How minor website faults can turn into major problems

Faulty websites are turning consumers away from using small businesses, according to a recent survey by Streamline.net. The research reveals a worrying trend that has implications for the continued survival of many small firms, particularly those with e-commerce sites.

The internet is now undeniably a key source for generating leads and sales and small firms can no longer ignore it or take part halfheartedly. Consumers expect a certain level of user experience when they visit a website, particularly a business site and anything less looks unprofessional.

In the research, one in four consumers found many small business websites to be ‘barely usable’ and only 47% had a ‘good’ experience overall. From internet use in the past year, 83% of consumers found faults on these sites on more than one occasion.

The internet has always offered small businesses the opportunity of a roughly level playing field when it comes to competition. As long as a small business website looks professional and is easy to use, it can compete online with larger firms.

However there is still clearly a long way to go and these findings from the survey seem like a good place to start.

48% of sites do not optimise their URLs for search engines

Why is this important?

If your URLs are cleanly structured and contain keywords relevant to the page content, your pages are more likely to be picked up by search engines. Having clean URLs also makes it easier for consumers to remember your website address or to link to it from their own sites.

What do we mean by clean URLs?  A bad URL might look like this:
http://www.yourbusiness.com/news-eu/1246374122.4/#

Whereas a good URL structure could look like this:
/insurance/public-liability-insurance/

How to fix it

If your site has a lot of pages, a complete restructure of your URLs can be a big project. You should create a site-map of all the pages on your site, decide on a structure and the give each page a URL that fits with the structure and the content of that page. As a rule, you should be able to instantly tell from the URL what the page is about and where it sits in the structure of the site. Then give this information to your website designer or hire a freelancer to do the job.

54% of sites have unfinished pages

Why is this important?

When a consumer visits your website they are likely to be looking for certain information or to browse your products. If your pages are half-finished it becomes a very frustrating experience and your visitor will click away to a competitor site pretty quickly. It also looks unprofessional and damages your brand.

How to fix it

Spend some time with your website. Go through each page and check the content to make sure it is all there and that all links are working, images are appearing etc. Fill in any blanks and update any old or out-of-date content.

Streamline.net web hosting research finds the majority of consumers using SME websites in the past year experienced usability faults.

52% of sites have broken links

Why is this important?

Firstly, customers will be put off by broken links if they are preventing access to key information. If navigating your site is difficult because of this, the consumer is likely to go elsewhere.

Secondly, having broken links is bad for your rankings in the search engines. The software that the engines use to navigate through your site will get stuck and won’t be able to index the isolated pages.

How to fix it

It’s easy for broken links to go un-noticed, especially if they are not pointing to key pages on your site. The good news is that it’s also easy to fix. Simply go through each page on your site, find broken links.

You can also use Google Webmaster Tools to help you spot broken links. Create an account with Google and set up Webmaster Tools for your site. Once your site has been crawled by Google, it will highlight any broken links.

50% of sites had outdated email addresses

Why is it important?

If your email addresses don’t work customers may be discouraged from using your services. Having up-to-date contact information is key to providing good customer service - something that consumers value as highly as price. Customers may think they have emailed you with a problem, complaint or question but the email never got through. This can be disasterous for time-sensitive purchases.

How to fix it

Go through your website and where there are email addresses given, make sure they are current. This is particularly important if you give the emails of individual employees and then they leave the company.

1/3 of users encountered outdated website design

Why is it important?

Web design has evolved considerably over the last few years and if your site design remains old fashioned you will get left behind. First impressions are everything and even if you offer a great service, excellent products and your site works perfectly, people will be put off if it is badly designed.

How to fix it

Get a real designer to re-think the design of your site. They can use your brand colours and style to create a modern look. Make sure they pay attention to the details - simplicity is important and users should instinctively know where to click for the information they need. Be wary of over-compensating with images too, unless your business calls for it.

Two sides of the same coin

Part of the problem highlighted by this survey is that business owners look at their websites in a different way to consumers. Even competent web users can find it difficult to see and understand what needs to be improved on their own website. And while consumers expect to find sites on search engines, businesses do not always understand how to optimise their sites so they appear in the search results.

The first step is to understand the importance of a website to a business, the second is to learn about the various online marketing tactics, and the third is to conduct usability testing on the website with real consumers to find out where things are going wrong.

The internet represents a much cheaper way to generate business leads and sales, and a recession is the ideal time for small businesses to make the most of it. Ironing out minor faults and design issues will help online customers re-connect with your business.

Want more tips on creating and marketing a website?

Read our Website Marketing Guide