Are You Committing These 4 Common Site Errors?

Small businesses owners are savvy. They know that in order to grow their business they need to be on the Web. And that means creating a Web site to establish a home base where customers can go to find them, interact with them and even make purchases online. Small business or not, the Web has given everyone the power to establish themselves and become a “brand” online.

And most small business owners do a pretty good job of establishing that Web presence. However, there are also some very common missteps that a lot of SMB sites make. Here are four of the most common mistakes I see on small business Web sites and how owners can avoid them to improve their business.

Bad Design = No Credibility

Building a professional looking Web site is one of the most powerful ways to gain instant credibility with visitors. When someone lands on your site, they’re going to take one glance and immediately use it to determine whether or not they can trust your business. If your site looks too templated, too ugly, or like you just threw it together in an hour with things not in their proper place, they probably won’t find you trustworthy enough to do business with. And they’ll leave for a competitor.

Luckily, you don’t have to be an expert Web designer to create a credible looking Web site. There are plenty of low cost or even free WordPress themes like Thesis that site owners can use to help give themselves the basics in professional looking Web design. If you don’t trust yourself to design your site, put up flyers at the local colleges asking for some cheap help. A college or even high school student in need of some real world examples to add to their resume or portfolio will likely jump at the chance to help build a local site. The goal of your Web site is to naturally attract the people who will be looking for you. You want to make sure your site is giving off the right message and will pass that 5-second test.

Your Conversion Funnel is Too Long

If you’re an e-commerce site looking to increase conversions, try removing some of the unnecessary steps cluttering up your conversion funnel. Count how many screens there are between when a customer puts a product in their shopping cart to that final confirmed checkout. Is it more than three? If so, you may want to check your analytics to see how many visitors are abandoning from the shopping cart. Typically, each additional hoop that you make a customer jump through to buy something, the less likely it is you’re going to make that sale and the more likely it is someone will leave your site prematurely.

A lot of the small business Web sites I’ve come across try to get as much information about customers as they can before they let them go. They want all sorts of demographic information so that they can sign them up for a newsletter or better market to them in the future. While I understand your need for this information, take the hit and remove some of it. Let them make their purchase and then create follow up emails or other marketing to help you collect additional info. Putting too many steps between click “buy” and not actually letting a visitor buy something is a big usability error for a lot of SMB sites.

There’s No Method Behind The Madness

Before you create your Web site, lay out a strategy behind it. What is the purpose of the site? To educate? To sell? To build a community? To simply form a presence? Whatever your goal is, that’s going to have a large say in how it’s developed, how things are arranged on page and the type of Web site that you create. Unfortunately, many small business owners (and large business owners, for that matter), don’t take this into consideration before building out the Web site. They get so wrapped up in just getting something out that there that they end up creating a site that isn’t usable or useful to searchers.

Your first step in creating your Web site is to outline the goals for that online presence. From there you’ll be able to identify your calls to action and key content themes so that you can build around them. You want to know how the site will be used so that you can incorporate your navigation in a way that will be intuitive for users. You want to create content that will reinforce what you’re trying to accomplish, it should be informative, and it should put people on a path to do whatever it is you want them to do. If you don’t create a Web strategy before building the site, you’re going to lose your focus and value for users.

There’s No Reason To Re-Visit

The fatal flaw of virtually all small business Web sites is that they offer no reason for someone to ever revisit the site. You got the email? The phone number? Good, because that’s all this site has to offer.

In order for your site to be interesting to users, there has to be some degree of dynamic or changing content. If everything is static and stays the same, why would someone come back? And as the search engines start looking at user interaction to determine rankings, these factors become more important. Find ways to incorporate dynamic content onto your Web site. Whether it’s a site coupon that updates monthly, changing video content, a blog, some type of widget providing news, etc., create something that will get people engaging on your site and make them keep visiting. By providing this type of content, you also give them incentive to become “members” of your site and to register — thereby getting you that valuable demographic information you lightened up on to increase conversions. Slick, eh?

Those are some of the biggest problems I see with small business Web sites? Any common flaws that particularly get you?

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Lisa Barone Lisa Barone is Vice President of Strategy at Overit, an Albany Web design and development firm where she serves on the senior staff overseeing the company’s marketing consulting, social media, and content divisions.

24 Reactions
  1. Lisa,

    As usual, a terrific article.

    Thought provoking, and full of truth.

    Gotta keep em coming back!

    The Franchise king
    Joel Libava

  2. Okay, okay, so my site is not professional. I didn’t even put a link to my page or my page. I have actually been asking some, but not all of these questions recently Lisa. But not all. Your post gave me the motivation to get it together.

    I often joke with clients — the cobbler’s kids have no shoes when they ask me about my website. I spend so much time helping others that I forget about my own site. Ouch. The part about the funnel got me thinking, too.

  3. Good points – one slight wrinkle on the design vs. credibility front..

    The design of your site should reflect the nature of your organisation – there are some elements of being a small business that add to your credibility, dependant upon the type of product/service that you offer:

    * personal service
    * accountability (if local)
    * quality/reliability of service (being one of a few customers for them, rather than being mega-corp’s millionth)

    In these cases a relatively ‘homely’ design can add to your credibility – although I’m not conflating ‘homely’ and ‘bad’, a few rough edges are to be expected for smaller businesses, e.g. well-worn tools vs fresh out of the shrink-wrap!

  4. The conversion funnel doesn’t only apply to ecommerce sites that have multiple pages during a purchase. Even your contact form should be analyzed to see if you’re asking for too much info. The less information you ask for, the more likely a user is to fill it out. For example:

    Your website generates leads for your sales team to call. Your form asks for name, email, phone #, business name, size of business and comments (all to help your sales team make a better pitch). However, if your sales team has a name, phone # and email, they can easily get the rest of the information within the first 30 seconds of a call. Reduce the friction!

  5. Good article which has got my wheels turning and burning now. A good design that is easy to navigate with contact info easy to find is most important. Nothing turns me off of a site more that a confusing layout. I back out just as quickly as I came in.

  6. Martin Lindeskog

    TJ: I have to learn about the origin of the cobbler’s kids…

    “I often joke with clients — the cobbler’s kids have no shoes when they ask me about my website. I spend so much time helping others that I forget about my own site.”

    I have a very simple site based on Posterous microblogging platform. It is interesting to see that social media giants like Steve Rubel is using this kind of simple lifestream channel nowadays. I will work on my WordPress site at when I have time… 😉

  7. Small businesses know the importance of web exposure and a user friendly website so this information is very useful. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Good advice here, Lisa. If your homepage bounce rate is 80%+, chances are your site falls into the “bad design = no credibility category. The most important point, however, may be the need for dynamic content. If a new user discovers a robust community, blog, video gallery, or even a regularly updated photo gallery, they’ll be more apt to return – and they might even share your site with friends. New users >> returning users = good way to justify those dollars you’re spending on PPC.

  9. RedHotFranchises

    Thanks for this thoughtful and intigueing post. I will definitely keep these facts in mind to feed my thoughts.

  10. I think this article is a great overview of why and how a company should have and benefit from having a website…

    I particularly like the breaking down the barriers for your conversion.

    I just realized in my own site that I am asking for stuff or buried the desired action behind a button.

    i will try and rethink this process…

    Thanks & Regards
    Noel from

  11. Having no method to the madness as you put it, often leads to the long funnel. When you have a clear plan and intent for a website it becomes easy to quickly bring visitors to the desired sales page.

  12. I have a little issue with point #2. The fact of the matter is that most small businesses are going to require the use of a 3rd party payment platform. The firms offering these payment processes are required BY INTERNATIONAL LAW to collect insane amounts of information and (if the transaction are sufficiently high) are required to have proof of residential address. I’ve worked in the payment processing business for over 10 years, so I’m not making this up.

    These steps may be circumvented by getting direct access to a credit card processing gateway directly, but that’s actually rather expensive, and some banks (such as Canadian banks) are notorious for making it nearly impossible to get access to the gateways (there’s a reason it took PayPal so long to get direct access to the Canadian banking system – if it took a giant like them so long, what are the odds of a 3 man operation getting it quickly?)

    Basically, my point is that the advice may be reasonable, but customers also need to be educated (not much chance of THAT, unfortunately) – fraud, charge-backs, international money laundering laws, patriot act laws – these all dictate what you can and cannot do, and completely screw up a really small business’s flow.

  13. Hey I appreciate this post.

    I have been looking at my website for the past few weeks and am realizing it is really very static, even though I think the design is okay. Even though I update my blog every day, it isn’t really ON my site … even though I update my stores everyday, they are external links because I sell on Etsy.

    I have it linked to Flickr, and even though I update that, too, it is an external link.

    So I will start thinking about more content on the index page that changes more frequently. I’m not sure what yet, but I’m going to keep thinking about this. Thank you again for your post. It’s very helpful.

  14. Jill Klinedinst

    Great article with a lot of good points!
    I like keeping fresh material so that your prospects keep coming back and increasing SEO.
    Some common sense ideas that people overlook when trying to ‘shot-gun’ a website!

  15. Lisa: your posts continue to provide the quick insight to relevant topics that are easy to understand and take action on really enjoy reading them!

    Another key factor in web design is recognizing the first impression idea including the concept of “above the scroll” (ie what is displayed to the customer/visitor when they first visit the webpage and immediately displayed in their browser, without having to scroll down the web page).

    A key design factor is to ensure key & relevant info is available without scrolling if the key info is below and the top part of the webpage is “wasted with a big graphic for example) click, the visitor is gone and likely lost for ever

  16. I would tend to agree with Grant’s comment about big graphics pushing content below the fold is a bad idea. It’s not always the case though. I watch stats for all the sites I do, and on two of them 80% or more of the home page is a giant fat picture by request of the site owners. Their bounce rate? Less than 20%, so I don’t automatically dismiss the idea of using a large image anymore. It’s all about the site purpose.

  17. Good facts to keep in mind!

  18. “If you don’t trust yourself to design your site, put up flyers at the local colleges asking for some cheap help. A college or even high school student in need of some real world examples to add to their resume or portfolio will likely jump at the chance to help build a local site.”

    You get what you pay for. Don’t expect professional level work from a high school or college student. Don’t take advantage of students.

    As a Creative Director scouting soon-to-be college grads, I look for talent. Passion, creativity, enthusiasm, and a wide skillset trump “real world examples.”

    Students don’t need “real world examples” in their portfolio to get hired. Student work or imaginary client work is more than enough for a good designer to secure a Jr. Designer or Designer position.

  19. Donovan McFarlane

    This is a good eye-opener! Very informative and wait, Ill check my website, maybe I am committing the same mistake.

  20. Dalesh Kowlesar

    I think that people need to concentrate on what their sites are actually about and build credibility first and then look to eye-catching design. In the beginning a basic site is best.

  21. KISS – Keep it simple, stupid. Too many people get caught up in the look and design without figuring out how to sell their service. I took my site and stripped it down to blank white background to see if visitors will act differently.