Scary Web Site Mistakes - And How To Correct Them
The scary news is that these problems are currently running rampant on many small-to-medium-sized companies' Web sites, but the good news is that these can all be solved quite easily and inexpensively.
1.) Problem: Multimedia Abuse
Multimedia abuse occurs when animation, video, or audio hampers the ability of visitors to properly view your Web site. There's no doubting the fact that the use of multimedia can engage visitors in a way that plain text and images cannot, however, poor design or improper implementation of good design can place a virtual "No Trespassing" sign on your Web site's front door.
Your audience is vast and diverse. Not everyone has the same browser, plug-ins, connection speed, and screen resolution that you have in your office. What does this mean? Your Web site needs to address the "lowest common denominator" for all four requirements. Your main Web site navigation should be presented in text or simple images, not in a Flash (animated) movie. Imagine visiting your Web site and seeing nothing but red X's all over the screen, with no navigation provided. Sure, downloading Flash is easy and fast - but it's even easier to find your competitor's Web site.
Even if the plug-ins don't present a problem, connection speed may. It's very easy to turn a small animated image into a 4 or 5 MB file - meaning that anyone on a dial-up connection will have to wait 20-40 minutes for your page to completely download.
Also, make no mistake about it - video "introductions" (when a video is presented before your home page with nothing else on the screen) are not a good idea. Even with a small "skip intro" button at the bottom of the page, these videos are better placed elsewhere, so that your message is presented clearly on your home page to your visitors in the shortest amount of time possible.
If you have a Web site that uses a lot of animation, allow the user to choose whether or not they see it. If your main navigation is placed in a Flash movie or inside of any other element that requires a plug-in, either present a redundant text-based navigational area or re-do the navigational area in a more friendly manner.
An alternative solution would be to devise a method of detecting whether or not someone has the requirements for viewing the multimedia-rich Web site and diverting them to a second, non-multimedia Web site if they do not. This isn't the best solution, because unless you're using a system that shares content, it means maintaining two separate Web sites.
If you do not yet have a Web site but want to include multimedia, consider designing it in a way that uses multimedia gracefully. One site that NuRelm developed, http://www.harris-assoc.com, offers a good example. Notice how the video is placed in a prominent area, but does not contain main navigation, nor does it contain any of the key text on the home page. So, if someone doesn't have Flash, the site is still functional and engaging.
2.) Problem: Adobe Acrobat Overuse
If most of the content on your Web site is contained in Adobe Acrobat (PDF) documents, your message is likely not getting out as efficiently as it could be. Even with a cable or DSL connection, launching Acrobat Reader and downloading an enormous file will take precious seconds. Then, if you do not have the proper version of Acrobat Reader, it will take even longer.
Some documents will need to be in PDF, such as anything that needs to be printed out and mailed in, but most do not. If it can be placed on a regular Web page, it should be, for speed and searchability. Yes, it's true - anything placed in a PDF on your Web site will not be searchable by search engines.
Move as much content from PDF documents to plain Web pages as you possibly can. If you absolutely must have most of your content inside of PDF's, provide summaries of the documents along with the links to them.
3.) Problem: Browser-Specific Issues
A good Web design and development firm will make sure that your Web site looks and feels the same way on the most popular Web browsers on both a PC and a Mac. This may be something that you never think about - but should. If visitors who are using Mozilla, Firefox, or anything on a Mac visit your site and can't make out what is on your Web site, they're going to go elsewhere - and they won't take the time to tell you.
Yes, over 90 percent of Internet users are using Internet Explorer (IE) currently, but that is changing due to critical security flaws in Active X and other components of the browser that make IE users susceptible to viruses and spyware. Instead of buying more virus protection and spyware removal products, consumers are turning to alternative browsers which employ different technology that is immune to many delivery methods of viruses and spyware. For example, at NuRelm most of us use Mozilla Firefox.
If your Web site does not function properly, or worse yet, looks completely garbled, on one of these alternative browsers, you're turning away approximately 10-15% of your visitors.
Download some of the more popular browsers such as Mozilla Firefox and take a look at your Web site. If you don't have a Mac, find a friend or colleague who does and ask him/her to review your Web site. If problems exist, they're likely easily fixed.
4.) Problem: A Home Page with Little or No Content
Your home page may be the only page that a visitor sees on your Web site before moving on, so you need to try to capture their attention as quickly as possible. If your home page only presents your logo and links to other parts of your Web site, you're likely losing visitors who do not immediately see exactly what they want. This falls under the category of "you never get a second chance to make a first impression".
Find ways to add elements of each main section of your Web site to your home page. You can even get software that will "share" text from other sections of your Web site with your home page, so you will only have to update information on the sub-page and the home page will take care of itself.
5.) Problem: Stale Content
The text and images on your Web site don't change often enough to keep repeat visitors pleased. Most visitors won't continue to frequent a Web site that offers the same information time and time again. With a Web site, you're not locked into the same text and images as you are with print - you CAN and SHOULD make updates often.
Find two or three sections that you can regularly write about and publish at least one or two major changes per quarter, such as an events calendar, an industry news section, or an articles section. The rate of change may be more or less depending on your industry, your audience, and/or the purpose of your Web site. Software that can help you make the updates to your Web site without having to pay for consulting hours with your Web developer is now extremely affordable and easy to use, such as NuRelm's NuContent.
NuContent can be delivered as part of your hosting package for a small monthly fee that is rolled into your hosting payment. This is called content managed hosting, and NuRelm was one of the first in the country to offer this highly affordable, convenient service to our hosting clients. For NuContent, no technical skills are needed. You can be up and running and changing your own Web site text/images in a matter of minutes. Since NuContent is delivered over the Web, no special software is needed and you can use any Internet connection, whether at work, at home, or on the road.
If you've read through this list and none of these problems seem to fit, there may be some other, hidden issues with your Web site that are very specific to you. As a free service, NuRelm provides Web site assessments to anyone who would like a critique. Our team of seasoned professionals will investigate your Web site and identify potential problems, providing helpful suggestions based on years of expertise.
About the Author
Heather Jewell is the Manager of Planning and Administration of NuRelm. NuRelm is a Web software and services firm that focuses on helping non-technical professionals utilize on the Web to build business. For more information, please visit www.NuRelm.com.