By Jeff Wuorio
There’s no shortage of advice about what you need to put on your company Web site, but there’s plenty to avoid as well. Here are 9 tips.
Little is often said about those elements that should never see the light of day. And that’s too bad, because poor planning and neglect of your Web site can lead to lost business, security concerns, slow traffic and other problems.
However, Web site missteps are preventable. Here are nine items to avoid.
Your photo on the home page. It’s true. Many Web experts say that, although your picture may seem an element of welcome, it can detract from why the visitor should be there in the first place. "It’s like meeting someone new and — instead of asking them how they are — saying ‘I’m doing great!’" says Larina Kase, president of Performance and Success Coaching, a Philadelphia consulting concern. "Your Web site should be all about the viewer, not about you. You need to first get them interested."
Visual (and audio) overkill. This can take any number of forms. On the one hand, it can show up as a dizziness-inducing Flash home page or pictures of everything from clients to your pet ferret. The former often comes off as little more than a pointless exercise of technical muscle, the latter a confusing — and potentially unprofessional — distraction from the business at hand. Beyond that, overly flashy intros with loud, pulsating music can take forever to load and cause users to flee.
"Having a highly technical site is a good thing for some Web sites," says Ruth Atherley, senior partner at aha creative strategies, a public relations agency in Richmond, B.C., Canada. "But the technology needs to be there for a reason," not just to impress people.
Too many confusing menu options. Granted, you want to offer your visitors a variety of pages and features. But you should keep your site structure simple, so that users are not bewildered by too many possibilities. "Don’t have a menu of 20 options to choose from," Kase advises. "People can hold between five and nine pieces of information in their memory at once. Don’t exceed this limit or they’re going to get overwhelmed and leave your site."
Information that could lead to privacy or security breaches. This depends, to some degree, on the nature of your Web site and business, and perhaps also on your personal comfort level. But it is imperative that you review your Web site content for any material that may lead to security or privacy snafus, as hackers and spammers are constantly scanning for Web sites that reveal personal information and the underlying technologies used on a site.
On a simple level, that may mean keeping employee photos, e-mail addresses and personal details about them off the site. On a more detailed level, how you structure your URLs and even write your "404" error-page messages could reveal what type of application server or hosted provider you are using. Those are things you don’t want hackers to know. Even in publishing product information, Web experts urge you to confine details to what is absolutely needed to attract and entice customers into buying, and to not give away the company store.
Have a security expert and perhaps even an attorney review your site to see if it offers any information that may be misused were it to fall into the wrong hands. Better yet, have a security expert on your Web staff, if possible.
Information that could tip off competitors. People responsible for programming company information on Web sites should "think like thieves," says at least one Web security expert. That way, they are less likely to program information that competitors might steal or use in their own intelligence gathering.
Certain bits of information might seem innocuous on their own, but when pieced together could reveal more than you want about your business practices, strategic partners, corporate clients, and your internal organization. Again, an outside expert to review your site might be of value here.
Undue jargon and techno-speak. The point of most Web sites is to inform potential customers about what you do and, hopefully, have them grasp why they need to avail themselves of your product or services. That’s a tough nut when much of the language on your Web site is overly technical or loaded down with industry jargon that laypeople can’t come close to deciphering.
Keep your copy and content straightforward — if need be, have a non-expert review it for clarity. Jargon or "blather" is commonplace on the Internet, notes Shel Horowitz, copywriter and author of "Principled Profit: Marketing that Puts People First." But it interferes, he says, with "the prospect’s positive perception of your honesty, integrity and quality."
Content that makes your business sound too good to be true. Sure, you’re trying to sell something via your Web site. But marketing content — including product pitches and customer testimonials — that boasts and brags more than it informs and interests people is certain to turn off many a visitor. "Don’t make your Web site an ad. Make it an interactive conversation with your audience," says Atherley.
Unsupervised chat boards. If you want a chat area, plan on using a moderator who approves every submission beforehand. This avoids spam, off-color comments, potential security breaches, and other headaches.
Bad links and outdated material. Nothing can mislead or alienate your visitors more than basic business information and other content that’s obviously outdated or long since irrelevant. Same with links that send users to error pages. Review your Web site regularly for content and links that have changed or gone the way of mood rings and pet rocks.