go for “More about SEO services” slightly violating the “I want to…” rule**. Whatever you do, it has to be much clearer than “Evolve with it”.
** – Your CTA copy should complete a sentence “I want you to…” as in “Contact me” or “I want to…” as in “Download my eBook”.***
*** – Ha! I think I’ve just discovered a new way to provide extra info without making a sentence too long! Cool stuff.
Small Business Website Mistake #13.Font size too small
I saw websites using the font size as small as 11px. Not that common, but still happens.
Many website, however, still use font size 14 px for their body text. Can you read it ok? How about now, when the sentences get more and more forming a whole paragraph? Do you think all your website visitors will be able to read this text with ease?
I would recommend using at least 18px for your body text. This text is written in 18 px, for example. If your target audience is 50+, you might consider using even bigger font.
Small Business Website Mistake #14.Confusion around clickable elements
When someone is looking at your website, you are not there in person to point somewhere and tell them, “Hey, click here!” You have to rely on your website to do this job for you.
So if you want people to click on something, make sure it also looks like something that can be clicked.
How to make sure your visitors click on your links
- Make in-text links stand out from the rest of the text enough:
- Make your important CTAs look like buttons. Give them a color that stands out from your theme’s main colors.
- If you want your visitors to click on a link to visit another page, don’t make the link look like a photograph. Your visitors don’t expect a picture placed within the text to be a link to a different page and won’t click on it.
- Make the visual distinction between text and clickable elements (links and buttons) crystal clear. For example, your headings should look like text and not like buttons. This adds to visual clutter and confuses your visitors.
Small Business Website Mistake #15.Meaningless words
The time your website visitors will spend on your website is limited. That’s why you need to make every second count. Everything on your website – every word, every button, every image – needs to have a purpose.
This purpose can be different things: To entertain, to inform, to spark an emotion, to prompt an action, etc. But if you have elements and text with no purpose, you are wasting their time and your money.
It’s especially true for meaningless text.
Remove this from your website:
- Buzz words. Your visitors can’t imagine anything concrete when they read things like “innovative strategies” or “top-notch solution”. Want to inform? Do it using words that create a clear picture in your visitor’s mind.
- Things that are implied, like “We welcome you to our new website!” Because everybody knows they are welcome to your website.
Small Business Website Mistake #16.Bad grammar
If your 3000+ words blog post has typos, your visitors will (hopefully) forgive you. But if you have obvious mistakes in your navigation items and headings, they will perceive it as a sign of incompetence.
Why should they trust you to do a good job for them if you can’t even do a good job for yourself?
That’s why it’s crucial that at least your homepage and your main sales pages are free from typos and grammar mistakes.
Here’s a common grammar mistake you don’t hear people talk about:
I see capitalization messed up on at least 25% of the website I look at.
“This Title’s Capitalization is messed Up”
“This Title and the Next One Are Properly Capitalized”
“No capitalization is also proper capitalization”
To get it right, you don’t even have to remember any rules. Use CapitalizeMyTitle – a free online tool that will properly capitalize anything.
Wanna bet that you have at least one image featuring your post title that is not properly capitalized? 😉
Small Business Website Mistake #17.“Follow me” social icons too visually prominent
Are you working in a store where the biggest sign says “Exit”?
I remember this quote from this article by Andy Crestodina every time I see visually prominent social icons.
“Follow me” icons that take your visitors to your Twitter or Facebook profile have no place in your navigation. Nor in your side widget. Nor anywhere else where your visitors might click them before they saw everything on that page.
Your visitors have just come to your website. You should do everything you can to keep them there.
But if you give them the opportunity to leave, they might take it and never come back. Because you can’t compete with cat memes and cake recipes!
Where to place “follow me” social icons?
Not in your navigation, that’s for sure.
Place “follow me” social icons in your footer. If someone genuinely wants to follow you on social media, they will find the icons there. And everyone else should stay on your website as long as possible, getting to know, like and trust you.
Small Business Website Mistake #18.Long paragraphs with no visuals
Walls of text with no break for the eye and the mind: Surprisingly, this website mistake is still pretty common.
With a gazillion of well-formatted blogs out there, your website visitors are spoiled and picky. If they can’t scan your text to quickly identify the information they are interested in, they won’t bother reading.
How to improve the readability of your content
- Use headings and subheadings in larger font to make your content scannable.
- Use short paragraphs (3-4 lines maximum).
- Use bullet points or block quotes to break the monotony of the usual paragraphs*.
- Use visuals that illustrate your point and communicate the information faster, or just for fun, to give your visitors a break from the serious stuff.
To learn what else you may be doing wrong with your formatting, check out this (so I hear witty) post on 9 formatting mistakes that can ruin your best content.
Small Business Website Mistake #19.Wrong questions
Imagine, you see this headline on a homepage:
“Do you need friendly web content?”
What answer did it prompt in your head?
I thought, “I don’t know. What exactly will it do for my business?”
The problem with questions in your web copy is that if it’s a “yes” or “no” question, you can’t guarantee your prospect’s answer will always be “yes”. Which is bad, because you need a “yes” for the headline to work.
A good headline also communicates a clear benefit for your visitors, which is often missing from a question headline.
This article by Joanna Wiebe from Copyhackers explains why questions in headlines aren’t always a good idea.
It’s not like you should never use a question on your website. But “yes” or “no” questions may cause you trouble (and by “trouble” I mean “confused or disinterested web visitors”).
Small Business Website Mistake #20.“Me”-focused copy
The only part of your business website that is partially about you is your About page. The rest of it, especially your homepage, is about your visitors: Their pain points and how you can help relieve them.
Make sure your copy uses “you” and “yours” more often than “I” and “my”. This will not only make it clear how you can improve their lives, but will also show your visitors that you truly care about helping them.
How many website mistakes has your website “scored”?
Truth time: What’s your “mistake score”?
From the 50 websites I looked at, the scores ranged from 1 to 11, with an average being 4 out of 20 mistakes listed here.
So if you are a small business owner or a solopreneur, there is a good chance that you have some mistakes to fix on your website.
If after reading this post you discovered that you have a lot to fix on your website, don’t be discouraged.
That’s the thing with running a business website: The learning never ends. There will be always things that you are doing wrong. The trick is to find the right information fast (which I hope I just helped you with) and, most importantly, to act on it.
Because, as a Russian proverb goes: “It’s not shameful not to know. It’s shameful not to learn.”