3 Common Website Design and Web Development Mistakes That Can Cost You Business and Profits

If your website could produce thousands of dollars in sales for you every month, what would it be worth to you? We all know about the explosive growth of the Internet, how it is responsible for billions of dollars in revenue and how it has changed the way that people do business. Even senior citizens are getting online to search for information as well as products and services. But most businesses are not getting on board in an effective way.

I’ve been in the web development and marketing business for about ten years and in that time, I’ve witnessed enormous changes – things like pay-per-click advertising, relevant search marketing, online banking, elearning systems, directories, eCommerce and multimedia, to name a few. It is now possible to do business all over the world right from your home because of the Internet. There are days when I sit in my nightgown and have an online meeting with someone in India or Russia. Each of us shares relevant files in our computer that allow us to do business together. I believe we have just begun to experience the Internet’s powerful growth.

What I have noticed is that most people don’t know how to make money with their websites. Even business people who can benefit the most from their website, may trust a high school or college kid with no knowledge of web design or Internet marketing, to build their most important and powerful marketing tool. Even if they choose a web development company and pay big bucks, it is no guarantee that their site will get results. The only way to assure that a website produces a significant return on investment is to treat it as the core marketing product – the central part of a marketing system that can automate and leverage sales.

I would like to share with you 3 of the biggest mistakes that businesses make with their websites and other marketing products: 1. Mistake #1: Ineffective copy

A website should have a clear message that gets and keeps the visitors attention. It has to readily answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” A common mistake is to put massive amounts of copy on a page without any headlines, sub-headlines or clear organization in the message. The copy goes on and on, making it hard to figure out what the site is about, let alone what the visitor should do with the information. How long do you think that visitor will stick around? Not long I can assure you. They’re gone pronto, never to return again. The copy should compel the visitor to want to learn more. The visitor should instantly feel that the subject relates to them, clearly defines their problem and offers the best solution. The copy should share something about the company. People want to know and trust who they are doing business with. They don’t care what you say until they know who you are. The copy should include an emotional component – people make decisions because of their emotions. The copy should include stories or examples as well as facts. What will be remembered are the stories with an emotional charge. Testimonials are one of the most effective methods of sharing a story with an emotional component. John Smith testimonial for instance, might talk about how his life was in the toilet before he discovered product X. He started using this amazing product and within 3 months, he was on top of the world – it was the answer to all of his prayers and so on. That’s what will get people hooked on your copy. Your copy should set you apart from your competition. You don’t want to blast the reputation of others but use this opportunity to visually show how you are different. One of the best ways to do this is to display a chart with 3 columns. On the left is a list of all your services. Across the top is a column for ‘other companies’ [your competition], and next to that column is your company. You would show a check mark in your column for each item listed on the left that you offer. (All the items should be checked or you shouldn’t include them in the list). Your competitor’s column would show some checks but also some areas unchecked and some with question marks. This visually allows the visitor to see that you are their best choice.

Use keywords in your copy that will allow your target market to find you through search engines, blogs, article submissions and e-zine publications. Use software that will help you to choose keywords that are being searched in significant numbers. Google and Yahoo also have free tools for keyword selection.

2. Mistake #2: Failure to Include an Opt-In Email Subscription Form. If you’re not using your website for lead generation via an opt-in email form, you’re losing a huge opportunity. These are some important points that relate to building your mailing list:

  • Building a list of people who have come to you site allows you to stay in touch with those people, build a relationship, establish yourself as an expert and solve their problems. This is critical to the success of your business – something that most people miss.
  • Put your form as close to the top right as possible. This has been shown through research to be the best location.
  • Never use a weak message like ‘join my newsletter’. Why would I do that? Give me a reason to subscribe and give me a bonus for doing it – a free gift that I can get instantly as soon as I join. The bonus could be a free report, audio of your teleclass or a coupon discount for a product you wish to sell.

3. Mistake #3: Unprofessional Website Design Does your website look like it was created by a professional or does it look like you did it yourself. An unprofessional design can give a message to your audience that says, “your website isn’t professional and that probably is a sign that your services aren’t professional either.” Here are some tips that will help you to have an effective website design:

  • The content should be formatted so that it is easy to read and organized into important sections. Remember those headlines and sub-headlines.
  • The navigation should clearly specify the content areas and should be consistent on every page. You should not have to hit the back button to find a page or move around. There is nothing more frustrating than getting lost on a website because of the navigation.
  • Make sure the links all work.
  • Make a template from your design that is applied to all the pages. Use your template and include files to make changes to one file that automatically modifies all the appropriate pages.
  • Use colors that appeal to your target market. This is a subject for another article. I will just mention here that some colors are offensive to certain cultures. Colors like blue have universal appeal, especially for sites directed to a corporate market.
  • Use font sizes and styles that are easy to read and pleasing to the eye. Avoid scripted fonts except in graphics where they are used minimally. Use universal fonts that everyone has loaded on their computer. If you don’t, the font you choose will be substituted on a computer that doesn’t have that font. I personally like Verdana and Arial the best for the web because they are clean and easy to read.
  • Use plenty of cell padding around text and images. Avoid cramming things together and putting them close to the margins.
  • Make sure that the design takes your eye to important areas of the website. Can you easily identify important content or is your eye going all over the place?
  • Whether your web site design is a fixed size or a percentage of the screen, be aware that more people now have bigger monitors with higher screen resolutions. The design that looks great on your monitor make look like an eyesore on other monitors. Designs should be tested across browsers and in different screen resolutions.
  • Test everything on your website. Check every page and every link. Look for any design issues. Correct all spelling and grammatical errors. Complete contact and email subscription forms to make sure they work. Don’t assume your webmaster has done this. It is also a good idea to check that forms work periodically as problems can mysteriously arise, particularly if there are changes on the server. If you are getting a steady stream of inquiries and sign-ups, you will know that things are working just great.

These important tips will help you to design a more effective website – one that is the core piece of your marketing system. I want to caution you that the old expression, “You get what you pay for,” is not always true when it comes to website development. You may pay a high price only to find yourself with a weak and ineffective website that has to be redesigned. Make sure the professionals you choose have an in depth knowledge of Internet marketing and exceptional copy writing, website design and development skills. Make certain that they know how to use the web effectively for creating a marketing system. This system is what will give you the opportunity to profit enormously. It will change your business and most likely change your life.

Do You Have Your Custom Web Development Risks Under Control?

Managing custom web development is managing a software project. More and more, average people in average businesses are managing software projects in the form of customized blogs, websites, and e-commerce shopping carts. Even more so, if they are trying to deploy a custom intranet application, for internal use by their company’s employees, or an extranet application, for use by their customers and corporate partners, they may find themselves faced with developing a fully custom software system.

For example, one project I recently worked on is a custom extranet application that a certain company’s clients use to submit jobs to the company. As each job request goes through the system, a number of people in the company need to add information and sign off on it. This automated system was thick with business rules for this particular company and as a result was almost completely custom, because no off-the-shelf software got even close to doing the job the way they needed it done. It was expensive for them to develop, but it allowed them to automate a process that previously had been manually intensive. (Before this, they would email Excel spreadsheets around. Now, the computer handles all the grunt work, and frequently, all a human has to do is click “Approve.”)

This is an extreme example, but more moderate examples also exist. For example, a Gilmore Girls fansite I put together years ago had custom database features in order to store memorable quotations from the show with fan commentary, linked to episode and topical guides. That’s something that has not to my knowledge been done before or since. It required custom programming and configuration to process user submissions, store the data, and display the data in the right format.

Unfortunately, if you’re facing this type of project, many of the consultants and service providers you talk to will not be aware of the software development issues involved and how to manage the software-development risk. They may try to shoehorn your problem into something off-the-shelf software can accomplish. Or they may just “hack together” custom programming, without managing the complexity of the underlying software design. Or they may want an up-front specification of everything your project needs to do and may want to spend months working out these details, under the guise of good planning. But how can you plan a project you have zero experience with? You can’t. And neither can they.

Now, this is not a problem if all you need is a stock installation of off-the-shelf software. For example, if all you need is a WordPress blog with off-the-shelf plugins and an off-the-shelf theme, the traditional approach is the right one. Figure out what you need, install it, make sure it works, and release it to the world. Even if all you need is a custom theme for a stock website, the traditional graphic design approach–3 mock-ups, choose one, then implement it in code–may be the best approach. Even if you have a semi-custom installation of a more complex web application, like a content management system or an e-commerce shopping cart, the traditional approach may be acceptable.

But the more customization your project requires, the more software engineering concerns will impact it, and the more ignoring these concerns will put your project at risk. This is especially important in a financial squeeze, where you need to maximize what you get for your software-development dollar and minimize the risk that the project will go off track or bust.

If you find yourself faced with this prospect, here are 13 “lucky” software development tips to planning and executing your next web development project, briefly:

  1. Resolve to take tiny steps. Don’t develop and deploy the system in one big leap. Rather, do it in small chunks so that you can monitor its progress and adjust its direction each step of the way.
  2. Find an expert you can trust, then trust him. Don’t just look for someone to bang out code for you, but for someone to advise you on technology and on the software development process.
  3. Don’t commit to which features you want until you need to develop them. Wait until the last responsible moment before committing. That gives you more time to gain the experience at each step to choose the most important features to add next.
  4. Make sure the contract allows for changes, and make changes before committing, but not after. Work with a development team who will allow you to make changes to the plan, up to the point at which they begin actually implementing your requests.
  5. Provide software requirements in the form of objective test procedures. Go step by step through a typical usage scenario so that the developers can understand what you envision, and so that your in-house testers can know that they implemented what you asked for.
  6. Set objective acceptance criteria for each feature. Be as flexible as you can without giving up your core requirements. Think through ahead of time what you really need and what you can get away with. Then talk to the developers about what they can do to give you the former.
  7. Ask the developers how long each feature will take to implement, and whatever they tell you, trust but verify. Many developers are over-optimistic in their estimates. So depend on their expertise in estimating time-to-completion, but verify it with your own measurements.
  8. Make an “expert user” available to advise the developers. Good developers will ask you questions about the system that you probably never thought of. Assign an “expert user” to answer these questions, someone in your company who can represent the users of the system to the developers.
  9. Get regular status updates. Have someone in-house look at each release. Meet with the development team leader every week to address issues. Stay in constant communication.
  10. Expect the possible, but not the impossible. If your developer says such-and-such a task will take a month, don’t argue him down to a week. Rather, talk about what parts of it you can leave out to reduce the time it will take.
  11. Be prepared to choose which features are more important, and which are not. If the developer asks you to choose which of two features is more important, don’t insist that both are critical and must be done next week. Make the hard choices. Pick one to do this week, and leave the other until next.
  12. Expect to fail in the short term, even if you’re optimistic in the long term. Microsoft didn’t get Windows right until version 3. You also may need to wait until the third monthly release before you see anything usable in your application.
  13. Don’t be afraid to pull the plug. At some point, you’ll find that all the most important features are already working and that the ones that are left aren’t actually worth what you’re paying for them. At that point, stop buying new features, and move onto the next project.

Not every development shop will be able to work within these bounds. These tips do come from many years of experience, failed projects, and successful ones. But there’s also a certain amount of faith involved, because despite the years of experience, we still have scanty scientific data to prove which software-development practices are most effective. That’s why some developers may not be used to working with the kind of process I’ve outlined here and may even refuse to. So you may need to shop around a little to find a developer who can. But at least now you know what questions to ask.

How to Find The Best Web Development Company for Your Business

If you are preparing to set up an online business for the purpose of selling your products or services, the presence of your own website is necessitated. In order to ensure that the website has been proficiently designed, it is advisable to opt for specialized guidance in this regard, and opt for a skilled web development company which is capable of accomplishing this task for you. Web development does not necessitate too much of concentration and care especially when it is your personal website. On the other hand, when you are planning a business you need to ensure that your website is possessed of all the fundamental facilities so as to be assured of success within the sphere of the Internet.

If you wish to avail the services of an apt company which would be capable of fulfilling your diverse business requirements, it is essential to confer with people who already have a business website. You could gain additional information pertaining to the costs and the essential issues which must necessarily be addressed, prior to constructing a business website. Additionally, you could incorporate certain vital guidelines on relevant issues and ways to ensure that you can get optimum utilization of the services of the company which you opt for.

If this seems like a Herculean task in view of the fact that none of your acquaintances own a website, you need not be disheartened as you could avail the wide sphere of the Internet to initiate your research. There is nothing which is more capable of assisting you in a more worthwhile manner than the Internet, and this is more so if you wish to accrue additional knowledge in this day and age. You could also be aware of certain proficient web developers within your own neighborhood. All that you would be required to do is to ask them if they can demonstrate the websites which they have designed previously and this would assist you in getting a fair idea as to what they are competent at rendering.

Another thing which you must necessarily corroborate pertaining to your web development company is their exclusivity of work or diversity. It should not be the case that they are in the process of designing the selfsame website layouts time and again, which they would try to camouflage with an amalgam of colors and varied sets of logos.  The next step which is involved after you have proved that you are content with the website designs, is to give them a call and this should be done in person and see to it that they are made aware of your varied requirements and ensure that you emphasize on the search engine optimized website. It is vital that your website should be search engine optimized from the initial stage itself or at the beginning of the first design phase.

It is certainly prudent to seek a company which has many web developers who could aid you suitably in your job of constructing a website. Web development is not as unproblematic a task as it seems thus it is imperative to seek a team rather than the services of an individual which is capable of handling your business requirements. Remember that if the people function in groups on your website, the end result would definitely be an enhanced one.