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BROKEN WINDOWS, BROKEN WEB SITES: WHY YOUR WEB SITE IS UNDERPERFORMING

The broken windows theory argues that unchecked nuisance crimes–such as broken windows or graffiti–create an atmosphere of chaos that can encourage more violent crimes. The theory is controversial, but most agree that residents have a better impression of their neighborhood when nuisance crimes are quickly addressed.

Recently I listened to the audiobook of Michael Levine’s “Broken Windows, Broken Businesses.” The book’s premise is that little things in your business have a big impact on your bottom line. Peeling paint or one bad customer service incident can become the tipping point that causes your business to fail.

While I can’t recommend the book (review), it did get me thinking that so many business Web sites fail visitors for the smallest of reasons , and these problems can be easily fixed. It’s difficult enough to get visitors to our sites and harder still to convert them to customers, so why are we creating such inhospitable Web sites?

While there are limitless “broken windows” that can hurt your Web site’s effectiveness, here is a list of the most glaring problems I see day after day. If your site is falling prey to any of these mistakes, take care of them before you turn off your next prospect.

Splash Pages. These are sooooo 1997. Even if bandwidth isn’t an issue–which it is–the splash page is a self-indulgent expression that says, “Your time isn’t important to us.” Also, a splash page can hurt your search engine rank, burying your content under an impenetrable layer of Flash programming. (Don’t get me started on the “Skip Intro” link.) While there are exceptions, chances are you’re not one of them.

Trash the splash and watch your search engine ranking and conversions shoot up.

Dated “What’s New” Sections. Does your home page promote a service you no longer offer? Is your most recent press release more than a year old? Is your “Happy Holidays” message still up after Memorial Day?

A neglected Web site will cause your visitors to wonder if they’ll receive the same treatment. If you won’t be regularly updating your site (a crime unto itself!) post only evergreen material.

Owner-Centric Navigation. What if you went into Target and they had organized everything alphabetically by manufacturer name? Or what if they had put all the heaviest, bulkiest products in the back of the store near the loading docks so they didn’t have to carry them as far?

That might make the lives of Target’s employees easier, but it doesn’t help the customer. Instead, Target organizes its products in a way that make sense to us (hopefully), placing the Xboxes and PlayStations in one part of the store and the junior miss outfits in another.

Too many businesses organize their sites based on their products and services, and not on visitor needs. Put on your customer hat and see if your Web site is focused on them or on you.

Broken Links. Seems obvious, doesn’t it? Yet as your Web site grows, so does the chance that there’s a broken or erroneously-connected link (the kind a link-checking bot can’t pick up.) Since broken links are so easy to fix, and since they stop visitors dead in their tracks, this is one of your biggest broken windows.

Run a link check every few months and occasionally check them by hand.

Underlined Words That Aren’t Links. This is just plain evil, and frustrating to your visitors.

Do you want emphasis? There are better ways.

Hidden Contact Information. Why would you spend the money on a Web site but bury your contact information? Unless you’re selling ads and need people to stick around for a while, who cares how much time they spend on your site?

If you want the phone to ring put your toll-free number in big print across the top of every page. If you want your contact form filled out make sure it’s part of your primary navigation and include calls-to-action on every page.

Navigation That’s Too Clever or Too Vague. This isn’t Let’s Make a Deal. Visitors don’t want to guess what’s behind button number one. Buttons that are too clever (what does that mean?) or too vague (where can I find the white papers?) will frustrate visitors and send them packing.

Make your navigation buttons short and specific. If you get too clever visitors won’t be able to find the material they’re looking for.

Bad Forms, Bad! It boggles my mind how many Web sites get this one wrong. One recurring problem I see is too many required fields. The contact form is the Web site equivalent of the first date, so make it easy and keep the pressure off. You’re just looking for a nice conversation over coffee, not a blood test. Require as few fields as necessary for you to follow up. We require name and email only.

Acknowledge visitors completed your form through a well-designed landing page or autoresponder. Too often we complete forms without any idea whether they made it to the intended recipient.

Although this isn’t strictly-speaking a Web site problem, follow up in a timely fashion on all Web site requests. There’s nothing more annoying than contacting a company and then waiting a week for a simple response.

Conclusion

Our Web sites are often the first interaction a prospect has with us. A Web site that is confusing, disorganized or just plain broken reflects poorly on your whole business. You’ll probably never get the chance to explain that your brother-in-law did it for free or your Web developer takes two months to make updates to your site.

Instead, whether it means finding a new Web developer or taking the work in house, make sure that all your broken windows get fixed and you put procedures in place that will keep them crack-free in the future.

If you’d like some specific help fixing your own broken windows, contact flyte today.

–Rich Brooks
President, flyte new media

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