It’s not often that we ask people to guest post on this blog but we’re delighted to host copywriter and web consultant Gill Andrew. We met Gill via Twitter and regularly swap articles and resources for independent businesses – we really value the website advice and tips she offers. She’s done some research into websites of knowledge-based companies in our area and written this post just for you. It’s a goodun’, and she doesn’t pull any punches so take note! Over to Gill.
6 pesky website mistakes that repel your potential clients
There once was your ideal client.
She’d been struggling with some problems for a while, but one day she finally had enough and decided to look for help.
Your offer could have been perfect for her. You would have made her so happy that she would have told all her friends about you.
Yet, she didn’t meet you. Well, technically, she did, but she didn’t recognise the prince in the frog’s skin. She briefly landed on your website, cringed, and moved on to your competitors.
This is not some fairy tale but a real story that happens to you every day.
How do I know? I saw the frog, I mean, your website.
Preparing for this post, I analysed 50 websites of independent knowledge-based businesses. I spent 5 minutes on each website noting down the mistakes to then discover the most common ones.
Today, I’d like to talk about the 6 most common mistakes that don’t let your prospects see the heart and the value of your business, and show you how to fix them.
Mistake #1: Brain-racking copy
…that poses more questions than it answers
Business people are still people. They don’t suddenly stop being human when they suit up and go to work. They still need words they understand and concepts they can relate to in order to hire you.
Even if you’re selling to businesses, you still need to persuade a person.
Here’s a quick test to find out if your prospects understand you. Imagine saying the words you use on your website in real life.
What would happen if you talked the way you talk on your website to a friend? Will she understand what you mean or will you have to explain yourself?
How to make your copy clear (and your message heard)
- Use clear words
- Using clear and simple words, tell your website visitors who you are and what you do. Contrary to the popular belief, it’s ok to be a bit boring when it comes to explaining what you offer.
For example, an ordinary but clear website tagline communicates your business message 10x times better than a clever but vague one.
Tell them why they should care
Here’s a real-life example from an About page, section “What we offer”:
You know what your visitors just read? Many complicated words trapped within a long sentence. You take UX seriously but you’ve wasted your visitor’s time because they learned nothing new.
How about this:
“Our UX experts ensure that your content delivers the best user experience making your message clearer and stronger.”
Now your visitors understand what you mean. You’re experienced, and your attention to UX will deliver concrete benefits.
Yet, using simple words isn’t enough if you’re talking about the wrong thing. Which brings us to the next website mistake.
Mistake #2: Self-centred copy
…that makes your prospects roll their eyes
We all have a friend who just won’t shut up about themselves. You know, the one that goes “me, me, me” every time you meet them.
Well, I’ve got news for you: This is how your prospects feel about you if your copy is self-centred.
Your visitors don’t want to see images of all your employees, read about their career or learn about your philosophy and mission. They want to know how you can help them.
You may have the most beautiful and creative website, but if your copy is self-centred… guess who’s not getting hired, “creative agency full of spirited individuals”?
Quick test: How to tell if you’re talking about yourself too much:
- Open a page on your website.
- Press Ctrl+F and type “I ” (mind the space character after “I”).
- Write down the number of occurrences.
- Repeat for:”my”, “we” / “our” (if you’re a company), your name / “her” / “his” (if you are talking about yourself in 3d person).
- Repeat for “you” / “your” and compare the numbers.
If you used I/my more often than you/yours, rephrase the self-centred sentences to keep the attention of your visitors and show them that you care about their problems. (You can also try this customer-focus calculator for your website.)
But ok, let’s say your crystal clear copy is customer-focused. Can you now hope for your ideal clients to bombard you with inquiries? Not so fast, because your message may be ruined by this next (way too common) website mistake.
Mistake #3: Design that gets in the way
…and sabotages your message
When you think about the layout of your pages, do you make sure that every element and color has a purpose? Or do you go with what looks the prettiest?
Because if it’s the latter, you may end up with:
- Weird visual hierarchy that highlights unimportant parts and buries important ones
- Pages that are hard to scan and read
- Confusing elements that look different from how they function, etc.
This not only frustrates your visitor and makes it difficult for them to explore your site, but also makes you look unprofessional and lose your visitors’ trust.
The best web design isn’t pretty. The best web design supports your message, makes it easy for your visitors to achieve their goals and converts them into leads.
You may feel compelled to highlight every second sentence because, “Hey, it’s important”. But it will only make your visitors feel overwhelmed because they wouldn’t know where to look and what’s important.
You may feel tempted to throw at your website visitors everything there is to know about your services because “What if someone doesn’t find something?”. Yet, this will only backfire because the more stimuli to choose from, the longer it takes for the user to make a decision which one to interact with.
Bombarding users with choices where they have to take time to interpret them and decide, you give them work they don’t want.
Or you may fall for the beauty of design sacrificing functionality and making the life of your visitors more difficult. Would you guess what elements you can click on in the example below?
Nope, not the orange boxes. Not the icons. Not the headings. The link to the corresponding page is the text… that looks like plain text. How many website visitors will figure that out?
How to make sure your design doesn’t sabotage your message
Make your pages scannable
- Divide your pages into sections with descriptive headings.
- Use font size big enough for the text to be easily read (at least 16px).
… so that your visitors can quickly identify a part of your page that has the information relevant to them.
Avoid visual overload
- Make sure every element you place on your website also has a purpose other than looking pretty.
- Use enough white space.
- Use fewer colors.
- Avoid decision fatigue.
- Reduce the number of options you present on the screen by categorising the choices and breaking up complexity.
Categorize the choices by grouping related choices together
For example, you can group “Web Copywriting”, “Press Releases” and “Social Media Copywriting” under “Copywriting services” on your homepage and have a button that leads to a dedicated page where you present these three services in detail.
Break up complexity in multiple steps that show fewer choices each
For example, have multiple sequential screens that take your users through a registration process instead of having a huge form on one page.
Make things look like they function
- Don’t make images clickable. Your visitors don’t expect an image to also be a link.
- Make in-text links stand out from the rest of the text and give them a contrast color or an underline.
- Make important links that take your visitors further down the road (for example, “Learn more”, “View packages”, “Contact us”) look like buttons of a color that stands out.
- Don’t make plain text look like a clickable element. For example, don’t use background color on headings, as it makes them look like buttons.
- Don’t rely on the hover effects to show your visitors that it’s a clickable element as your visitors may miss it. Plus, hover effects don’t work on mobile devices.
Hurrah! Your message is clear and your design doesn’t get in the way. What can go wrong now?
Mistake #4: A maze of a navigation
…that sends your visitors on a scavenger hunt
Even if all pages on your website are perfect, your website visitors still need an easy way to “travel” between them on their journey of getting to know, like and trust you.
Unfortunately, many of those journeys get cut short by a confusing website navigation.
Navigation is the last place on your website you want to be creative. Your visitors aren’t going to read your navigation labels. They’ll scan them for familiar labels and will hesitate to click on anything that is unclear.
Use typical navigation labels
Your visitors will spend less time and effort on such a trivial task as navigating your website if you appeal to the existing patterns in their brains and use typical navigation labels.
Get rid of your drop-down menus
“Oh, that’s unexpected! What’s wrong with the drop-down menus?” Many things, actually, as they:
- Irritate your visitors
- Lose you visits to top-level pages because “Hey, some new stuff just dropped down!”
- Put pressure on your visitors to decide right now what item to select based on a couple of words with little context
- May result in thin content when a drop-down item leads to a page with little text
- If you have many drop-down menus, they overload your visitors with options on mobile devices
“But my services!”
Your services would be better off on a dedicated page where your visitors can look at the things you offer in peace and in context.
- If you offer many services, use only a top-level “Services” navigation label that leads to a dedicated “Services” page where you present your services as sections with links to respective pages.
- If you offer only one to two services, consider removing the “Services” navigation item and link to the corresponding services directly.
- If you feel you need a crazy long drop-down, use a mega menu instead.
Ok, you fixed your copy, design and your navigation. Your visitors now understand you and can easily find the information they need. But can they trust you? Not if you’re making this website mistake.
Mistake #5: Missing testimonials
…that could make your visitors trust you (but don’t)
If a stranger knocked at your door and told you he is the most successful business coach in the world but had nothing to prove it, would you believe him?
Yet, you ask your prospects to take your word for it (and then are disappointed when they don’t).
Your prospects care very little about your awards and degrees. They want to hear what your other clients have to say.
Testimonials are a must anywhere where you make claims about your offer (your Homepage, About, Services pages, etc.) and where you ask your visitors to take action.
Yet, not all testimonials are created equal. For example, “Lisa is great!” is one of the worst testimonials you can get as its too generic to be useful or appear believable to your prospects. For all they know, you may have bribed your grandma into writing it.
What makes an effective testimonial
Here are some characteristics of an effective testimonial that helps win the trust of your prospects.
An effective testimonial:
- Comes from a type of clients you’d like to attract
- Is short and direct
- Is believable – is specific and uses full names and, ideally, headshots
- Backs up your claims in one or more following ways:
- Reinforces your unique value proposition
- Uses data behind the value you provided to your client
- Addresses initial fears of your client and explains how they were eliminated.
Testimonials are also more powerful in context. Tucked away on your Testimonials page, they’re separated from the claims they’re supposed to support and may quickly overwhelm your visitors so that they won’t read past testimonial #2.
So, if your statistics tell you that not many people visit your Testimonials page, you’ll be better off removing it from your navigation and using that VIP space for a link to a page that truly helps foster your relationship with your prospects.
Mistake #6: But none of this matters if your website is slow
Who cares if you cleaned your house and cooked a 5-course meal if your guests don’t show up?
And if your website is slow, that’s exactly what’s happening.
Many of your prospects won’t make it to your website because they aren’t going to wait 7 seconds for your page load (an average load speed for 50 small business websites I reviewed for this post). You don’t think 7 seconds is a lot? Think about a YouTube ad and how long those 4 seconds feel till the “Skip” button appears. No wonder 25% of the visitors bounce off if a website takes more than 4 seconds to load:
“Ugh, but I hate all this tech stuff!” Who doesn’t? The question is, whether you hate it more than you love getting new business.
Besides, there are simple tweaks you can do to speed up your website that don’t require hiring an expert.
How to find out if your website is slow (and how to make it faster)
Open a free online tool GTmetrix and run a test for your homepage. It will show you the load time and a list of issues that slow down your website. If you have a WordPress website, you’re in luck as you can drastically speed up your website in less than an hour.
The issues that cause your website to load slow fall into three categories:
Things you can fix yourself within 15 minutes (and make your website 50% faster):
- Enable gzip compression
- Serve scaled images
- Use browser caching
- Use a CDN server
- Specify image dimensions
Things you can fix yourself within 30 minutes (and make your website 30% faster):
- Optimize images
- Lazy-load images
To fix the rest of the issues you’d need an expert which usually gives you about 20% speed increase. You’ll find detailed instructions on how to fix these problems in this easy-to-follow guide to a faster website for non-techies.
Final words of wisdom to help you tune up your site
Your ideal clients are out there looking for you. They’d be happy to stay longer on your website, read your pages, and send you an inquiry.
All you need to do is to show them your true face.
Shed corporate speak and jargon, and dress your message in clarity. Wash off the flashy colours and decorate your offer with relevancy. Cut the dead weight and make the best parts shine.
Take off your frog skin and show your ideal clients that you’re their prince, and you’ll live happily ever after.
About Gill Andrews
Gill Andrews is a copywriter and web consultant who turns underperforming websites into slick lead-generating machines.
To tune up your website, get her ultimate website checklist.