It’s likely you’re here because:
- Your website is old,
- Your website is not as cool as it used to be,
- You’re considering getting a new one,
- You “know a guy” who does web design for cheap,
- You think the agency price tag is a little high, but
- You’ve got a nagging feeling his rock-bottom prices are too good to be true.
His portfolio likely looks pretty. What more do you need?
Am I on the right track?
What’s going on here is that I’m identifying your pain points, so that I may write copy that speaks to your real concerns. I don’t expect you to be amazed by my psychic powers.
My assumptions about you are pretty obvious, but a shocking number of webmasters fail to even think about their target audience. This also happens to be the first no-no on our list of costly mistakes your freelance designer is making while building your site.
1. Always Talking About Yourself
Your visitors care about one thing and one thing only: themselves.
They are not selfish people, it’s just the nature of internet search. Sally Searcher likely Googled something because she had a problem to solve. Isn’t that what you do?
Instead of anticipating these problems and highlighting how your business can solve them, your freelancer presents your website like a resume.
“Here’s our services, here are our awards, here’s why we’re great. Yay us!”
Testimonials and awards are great. There’s nothing wrong with bragging a bit, but your trophies aren’t your main attraction.
You must illustrate to the searcher how you make their life better.
2. Using Jargon Instead of Normal Language
This one is very closely related to the first, as it has to do with understanding your target audience.
If you are a lawyer, for instance, you probably think and write in legalese.
Legalese is your language, not your customers’ language.
Using fancy vocabulary doesn’t make you seem more competent, it actually has the opposite effect of making you seem more out of touch.
Use simple language your audience can relate to.
3. Being Cute or Clever Instead of Clear
Your tagline might majestically weave intricate subtleties of double entendre and metaphor, but if your customers don’t understand it in the first few seconds, you’ve lost them.
4. No Calls-to-Action
Your website is not a brochure. It is a powerful, 24-hours-a-day lead generation tool.
If you don’t tell people what to do, they likely won’t do anything.
Not only do you need to tell people what to do, you need to convey the benefit they receive from doing so, like:
“Schedule a Treatment Today and Be Mosquito Free Tomorrow.”
Of course, your call-to-action should be extremely prominent, not buried in the fine print.
5. Too Many Calls-to-Action
Sign up for our newsletter, follow us on Facebook, read our case studies, download our whitepaper, get a free quote —
Dude, those CTAs need to back off, they make your customers over-stimulated.
While these may all be actions you legitimately want your visitors to take, cramming them all on the same page only serves to divide your visitors’ attention. Each individual page should ideally focus on a single goal.
6. Using Unvetted 3rd Party Themes
You can get some pretty snazzy looking WordPress themes on ThemeForest for about $50, however, there are a couple of potential problems with 3rd party themes.
One: they usually contain a lot of bloats that can make your site slow. Site speed is important to a good user experience, and it’s also an SEO ranking factor.
Secondly, and more importantly: a new version of WordPress comes out practically every month, and keeping your site updated is a crucial security precaution. WordPress updates can often be incompatible with your theme’s code, causing your site to break.
So, if you go with an unvetted third-party theme, keep those fingers crossed! And ideally, the following will be true:
- Hopefully, your hosting plan comes with backups.
- Hopefully, the theme developers will come out with a patch soon.
- Hopefully, hackers won’t attack your vulnerable, outdated site.
- Hopefully, you can hunt down your freelancer to help you with all of this.
7. Using Unvetted Plugins and Too Many of Them
Plugins have the same exact dangers as third-party themes. They can slow down your site, and they can and will break your site when you update them or WordPress.
Use plugins sparingly, and when you do, only highly-vetted plugins with a strong development team behind them.
8. Using Cheap, Shared Hosting
Cheap hosting is slow and slow is bad. Additionally, cheap hosting may not include regular backups of your site’s data. Such hosting plans are more prone to down times and lost data.
A broken site with no backup is more than an inconvenience. It could be catastrophic to your business.
9. Overuse of Sliders
It is a common impulse to want to show every aspect of your business on the homepage. Sliders, of course, are an obvious way to incorporate multiple messages into one space.
With the amount of media people consume these days, you are already fighting an uphill battle competing for your visitors’ attention. Do you think splitting your message into several animated segments is a good way to drive that message home? Probably not.
Additionally, sliders can also be really slow and choppy, especially on a mobile device.
10. No Google Analytics Tag Installed
How can you manage what you can’t measure?
Your website is the epicenter of your business’ public face. You need to track and measure what your visitors are doing in order to make intelligent decisions on what to do next.
Pro tip: While you’re in Google Analytics, make sure to add a filter to exclude your own IP address and the IP address of your web developer. That way you aren’t counting your own visits to the site as legitimate traffic.
11. No Conversion Tracking
Google Analytics isn’t just for looking at traffic statistics so you can feel like a scientist.
Unless you run an online magazine and sell banner ad space as your main source of revenue, traffic and page views put precisely zero dollars in your pocket. Why use traffic as your measuring stick for success?
You need to track the leads and sales generated from your website, and correctly attribute which channels (organic search, paid search, direct, email, social) they came from.
12. Not Using Google Search ConsoleGoogle Search Console provides you with important information about your site’s health, including indexing issues, broken links, mobile usability, and HTML improvements.
It’s also where you can tell Google exactly how you want it to crawl and index your site. Not using Google Search Console makes it harder to know how healthy your site is.
13. Preferred Site Version Not Set
Since we are talking about Google Search Console, one of the things you need to do in there is set your preferred site version. You have to choose whether your site should default to the www or non-www version.
For example, example.com and www.example.com would actually be considered two different web pages without a preferred site version set.
This matters for two reasons: if you’ve got multiple versions of all your pages, your site is going to be filled with duplicate content.
Duplicate content sends a confusing signal to Google about what content on your site is most important.
Don’t confuse Google.
Feel free to Tweet that tasty morsel.
In a very general sense, SEO is all about sending extremely clear signals to search engines.
The other reason you don’t want duplicates of your pages is backlinks. Backlinks are an extremely important ranking factor.
If incoming links are split between two versions of your page, that link authority, often referred to as “link juice,” is diluted among two pages. It’d be better if all that juice was going to the one version of your site that you were trying to rank.
14. No SSL Certificate
If your site starts with http versus https, you don’t have an SSL certificate.
Google is really pushing for all sites to have SSL, and if you don’t have one, your visitors may see a “not secure” warning in their browser.
That looks a little scary. Secure sites, on the other hand, proudly display a happy green padlock symbol.
Google also officially has stated that having an SSL is a positive ranking signal.
15. Using Stock Images
I’m not saying using a stock image is a crime against web design. There are a few stock images on this bad boy blog article right here.
What you want to do above all else, in a sea of competitors, is differentiate yourself.
Stock photos seem fake and generic. Custom graphics and real photographs provide a feeling of authenticity. You want your visitors to trust you.
Beyond trust, website imagery should speak to your target audience and help convey the benefits of your product or service.
Here is a brilliant use of imagery from Constant Contact.
It’s a pretty normal looking picture, but it says so much.
Constant Contact is an email marketing platform targeted to small business owners. They are well aware that their potential customers are all worried about the same things.
- Does this really work?
- Is it too complicated?
- Is this for people like me?
Notice the dirty green t-shirt, the smiling guy with the 5 o’clock shadow, the small business logo on the hat, and the fact that they appear to be doing this in a garage.
Think about what all these things subconsciously mean.
- This product is for no-nonsense, hard-working, busy entrepreneurs.
- The product perfect for small businesses (like local landscapers) that probably don’t have huge marketing budgets.
- You don’t need a computer science degree to use this service.
- Anyone can use it.
- It’s not stressful.
- It works and it makes you happy.
16. Not Optimizing Image Size
Speed is crucial to a good user experience, and it’s also a ranking factor. Images with large file sizes take a long time to download, especially on mobile devices.
Images should be sized down to the actual dimensions of the space they fill. If you cram a 3000 x 1500 pixel image into a 300 x 150 pixel space, your visitor still has to download the full-sized image.
After ensuring your images are the smallest possible dimension, they should also be compressed using Photoshop’s “save for web” function or a variety of other compression tools.
Last but not least, .jpg images should have their render setting set to “progressive.” This loads a lower resolution image immediately, which sharpens as the rest of the page continues to load. This is better than seeing a blank space and a red X while the file downloads and offers a better experience for your site visitors.
17. Not Optimizing Image Alt Tags
Alt tags describe what a picture is about. From an SEO perspective, describing your images to search engine spiders is just another way to send a stronger signal of what your page is about.
Using alt tags also improves accessibility. People who are visually impaired may use specialized screen readers that read web pages aloud. For a screen reader to interpret an image, it needs to be described in words. The alt tag provides a way for you to help those using screen readers to read your site.
18. Using Poor Site Structure
For your human visitors:
People need to be able to easily explore your site in an intuitive manner and find what they’re looking for quickly. If they’re confused, they are more likely to hit the back button and go explore another site.
For search engines:
The information on your site needs to be clearly categorized and organized. This is often referred to as “siloing.”
It’s called siloing because silos are usually filled with one thing. On a farm, for instance, you’d have a silo full of corn and a silo full of wheat. You don’t put wheat and corn together in the same silo.
People search singular ideas, one at a time. No one Googles the phrase “Can I sue my landlord and should I get a will?”
Those are separate searches that deserve separate pages.
19. Too Little White Space
People tend to scan websites, they don’t read them top to bottom.
I’d be willing to bet you yourself didn’t read every word of this masterpiece. Did you scroll through the list and pick a handful of the points that interested you most? It’s okay, I’m not offended.
In fact, it’s what I expected.
That’s why my paragraphs are so short, and there are headings, bullet points, quotes, and images to break up the text.
On your homepage or landing pages, white space is even more important. White space helps users focus on your main call-to-action, it helps to separate and to organize your ideas, and it helps encourage interaction.
Less is more. Look at all that beautiful space.
20. No/Bad Title Tags
Let’s do a quick test: Pull your website up in a browser and look at the title in the tab. Does it say “Home” on it?
If so, your freelancer has ignored your title tag.
If you don’t know what a title tag is, it is exactly what you’d think. It is, in the most literal sense, the title of your document.
To put it plainly, this is where you shout “Hey Google! This is what my page is about.”
Is your website about home? Clearly not.
21. No Content or Thin Content
To piggyback off the last item on this list, search engines need words to know what your site is about. If your site is just pictures or Flash or some other kind of non-readable content, Google can’t interpret it very well.
Given that information, it is common sense that Google would assume a 2,000-word article is a better resource of information than a 200-word article.
22. Desktop First / Poor Mobile Experience
Web designers, developers, and marketers do their work on desktop and laptop computers. None of us go to work and do our job on a phone.
When you look at a full sized screen 40+ hours a week, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that this is how everyone else is experiencing the work you’re creating.
In reality, the majority of your visitors are probably on a phone; a percentage that will only continue to increase.
This is old news, but even today, mobile design is often an afterthought. People make a beautiful desktop site, then give it a quick last-minute check on mobile to make sure it isn’t broken.
23. Putting Aesthetics Over Function
Making art is fun. Making beautiful things is spiritually fulfilling.
Your website is not an art project. It is a business tool. Its job is to convey information as clearly and simply as possible and to persuade visitors to take you up on your call-to-action.
The simplest, most straightforward, most minimal sites are usually the most successful.
24. Using H1s and H2s For Styling Purposes
This is a prevalent mistake among novice designers.
Heading tags (H1, H2, H3, H4, H5, H6) hold meaning. They imply a hierarchy of importance. They are not simply a means to change font size. That is what CSS is for.
There should only be one H1 on a page, and this should closely mirror your page’s title tag.
H2s, H3s and so on are all subheadings of decreasing importance. They should be used as titles for the sub-sections within your pages’ hierarchy.
25. No/Bad/Duplicate Meta Descriptions
Meta descriptions are what show up on search engine results pages under your page title.
Although meta descriptions are not a direct Google ranking factor, they are just another way to clearly describe the contents of your page.
If your meta descriptions are especially well written, you might enjoy a higher click-through rate on search engine results pages, and thus, get more visitors. A higher click-through rate could also give you a rankings boost.
26. No Training On How to Use Your Site Once It’s Finished
You’ve got a new special and you want to promote it on your site. Do you know how to do that?
Does your freelancer have standard phone hours? A support department? A ticket system? Monthly trainings?
If you can’t actually change any aspect of your site or its content, you might as well have not have spent the money in the first place.
27. Not 301 Redirecting Old URLs
This one sounds like nerdy programmer gibberish, but this could be the most dangerous misstep on this list.
If you have a well-established business, there’s a good chance that your website has acquired a lot of links, whether you actively sought out those links or they happened naturally.
Many of those links will not be to your homepage. You might have links to blog articles, service pages, or product pages if you have an ecommerce website.
If you change your site structure and the location of these pages change, all those links will be pointing to 404 error pages, and you can kiss all that fresh, delicious link juice goodbye. You can really tank a site this way.
In addition to the SEO implications, you can also create a disaster for your on-site experience, with broken links all over your site.
28. No Team of Experienced Digital Marketing Experts on Your Side
Admittedly, this article has been pretty hard on your freelancer. He or she might be extremely competent. What if he or she goes out of business, gets a new job, moves out of the country, gets bitten by a shark, or wins the lottery?
It happens a lot. All businesses have churn. When it’s one person, it’s not churn, it’s goodbye.
When these people suddenly disappear, they may take all your logins with them. They may be the only one who has access to your domain when it expires. They have the logins to your hosting account, your website, your AdWords account, your email, and all your other paid tools.
One person has the keys to everything you’ve built. If you can’t get the keys back because you can’t find this person, you may have to start all over again from scratch.