Web Site Red Flags: Part I

Consider these images:red flag

  • an attorney entering a meeting with a new client dressed in an impeccable suit, carrying a leather portfolio, and wearing hiking boots

  • a pet store containing gleaming, spotlessly clean cages with healthy, adorable bunnies inside, sitting next to a rack of filthy aquariums

  • a drop-in center for at-risk teens stocked with bowls of fresh fruit and other healthy snacks, lots of magazines and free novels, and several state-of-the-art ping pong tables -- but no ping pong balls or paddles

On our Facebook page, we have a repeating post series called "Things We Looked for on a Web Site but Could Not Find." Over time, these posts have come to include more than just missing content -- they've highlighted broken things or glaring mistakes that immediately draw the wrong kind of attention to your site. Your web site -- like all the other ways you present your business -- sends a message to your customers, clients, or donors. Through your site, you convey volumes of information about your attention to detail, your level of professionalism, your ability to manage your time and your resources, and your understanding of your clients' needs. We'd like to start examining some of these issues in more detail through a series of posts on web site "red flags" -- issues so egregious that they very well might turn your potential customers away.

Red Flag #1: We can't find you.

where's waldo crowdIf you have a brick-and-mortar business, your physical space contact information must be on the site. We talked last week about the qualities of a good contact page, but beyond that, especially if you have a retail store, your actual business address needs to be on every page of your site. These days, people naturally look for this information in the footer of your site, but some will also want to click on the word "Contact" somewhere on each page. That can be down there in the footer or up in the top right corner somewhere. Either way, if you want people to find you in person, it's just plain crazy not to make your address easy to find on your web site.

Does that sound silly to you, that I'd even mention that? Well, here's a worse one for you: a business with multiple locations should be sure that, if one of those locations closes, the address for that location is removed from the site. Don't test your potential customers' interest in your products by seeing whether they'll drive from the closed location of your business -- still listed on your site -- to some other location you still have open. Your web site is working and sharing your information even when you're not thinking about it -- so when something changes in "real life," make sure it changes online, too.

 Red Flag #2: You won't help.

Users make mistakes. When they type in a URL incorrectly -- or even when someone links to a site from elsewhere, and spells it wrong -- the type of error page that comes up is known as a 404 page. Visitors to your site are guaranteed to someday encounter a 404 error, and it's important that what they see when that happens is something useful. Your web developer can build you a custom 404 page if you ask for one, and some content management system software can help you build it yourself. You can even create a special set of rules that tell your web site to direct users to specific pages that do exist if you notice your traffic logs showing 404 errors for the same addresses all the time -- so if enough people are trying to go to "yourwebsite.com/bloh," you can set up a rule that redirects all traffic to that nonexistant address to a real page you have at "yourwebsite.com/blog."

Herbad 404 errore's a real-life scenario that happens: users go to the site and love something, and then they email the link to their grandparents. The grandparents call their nieces and, instead of emailing them the link (www.jebraweb.com/philosophy), they read it to them over the phone, and they read it wrong. The niece -- a lovely young woman, should you know a nice young man for her, by the way -- dutifully types it in the way Grandma read it to her, and goes to www.jebraweb.com/philosophe. Here at Jebraweb, we love nieces, and grandmas, and we especially love being helpful -- so you'll get a real-English-language message and a nice surprise at the page that you see when you try to go to an address that just doesn't exist on our site -- unlike the awful 404 page to the right here, which gave us machine talk and no help at all.

Red Flag #3: You're disconnected from your social media.

More and more often, people are finding businesses through Yelp, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. There are circumstances in which users are more likely to use Facebook to find a business than they are to use Google. However, we all know that it's easier to share some types of information on your web site than on social media, and so while you're out at the big Facebook party, your goal is always to get your new friends home, to your web site. Once they get there, though, can they tell that they're looking at the same business they were reading about on Facebook?

I've seen several businesses with an excellent, thriving social media presence neglect to connect that to their web site. It's a shame, really, since we never know what the point of entry to your online presence is likely to be. If your new potential customer found you through Google, don't you want them to follow you on Facebook and Twitter, or read your Yelp reviews? If they found you through Twitter, don't you want them to see your Twitter handle and maybe even your feed on your contact page, just so they're sure it's really you? You can share this information on your site using chiclets like these from www.niftybuttons.com:

niftybuttons.com social media chiclets

Or you can provide feeds of all your posts on these networks using tools provided by the networks themselves. Likewise, all of your social media accounts need to have a link to your web site -- in Twitter, it's in your profile, and on Facebook, it's on your About page. Make sure everyone can find your site in social media even more quickly than they can on Google.


Am I wrong about these red flags? Would they just make you shrug and move on? This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . You can tell us about your own web site red flags on Facebook or Twitter, too. We'll bring you more next week.

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