15 common web pitfalls and how to avoid them

Many of the mistakes organisations make in their work with their website are recurring. Here’s a list of what I see as the 15 most common pitfalls and some simple advice on how to leap across them. 

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I’d love your help to develop and refine the list further, so please pitch in with your views in the comments area.

1. Failing to prioritise strictly. Failing to prioritise and focus sufficiently is the most common and most destructive pitfall of them all. Many businesses seem to put as much content and functionality as possible at the top of their site. This will distract users from what you most want them to do and what they came to your site to do.

Structure your site with the most important content for your users highlighted at the top and the least important at the bottom or on other pages.

Your goals for the site should be aligned with the goals of your target group, so that there is minimal conflict of goals. (Needless to say, your target groups must be clearly defined and strictly prioritised).

Keep it simple. Don’t set more than a few tangible goals. If they are too diverse, unclear or general, any consistent business impact will be luck.

2. Not realising that everything needs governance to work sustainably over time.

The web is a highly living medium, and your site will most likely be of little use if you just launch it and leave it.

You need a clearly defined workflow routine for who takes care of what and how. Everyone involved must feel ownership and be made accountable, and key stakeholders and senior management need to fully support the effort.

Also, your site and related activities need to fit in with the other parts of the customer experience, such as marketing, customer service and the actual product/service.

Therefore publishing and optimisation needs flexible governance, ownership and resources over time.

3. Hiding your calls to action. Generally, visitors of most organisations’ web sites will only scan a page for a very short amount of time (often seconds) and then decide whether to explore it further or leave. Therefore, those elements on your site that encourage customers to buy/register/subscribe etc. – such as links and buttons – get them up and centre! Don’t hide them at the bottom of a text or on a subpage.

To make your users stay, show them content that makes it clear that they’re in the right place. Then guide them efficiently through the journey that helps both your business and your users to reach their goals.

For example, if you’ve got a post about a job opening, include information about how to apply at the top; don’t force them to read through the entire text to find a link hidden at the bottom.

4. Creating sloppy content. Great content rules he web. This is what users come for and fundamental to your goal conversion. Regrettably, really great content is all too rare at the sites of businesses and organisations.

So how do you create it? First of all you need to find the sweet spot where the goals of the user are aligned with your own. Obviously, this requires a clear idea about what these goals are. From here on, it’s a matter of inventiveness, skills and variation.

Many websites take the easy way out and just write a long article every time they have something to say. Why not add a simple diagram or table? Or even better, a video? An infographic? A podcast? Or something entirely different?

A story can be told in a thousand ways and you should consider both the target group and what you want to convey when deciding on the form of the content.

Generally, if the target group knows a lot about the topic and is likely to be very receptive to your message, you can probably just tell them in a straight forward way, for example in simple prose.

Conversely, if their involvement, receptiveness and knowledge is sparse, you need to put engagement, appeal and dialogue centre stage.

5. Breaking the customer’s journey. A visit to your site is part of a journey. You should know as much as possible about that journey – where the user comes from and where he or she is likely to go next. Your challenge is to enable the journey, and not break it.

A typical example of breaking the journey is to provide a link on a piece of print advertising and not have a site optimised for mobile devices, creating a massive barrier to moving on from there. (And please don’t use QR codes, they are by definition broken).

Instead, learn where the flow goes, and go with it. If you see that many users arrive at a particular page from search engines, after searching for something specific, you should take that into account when optimising that page.

And because you want to guide them further in the direction of reaching your and their goals, you should also enable an easy passage through the likely next steps in the user’s journey.

This holds true at all levels – when designing your entire digital presence, your site, individual pages and individual elements on a page.

6. Failing to analyse what matters of what works and what doesn’t, and optimising your digital assets according to this.

Many organisations set lofty and top-level visions for their site, but neglect to break down strategic intent into specific goals, concrete KPIs and measurable objectives. Without these, you cannot measure performance and take actions.

Google Analytics or other digital analytics tools are there for you to continuously improve your web presence. Methods, routines and analytics tools should be set up to enable easy tracking and decision-making on a day-to-day basis according to your objectives.

7. Forgetting your presence in search engines. When somebody wants to find information about an organisation, they’ll google it. They will generally not go directly to your site.

So if you want them to find your business, make sure that you are ranking well in search engines with relevant content. Search is all about intent, these are people who want to research or buy the stuff you are selling or promoting, so help them find you.

Search engine optimisation is a whole topic of its own, but important measures include creating unique and relevant titles on individual pages, as well as great meta descriptions and headlines with relevant key words and calls to action.

8. Structuring your website from an inside-out perspective. Intuitively, many organisations will structure their site according to the structure of their service areas, products, organisational structure or some other internal dimension. Normally, this is not intuitive to the user.

Forget yourself for a moment, and let the needs of the user govern the structure. This will help them find what they’re looking for and ultimately lead to higher goal conversion.

9. Having a too deep site structure is also a common web pitfall. In addition to putting off the user, this will also make the site and its content come across as less relevant by search engines. The majority of organisational sites will thus benefit a lot form simplification and flattening.

10. Not having a responsive site that works well on all devices. More and more people will want to access your site from a smartphone or tablet. I would say nearly all organisations need at least some mobile functionality, or they’ll lose business.

11. Ignoring site speed. Many businesses forget that the load speed on your site on different devices is crucial.

With the fierce competition on the web and expectations set by the world’s greatest, users will be out of your site in seconds if it doesn’t load quickly enough on the device they’re using. And again, this is an important factor in raising your site’s ranking in search results.

12. Using non-standard design on navigation and structures.

Over the last few years, a lot of mobile sites and apps use a menu button similar to the menu button in Facebook’s app (the three horizontal lines appropriately called the “hamburger menu”). This is great. Most users know immediately what it is and know how to use it.

Of course, it’s great if the design and graphics look good too, but don’t make it fancy so that graphic design hinders good usability. Rather, it should support ease of navigation and interaction. Form must follow function.

If you want to do something really original with the design, think twice and know that users often must spend time and effort to learn. As a rule of thumb, don’t make users think, at least not learn, regarding how to interact with your site. It should work at an instant.

13. Isolating your blog from your main site. Very often a tighter integration between your main site and your blog will create synergies for both you and users.

14. Using Flash. Apart from increasing the load time of your website, excessive usage of Flash will very often annoy visitors. Use it only if you must offer features that are not supported by static pages or HTML/HTML 5/ CSS etc. (which are fast approaching zero).

15. Creating banners that look like advertising to guide users to your own content on other websites/parts of your website. If it looks anything like advertising it will be largely ignored.

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2 thoughts on “15 common web pitfalls and how to avoid them

  1. Regarding point 14. “Apart from increasing the load time of your website”, this is not valid, since the same feature implemented in HTML5 most of the times means heavier data load than SWF. However i do agree that it’s not good to use Flash for websites, mostly because of the tablets, there used to be the SEO reason, which now also disappears due to the RIA Javascript nature of plenty of websites that are unsearchable by robots just as SWFs used to be.

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