In today’s world, a unique and engaging website is a must, even for independent entrepreneurs, if they want to be perceived as serious professionals. After all, 48% of people cited a website’s design as the number one factor in deciding the credibility of a business, according to Blue Corona’s research.
Thanks to numerous website makers and templates available, website design has become possible for everyone. Therefore, many independent entrepreneurs design their websites by themselves (like me) or hire a relative or an acquaintance to create a site for them.
Now, there is nothing wrong with that IF you’ve done your research and know what you are doing. Unfortunately, this is often not the case and many entrepreneurs are publishing sites that don’t convince you to buy anything from them. Sometimes the reason is a malfunctioning web template, but many times it is the content itself. The good news is that many common mistakes can be easily avoided with thorough planning and the next seven points will tell you how to do it:
1. Basic information is hard to find
In surprisingly many cases, basic information such as contact details, prices or even the site’s menu is hidden behind links in the text or in random places on the site. This decreases the website visitor experience significantly and can make visitors leave your site.
How to avoid it: Think about the primary purpose of your site – what do you want visitors to do? After that, think about how you can make that as clear and as simple as possible. One way to get insights on this is to be a mystery shopper for at least 10 other companies (preferably some you don’t know) in your industry. How easy or difficult is it to find basic information about them? Which company you would choose as your provider and why? Adapt the findings to your own site.
2. Business story is missing
It’s a generally known fact that we prefer dealing with real people instead of faceless organizations. Still, even independent entrepreneurs tend to forget this on their websites and focus on representing their services or products, but not themselves. This leaves the visitor with a cold feeling. Who is the person or team behind this company? Why should I trust them as my provider? Do they understand my needs as a customer?
How to avoid it: Write your story on the “About” or similar section of your site. In addition to offering basic information about yourself, like what kind of credentials you have, include elements of your business story. What kinds of problems are you solving with your business? Why did you start your business? What value is your business bringing? You can find more inspiration for story writing in How to craft a business story by Enchanting Marketing.
3. Confusing site menu
Now raise your hand and tell me how many simple and clear sites you’ve seen that have eight or more menu items? I’m assuming that the number is quite small. I can understand that an independent entrepreneur or a small company can have several services and products they are offering, and it is tempting to advertise them on the main menu. Still, a menu that has 10, or even 16 (!!) links is just too confusing and overwhelming for a busy visitor.
How to avoid it: Group your content under simple and easily understandable menu headings. You can try out different headings if you find that Services or Products are too boring as titles, but make sure that they are clear for your visitors, for example by testing it with your potential target audience.
4. Too much content on the homepage
Sometimes the homepage of a website is like arriving at a wild party – there is so much going on that you don’t know where to look. Among all possible links to the services, there are news feeds, social media feeds, contact links and sometimes even traffic stats (yes, some website templates still produce them). If you want to get more idea of this, check out the World’s worst website.
How to avoid it: Again, group the content into digestible blocks that you can offer to visitors. You can have many of those blocks, but it is usually better if they are in a clear order, one after another. Then they will scale in a similar way on mobile as well. So, keep it simple and embrace the white space.
5. No clear headings
You know how Microsoft Word has those Heading styles numbered 1, 2, 3 and so on? Well so do websites, but surprisingly many don’t use them. Why is this bad? Because it makes your content less readable and significantly lowers your scoring in search engines. Heading 1 is one of the first elements search engines look for, so if that’s missing, you are playing hard to find.
How to avoid it: Make sure that Heading 1 on your homepage is concise and includes your site’s keywords. Pay attention to the other headings as well. Have their styles been defined? In which parts will you use them? How will include your keywords in them?
6. Inconsistent visual design
This one is pretty easy to spot. In this case, the site has different fonts, colors, font sizes or even layouts throughout. Again, this is confusing for the visitor and leaves the impression that the company doesn’t really know its brand and is all over the place.
How to avoid it: Choose two to three colors (besides black & white) and stick to them in everything you do: icons, boxes, headings and so on. Especially in the text, make sure that colors have enough contrast with your background or image, so your visitors can read them easily. In addition, choose two or three basic fonts, one for the headings and one for the normal text. You can again test these with your target audience to hear more opinions.
7. Awful template or a bad website builder
I see this as the main reason for many problems I have listed here. Nowadays, the internet is full of different kinds of website builders and templates to be used for “free” and without any technical know-how. It’s great that website building can be for everyone, but it also has its problems.
For example, the popular website builder WordPress is a great tool, but unfortunately, its free templates are not. The back-end of the templates is often poorly coded, which can cause flaws on your site and decrease its usability. Poor templates and website builders can also threaten the security of your site.
How to avoid it: Do your research and look beyond the visual design. If you plan to design and/or update the website yourself, what kind of support can you get for it? If you need to code in order to fix some problems, do you know how to do it? What other things do you need to have besides the template? Are there additional services or plugins you need to buy and keep updated? If these questions are too difficult for you, I warmly recommend hiring a professional to help you out or trusting a website builder that has a great support but is not necessarily free.
All in all, the same rule applies to website planning as to all communication — keep it simple. Define your objective, target group, and content clearly and lay it out in a clear and consistent way. If you need help, ask for it. This is the starting point for a convincing website.
If you would like to learn more about planning a website for your professional brand, I’m creating an online course on the topic to be launched in the Fall. If you would like to hear more about the course and possibly participate in its pilot, send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the headline ”Website planning course”. The language of the course can be Finnish and/or English.