Last Thursday it was 42 degrees, the air conditioner was struggling, a major deadline was looming, the Poms were 4/300 and looking to threaten the Aussie dominance of the Ashes and there was a blowfly on a kamikaze mission that had somehow found its way into the office and was randomly (and repeatedly) smashing into things including the back of my head.
In truth, I wasn’t at my best and, in the course of conducting some research that afternoon, I came across a website that tipped me over the edge. That’s when I started writing this blog.
Here are a few practices that no business should employ when it comes to website design and content.
These traits can apply to any website but tend to more prevalent in older sites (5 years +) and especially in newer ‘ultra-minimal’ sites which are the cuisine foam of website design (frothy, tasteless and trendy until people work out they’re actually annoying). I could’ve ranted forever on a few of these points, but I’ve calmed down a little since … an England batting collapse and a few cold beverages will do that!
Keep ‘em guessing. Yeah, that’ll work.
It’s been pretty well acknowledged by those who design and build websites that there are four pages on any and all business-related websites that attract the most traffic. It’s been this way since Tim Berners-Lee first said “I think the interweb could be a winner” and it’s a global phenomenon regardless of location, industry, sub-sector, favourite genre of music etc. It even includes people who love death metal and country & western. These are:
- Home Page – makes sense. It’s where most people land and, even if they don’t, they normally find their way there.
- About Us or equivalent section with a groovier title such as ‘The Gang’s All Here’, ‘How We Roll’ or ‘What Makes Us Tick’
- Contact Us – people want to know how to reach you.
- News or Blog section – easiest way to get a feel for what you do. Beats reading through pages of info about your products/services. Also gives visitors a feel for company culture.
So why (oh why!) do people think it’s OK to have little or no content covering the credentials, history and key information about their business? It’s not mysterious, it’s annoying. And it’s bad business.
A similar but separate issue to Point 1. There has been a trend in the past few years to take a minimalistic approach to copy. Keep it short, keep it generic and even a bit cryptic …
“At vagueness.com we are innovators. We help your business to become as vague as us. We work with some of the biggest names in Vagueland to improve their systems and enhance their vagueness.”
Let’s keep them guessing. They’ll contact us if they want to know more.
Ahhh, no they won’t. They’ll get completely frustrated, call you a bunch of idiots and move on to the next search result. How can this be a clever strategy? Why would anyone want to do business with (or work for) a company that can’t even get its elevator pitch right. Dumb on so many levels.
Clichéd, crappy photographs
A lot of businesses take the time and effort to build a decent website with great navigation and excellent copy and then pepper it with the worst images known to man. These images are also often used in blog posts and on other marketing materials. In the olden days they were purchased from Shutterstock or iStock but most of them are on Google Images now for free which makes them even more prevalent. They’re completely lame and they are doing your business a disservice. This list is by no means comprehensive, but these are the very worst in my opinion:
- The United Colo(u)rs of Benetton – also known as “Faux Diversity”. You know the one, the photo of the ridiculously young, ridiculously happy and ridiculously ethnically diverse staff including the grandson of a genuine Inuit Eskimo and Miss Norway 2013. These models couldn’t point out Australia on a world map let alone work for your business. Either show your real staff or, if you really are all too ugly and annoying, show nothing. But don’t use a Benetton shot.
- Road signs with BIG BUSINESS WORDS – every time I see a big green freeway sign with the words ‘Change Ahead’ or ‘Future Growth’ a little piece of me dies. Of all the cliché’s this one is probably the worst (and the most American looking, which is also annoying). Please take the next exit and get immediate roadside assistance if you have any of these road sign images in any of your communications.
- Performing goldfish – these well-trained, impeccably looking fish now come in various configurations (and are now also accessorised with cats, human hands, nets etc) but the most annoying one is the individual, rogue, bold, smarter than the rest of you goldfish, who jumps from a bowl full of goldfish into his/her own fresh bowl because he’s a rebel and a pioneer and has a brain bigger than any other goldfish. No, just no.
- Exercising in a business suit – unless you are running to the bar for a shout there is no reason to be pictured exercising in a suit. Images that should be permanently banned from the internet include all suit-clad persons on the starting blocks (track and pool), anyone in a business suit climbing a ladder or cliff face and even a guy in a business suit pretending to parkour. In fact, let’s extend this to anyone carrying an old-school, square black brief case. We’re not on the set of Mad Men.
- Jigsaw pieces – I love a good jigsaw. It’s become a Christmas holiday tradition at our house with a new challenge each year. This year we are going to try a 5000 piece which could end poorly but, generally they are great way of passing time, interacting with family members and bragging about how skillful you are. But when was the last time you did a jigsaw at work? I get the metaphor (challenges, team work, blah blah) it’s just a lazy and unrealistic way to convey it.
- The oversized megaphone – megaphones are used to control protesters and also by rowing coaches, retro circus ring-masters and lazy town criers. Use of such imagery infers you either need to shout to get your message across or, worse, you actually enjoy shouting at people. Unless you are union organiser you’ll never see a megaphone in a business environment so don’t display one on your website.
No place to land the carrier pigeon
Unless you’re James Bond, Jason Bourne, Simon Templar (look it up Millennials) or another fictitious international man of mystery or you are Trevor (our local homeless semi-celebrity here in Maitland who rumour has it, used to be a lawyer and actually owns two houses and is only living under the Belmore Bridge for the tranquility) with no fixed abode, you should have an address listed somewhere on your site.
You are not going to win more business by implying your business operates in international airspace or trans-boundary waters. I’m proud to say I’m based in the Hunter. Sure, I may not be considered for work with some Sydney or Melbourne based businesses that would be a great fit, but potential clients will find out where I live and work at some stage (and make assumptions and judgements about that) so why delay the inevitable.
The flip side to this are businesses that claim to have offices in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Auckland and Manila yet they have two staff on their LinkedIn Company page and 37 followers of their business Facebook Page. It’s unauthentic. People don’t think it’s impressive, they think it’s tragic. Serviced offices also send up red flags so, if you use one, make sure you have a sharp answering service with staff who sound alert and engaged.
There are exceptions to the rule. For example, if you are Facebook and have deliberately and methodically set up your business to talk to no-one, anywhere, ever then you can keep to yourself. But pretty much everyone else, yes even highly geared e-commerce operators that have virtual offices and virtually no staff, should indicate where they are based. People want to know this stuff and they may pass on you if you don’t list this information.
Same goes for an email address – don’t assume punters will complete a contact form to get in touch. When was the last time you completed a contact form on a website? People are so used to filling out those forms and never receiving a reply that they don’t bother any more. A Facebook message gets a faster result.
Free email addresses (Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo etc) should be avoided if possible. They make you look small and cheap. If you have a website, you should really have an email address with the same domain name. If you don’t have a website buy a domain name (which normally gives you 5-10 free email addresses) and change the DNS record on your current email service or run your email through your web server.
A land line also trumps a mobile number as a contact number every time. It shows you have roots. I have a Skype phone number ($2 a week) which looks and behaves like a landline. If someone rings it comes through to my phone or laptop.
Quick, grab the liquid paper
A brief mention also goes to typos and poor grammar. It’s about attention to detail … if you can’t be bothered to get your spelling and grammar right it doesn’t send a great message to your staff, clients or prospects!
So, now that rant is out of the way, may I say that if your business website or any of your marketing materials, including blog posts and social media activity, carries any of these extremely annoying traits I implore you to update. It’s likely impacting the credibility of your brand and, more importantly, costing you sales.
Please feel free to contact Marketing Sherpa if we can assist. Despite the tone of this blog post, I assure you we won’t judge. We are the roadside assistance that your website requires.