You’ve thought a lot about your website. You’ve picked out the best photos, the most compelling copy, and the greatest color scheme. And yet sometimes, in the dark of night, you wonder if you’re getting as much traffic as you could. Your website seems awfully great to you, but do others feel that way?
No matter how much you work at your site, every webmaster is in danger of committing a couple of really big mistakes that drive away visitors and keep them away. The following five missteps might be invisible to the webmaster, but readers recognize them instantly. You might as well have a neon “Click Away From Here” sign flashing on your homepage. Fortunately, each of these five massive mistakes has quick, doable fixes.
Keep reading to see what these mistakes and their solutions are, and whether your site has unwittingly fallen into one of these patterns:
Your site is too slow
“That can’t be it. My site loads in seconds!” you protest. But on today’s modern web, “seconds” simply aren’t fast enough. According to a 2009 Akamai study, 47 percent of users expect a page to load within two seconds, and 57 percent of users will abandon the page if it doesn’t load within three—and that was seven years ago. Presently, Google’s Maile Ohye has stated that two seconds is the “threshold for e-commerce website acceptability,” but that at Google, they aim for “under half a second.” We’re talking about websites loading in, literally, the blink of an eye.
What’s slowing down your site? Massive images, lots of features like video, or add-on applications (like an embedded playlist) that load within your site can all contribute to a longer loading time.
Your site isn’t responsive
Did you know that people in the United States use their phones to access the internet more often than they use their computers? According to a 2016 Smart Insights study, adults spend 51 percent of their browsing time on phones, as opposed to 42 percent of the time on desktop and laptop computers. Furthermore, Google now ranks sites that look good on mobile phones higher than sites that don’t have mobile access. So if you don’t have a responsive site—that is, a site that responds to the size of the browser window it is opened in—you’re missing out.
There’s no longer any excuse not to know how your site looks on mobile. In Chrome or Firefox, you can select “Developer Tools” or “Developer Toolbar,” click the little rectangle that looks like a phone to enter Responsive Design Mode, and see how your site responds to a mobile layout.
If that sounds too techy for you, you can select a theme or template for your site that is advertised as “responsive.” You can also work with a web designer to ensure that your site isn’t just responsive in general, but accessible on specific devices your readers are most likely to use, like the latest iPad model.
There’s no call to action
When you arrive at Google.com, it’s probably because you’re there to look something up. When you arrive at nytimes.com, it’s probably because you want to read a news article. All the best sites, or at least the ones we use most often, have a very specific, signaled purpose. The question to ask yourself is: “Does my site have an obvious purpose?”
Think about what you want users to do when they arrive at your site, and then guide them toward doing exactly that. Want to get hired? Make your portfolio of previous work prominent, and make sure there’s a big, noticeable button that says “Work with me.” Want to sell products? Put photos of those products right up top, plus links that say “Buy now.”
Just remember to keep it simple. Too many calls to action can be just as confusing for visitors. Pick one main action item for visitors and ensure that your most prominent, above-the-fold content is all about how to do exactly that.
Your site’s content is bad
There’s no way to sugarcoat this: sometimes the reason visitors turn tail is because your content simply isn’t good. Maybe your copy is badly written—nonsensical or full of typos. Maybe it’s poorly organized—no navigation bar, or lots of broken links. Maybe the photos are too small, or the text is hard to read. Or maybe it’s just plain ugly—clashing colors in the template and an obviously dated design that makes visitors think the content is outdated, too.
Sometimes the solution is an editorial one. Read through your content and see if it sounds like a human wrote it. If not, you may want to revise, or hire a copywriter. Sometimes it’s a technical one, like installing a more modern design template or theme with a cleaner layout and larger images, or applying a navigation bar. Of the four mistakes we’ve covered so far, this one is the most obvious, and as a result, any fixes you apply to it will have an instant, noticeable return.
You’ve got intrusive sound or video
One of the easiest ways to guarantee visitors will leave your site and stay away is to include auto-play videos or music, which start up as soon as the visitor accesses the site. If you have videos or music on your site, you can include a call-to-action to encourage people to click on them; there’s no reason to suddenly surprise a visitor with auto-play. And if she’s browsing your site at work, during her commute, or in another public place, a loud burst of sound could be embarrassing as well as annoying. There’s also user-attention fatigue to think about. If you greet visitors with a lot of big, noisy visuals, it might be hard for them to focus on the important parts of your site, like your call to action.
These days, the main auto-play culprits are website advertisements. Ads can be a good way to make money on a website… but not if they’re so annoying that visitors aren’t sticking around to read your content. If you have these kinds of ads on your site, it’s time to seriously consider whether the ads are earning enough to justify the number of people they are driving away.
This list of mistakes may have felt like a bit of tough love, but the first step—admitting the problem—is always the hardest part. Now that you know what to work on, it should be simple to break the solutions down into manageable chunks and start making changes for the better, so that when people arrive on your website, they decide to stick around.
With contributions from Lauren Orsini of the Hippo Thinks research network.