Are You Making These 10 Fatal Mistakes with Your Small Business Website?

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a while… Now that the 2012 is coming to an end, and there is a natural inclination for small business owners to take a look back over the year’s performance and think about how to improve things going forward, I think it may be a good time to slip this one idea in.

Dear Small Business Owners, some of you really need to revamp your websites! I know that the talk on the web these days has been focused on things like image-based marketing, local search presence, and mobile marketing strategies. But, many of you seem to have forgotten (or maybe you don’t know) that your website is your home base when it comes to your online presence and your online marketing.

Now, it is not my intent here to give you all a lecture on online marketing strategies, web design, sales funnels, and the like. There are many great posts out there from people more experienced in online marketing than me. (For starters, take a look at some the great posts by Lisa Barone, over at Small Business Trends).

I want to talk about the user experience. I’m really amazed that I can still go to some small business websites today, and all I can do is wince- and that’s not what you want your potential customers doing when they reach your website! The saddest part is that a lot of these websites represent some really great small businesses. I’m certain that if some of you would only revamp those url’s, you’d probably see a pretty noticeable increase in sales.

That said, here are my top ten, business website no-no’s from a customer’s perspective that any small business owner should be on the lookout for and make an effort to change:

1. Your website design is dated, poorly laid out, and/or poorly designed.
First impressions really do go a long away- especially on the web where you have literally seconds to convince impatient visitors to stay on your site. Old sites that have not seen a design update in years, or sites that look like they’ve just been hastily and carelessly thrown together, are a very big turn off.

Please keep in mind, I’m not talking about needing such a flashy and professional appearance. I’m just talking clean, easy-to-read, and fresh. Depending on the nature of your business, you may be able to get away with cheap logo design (from, say, Fiverr) and a DIY site builder. But, if you are in an industry, such as marketing, where image counts heavily, or you’re really challenged in the design department, then please, please do yourself a favor and invest in someone to help you build and design your business website. You could probably find a competent person to do it for a few hundred dollars for a simple 5 page layout. It’s money well spent.

2. Your page doesn’t fit my screen. Quick on the heels of the point above, are those websites that do have a more put together look- accept I just can’t see all of it. Realize that your site’s appearance may render differently across browsers and devices. Sometimes the whole page fits the screen, but elements of it are covering up important content. So, make sure to check it out.

3. I have no clue what your site is about. I go to some websites, and seriously all I can think is, “Where the heck am I?” If I have to wonder what exactly you are trying to tell or sell to me, then something is wrong. You have to clearly and prominently present enough information “above the fold” of your website (i.e. within the active window without having to scroll down) so that visitors will at least have some idea what the site or your business is about. Many online marketing experts encourage webmasters to place email subscriber list forms social sharing buttons, in this space. While this is important, just keep in mind that these things won’t get you anywhere if visitors don’t first know where they are.

4. You try to get me to join your subscriber list when I haven’t even seen your site yet!!! Of all my website pet peeves, I think this tops the list. I go to a site, and just as it is about to finish loading, the screen goes gray, and I’m held hostage by someone’s subscriber request. Many of the biggest online movers and shakers are doing this as well. Ugghhh!!!

Please do me and your other visitors a favor and set your pop-up to delay a few minutes before displaying, or set it to open when a visitor goes to another page, or makes a repeat visit to the site. And, I know, everyone and his grandma is preaching the effectiveness of pop-ups and how you must make every effort to build up a subscriber list. But there has to be a better way to do it. Give me something of value, then prompt me. If you want to get a pop-up out early on during someone’s visit, then put in a fly-out that stays modestly on the side.

5. Your website takes too long to load. Just realize that people won’t wait more than a few seconds for your site to render. If you’re supporting a lot of media on the site, such as images and video, then this may be a big issue. There are ways around this, like using certain caching plugins, just do some research.

6. You have too many images or images that are too big… It seems that with the popularity of platforms like Pinterest and now Instagram, everyone’s trying to jump on the image bandwagon. Images can be important design elements on your site. But don’t overdo it. Again, there has to be enough written content in my visual field, or I may not know what your site is about.

7. Your site is a flatliner. Your site sports a cookie-cutter design template filled with stock photos and corporate speak, and no signs of social sharing. In short, there’s no sign of life. Skip the ER, head straight to the morgue!

8. Your site has extremely low page rank. As I mentioned in my Alexa post, even if measurements such as Google’s page rank and the like, are inaccurate, your visitors may still judge your business’ popularity, and by extension, it’s value, by these numbers. I would advise that you work on getting your site to rank at least a 2 or a 3. If you have a new business, then try to get your business website ranking as soon as possible.

9. Your site is too overrun with outside ads. By all means monetize your business website, but make sure that those ads don’t detract from the site. You have to be subtle and strategic, and you have to make sure the ads that appear are relevant, not cheap or crude. If you fail to do this then you run the risk of cheapening your website and loosing business.

10. You don’t connect the different elements of your site. If you are going to make the effort to maintain a blog, for example, make sure it is connected to your homepage with navigation buttons or have a clickable header. Also, make sure there’s some design consistency between these domain elements. Finally, if you are making the effort to put up some good content, then see where you can use it to draw interest in your product/service. Many of you aren’t doing this, and it’s just a waste. Don’t assume your visitors will automatically check out other parts of your site without some prompting, and don’t disregard the sales potential of your content, either.

In short, if your business website is guilty of any of the above offenses, you may want fix them up as soon as possible. You could be driving many potential customers away.


  1. says

    I totally agree with you Adam. Especially for small local businesses. If your website does not have a professional appearance, it will affect your business. It is definitely worth the cost of hiring a web designer.

  2. Adam Gottlieb says

    Yeah, and this is all the more important for out-of-town customers who may not be familiar with your business. A business’ image online and functionality is a vital factor to it’s success.

  3. Al Seward says

    Hello Adam,

    I think the biggest hurdle for offline business owners in growing an online presence is becoming overwhelmed with all that goes into marketing online. I think its particularly difficult if they have worked within a traditional model for most of their business. I think the best thing they can do is to outsource as much of the technical part of building their web presence as possible and just focus on content and adding value. At least in the beginning until they have more time to truly learn the ins and outs of the online marketing space. Which can be a lot to learn and very timing consuming.


  4. Adam Gottlieb says

    Hi Al,

    Trying to make that transition from off line marketing to online marketing definitely looks overwhelming from the outside- Heck, it looks just as overwhelming from the “inside.” As an offline business owner, you may feel as if you need to learn a whole new language. Then, there’s the pace of the Internet- things move and change very fast- which is also a problem that doesn’t get spoken about enough.

    The reality, however, is that the same basic “old school” principles of marketing still exist (they just have fancy names like “tribes” and “trust agents.”)

    Given this, you *can* reduce the complexity of online marketing by seeking out proven sources of Internet marketing education and information (Like Firepole Marketing) and outsourcing some tasks as you mentioned. You can also break down you online marketing strategies into small, manageable chunks.

  5. Darren says

    I love this post. Everything you have cited, in principle, is exactly what I was taught when I started my graphic design degree almost ten years ago. I now build websites for local and small businesses, and find myself having to hold back from lecturing people on how terrible their current site is.

    Once I’ve built rapport and/or begun working with a client, I can usually raise design issues by making an example of “someone else’s site” with the intention of raising subtle points about what needs to happen to their site design if it is to be effective.

    I’ve often cold called/prospected small businesses who tell me – and this is the cringe- worthy part – they tell me, “I already have a website, but it’s not bringing in much business. So no thankyou, okay, bye”.

    That is an objection I’ve heard several times and when I find and visit their website I can see EXACTLY why it is not bringing in much business. One guy, an electrician, was using a free web builder with the free branding on every page. It looked a total mess and if anything he would have been better without the site because I could tell it was doing more harm than good.

    Unfortunately we live in a judgmental society where design is the pretty wrapper for your business. We favour the more polished small business who have taken the time to incorporate a veneer of professionalism into all their marketing.

    My design services are priced so that I can provide an affordable facelift or creation of a new site for small businesses, not give them something with bells and whistles. I never sell perfection, just excellence.

    It amazes me how people can have such a bloody minded attitude to their design and marketing. You wouldn’t be VERBALLY rude to a customer, yet some of these websites I see are VISUALLY rude and then some!

  6. Adam Gottlieb says

    Hi Darren,

    “Visually rude”… That’s a good way of putting it :)

    And, yes, I agree that we are living in a time where image makes a big difference to perception, yet many businesses seem to be turning a blind eye to it when it comes to their online presence.

    Regarding your other points… In general, I’ve found that there are three kinds of businesses:

    1. The ones who are trying to market online, and even if they are making mistakes, they are actively looking for and are open to answers

    2. Those who aren’t online at all (or in a very limited way)

    3. Those who have made an effort, didn’t see results, and have abandoned the whole online marketing thing.(Often, these businesses have started out in the first group.)

    The businesses in the first two groups are MUCH easier to work with. Once you get that rapport going, you can suggest changes (though, even then, they may not see everything that you can see so clearly. Those in that third group, however, seem to have picked up an anti-Internet vaccine along the way. The approach that you would need to take with this group is very different. You would first need to identify with their frustration- the wasted time, money, or effort that they dedicated with little to nothing in return. Then, offer some kind of guarantee, like “I guarantee that I can help you double your traffic or your money back” OR offer to help them make some small tweak that you know will make a difference, and then say something like, “If you want to get even more from your site, I can…)

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