Web Site Red Flags: Part II


Have you ever seen something so ridiculous on a web page that it made you flinch? Or groan? Or go hmmm? We're dedicating several posts to all of those red flags that make you wonder what on earth the site owner was thinking. Last week, we talked about web sites with tough-to-find contact information, terrible 404 pages, and invisible social media -- all of which can force the visitor to your site to give up and walk away.

This week, I'd like to talk about the downright cringe-worthy mistakes I see on web sites -- the things that would be easy to fix, but somehow have escaped the eye of the developer or site owner.

Cringe #1: Wrong season


Happy January, everyone! Does your web site have seasonal color schemes, graphics, or text from some season other than the one we're in right now? Then, frankly, you look either disorganized, out-of-business, or lazy. Here's why:

Disorganized: My best guess is that the people who have this sort of thing on their web site have not updated their site in a while, or perhaps they update just one section of their site regularly -- their blog, or their events calendar -- and completely forgot that they launched a seasonal-related campaign a while back. Just like that picture hanging in their house that is just a little bit askew, they stop noticing it after a while.

Out-of-Business: Hmmm. That storefront around the corner that sells organic pet treats in the shape of squirrels -- it must have gone out of business.  After all, they're still advertising their 4th-of-July sale.

Lazy: I admit it -- I'm judging here. If a business knows their web site still says "Spring has sprung," but they just don't want to do the work to change it, that's lazy. Get it off of there ASAP.

Cringe #2: Obvious Mistranslations

poor english translationYou know you've seen it. It's not nice to make fun of poorly translated English, but it's also a sign that the web site owner has not taken the time or initiative to be sure that the wording flows smoothly and uses turns of phrase common in the country where the site's audience resides.

I've blurred out the name of the company whose web site contained the paragraphs to the right, but I think it's pretty obvious that one of two things happened here:

  1. This was run through an online translator. Those are great for getting the gist of something written in a language you don't speak, but they are no replacement for a professional human translator.

  2. It was written by someone not yet totally fluent in English. This person is very likely a highly qualified Joomla developer. He or she may have everything you need to build a great web site, but this content on their web site makes them look bumbling. 

Either way, there can be no good end result of having text written so poorly that it can only be a mistranslation. At best, your site looks poorly planned, and at worst, you risk communicating something you didn't intend at all. "Till date we have served too many of our customers?" Ok, then. I won't add another customer to your over-burdened list.

Cringe #3: Grossly Over-Embedded Keywords

It used to be that you could hide the keywords you want to be associated with your site in tiny print at the bottom of the page, and the robots who indexed the web would not realize that the 50,000 instances of "Chicago pet store" you hid down there weren't really contextually placed. A few years later, the robots who index the web for search engines got much, much smarter. They started looking for the words you want associated with your content to be placed in real sentences within your pages. When that happened, people started hiring writers to write content that was "optimized for search engines."

What did that mean? People started writing stuff like this:

redundant web page content for SEO

This is not because this text was going to get their site visitors' attention. This was written to get the attention of the search engine robots who, thankfully, are now too smart for these shenanigans as well. As we've been sharing on Facebook and Twitter since its release in October, Google's search algorithm (called "Hummingbird,") now places value on content that is highly trafficked, often shared, written in human-speech rhythms, and has been updated recently. Any user seeing people using these old-fashioned search engine tricks is going to be able to spot them a mile away, and having to read the same phrase written twenty ways in the course of three paragraphs is insulting that user's intelligence, the intelligence of that user, how intelligent the user is, and the idea of whether the user is intelligent. See what I did there?


Don't make people cringe on your page. These are easy fixes -- and they'll affect the way your potential customers or donors see your organization, especially if your web site is the first encounter they have with you. Have you spotted some of these cringe-worthy red flags on a web site? This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and I'll feature it on our Facebook page or in our Twitter feed.

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