Building effective small business websites using the Top Tasks approach

An effective website can be an asset to any business, but many small business websites end up hard to use disasters that never fulfill their potential.

Many business owners see their website as a cost and a necessary evil, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

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Why pop-up light boxes are a bad idea

Pop-up light boxes are taking over the world
  1. Never say ‘Click here’ on your website
  2. Don’t use ‘Under Construction’ pages
  3. Why you don’t need an FAQ page
  4. Why pop-up light boxes are a bad idea
  5. Why you should avoid using homepage sliders on your website

If you spend any time looking around the web, the chances are you will have come across the latest craze that’s pretty much guaranteed to annoy – or at the very least confuse website visitors: Pop up light boxes, also known as interstitials.

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Why you don’t need an FAQ page

FAQ pages are often used as a sticking plaster for a hard to use website

FAQ pages are quite possibly one of the laziest crimes in website usability. If you have one on your site, you need to get rid of it. Here’s how.

Frequently Asked Questions. This is traditionally the place that website owners dump the content they don’t know what to do with – or really can’t be bothered giving it enough thought.

They are about the convenience of the website owner but never, never are they about making things easier for the website visitor, which should always be your focus.

FAQ pages are often used as a sticking plaster for a hard to use website
FAQ pages are often used as a sticking plaster for a hard to use website

In short the FAQ page is a sticking plaster solution for poor information architecture. In the early days of the web they were useful, but things have moved on and the FAQ page has been left behind.

Take the name: How does a random visitor to your website know whether these questions are asked frequently or not? It’s as if we are expecting visitors to sort out our content for us.

What does FAQ even mean?

Many website visitors don’t even understand what FAQ means, therefore they ignore it. User testing indicates those who do know what it means only ever use it if all else fails.

It’s neither useful nor helpful, unless you’re the person putting the website together. But then you might as well just take all the information from your FAQ page and put it in a new page called Miscellaneous. Or Information. Or even Page.

Website visitors – or to use their proper name: customers – deserve better treatment than this. We should be making it easier for them, not harder.

But FAQ pages are a nightmare, usually presented in a question and answer format that makes them difficult to read or take in.

That’s because everything you find on an FAQs page belongs somewhere else, if only someone would spend the time thinking about where it should be.

If all else fails then make it up

In one large organisation where I worked the various website authors were obsessed with FAQs. Every time a new section was launched, there would be an accompanying FAQ page. Sometimes it would run into hundreds of words, sometimes it would only be a couple of forlorn questions.

My job was (to try) to filter out the worst content before it made it onto the website, so I would always begin by asking if anybody had ever asked any of these ‘Frequently’ Asked Questions.

Nearly always the answer was: ‘No but we had to put something in the FAQ page…. And we must have an FAQ page…’

So these questions were not frequently asked or even asked at all.

And this is often the case as FAQ pages are filled up with imaginary, sometimes off the wall, questions that nobody ever asked. Things like ‘Who built this brilliant website?’

How to get rid of your FAQ page

The secret behind making your website work for your customers – and turning visitors into customers – is in understanding that all web content should be about answering the questions of your website visitors.

Visitors arrive at a website with a task in mind and questions they need answering. These are the real Frequently Asked Questions.

But the answers should not be tucked away and hard to find, they should be obvious and easy to spot: Don’t make your website visitors work for the answers they need.

If your website has an FAQ page start by reviewing it.

Are the questions and answers really things your customers want to know or are the questions just made up? Are some of them so important that they need to be given greater prominence? Should they even be on the website at all?

If the questions/answers are useful to visitors they should be –  usually with the other information on the same topic.

Some FAQs may be pointing at a more serious issue – something on your site that is so hard to use that people need instructions. In this case it would be better to look at fixing the original problem than challenging users to work it out with the aid of instructions. Few have the patience to do this.

For example, if one of your FAQs is ‘How do we contact you’ then obviously you need to make it easier for people to find your contact page, or make it better so people don’t have to ask.

And here’s the point: Websites are becoming more customer focussed these days. If your site serves its visitors properly you don’t need an FAQ page.

If you have one you need to question whether your site is serving your customers the best way it can, or whether you are just using your FAQ page as a crutch to make up for poor design.

More information

Gerry McGovern: The problems with FAQs.

Six Revisions: Stop the FAQ page bandage.

More Website Sins

Things to avoid saying and doing on your business website.

  1. Never say ‘Click Here’
  2. Don’t use ‘Under Construction’ pages
  3. Why you don’t need an FAQ page
  4. Why pop-up light boxes are a bad idea

Photo credit: photosteve101 via photopin cc

Website contact forms: Why you must keep them short

Screenshot of contact form

Ever given up on an online transaction – like filling in a form – because it took too long? You and just about everyone else.

Web contact forms play a big part in every day web use. If your business has a website, chances are there is at least one contact form on it.

Many people visit business websites to get a phone number, but others will want to contact you using your form.

But instead of making it easy for people to contact you, that contact form could be acting as a barrier.

Are you asking for too much information?

Screenshot of contact form
Do you really need to know all that?

Often businesses and organisations use contact forms as a way of prioritising how quickly to get back to them – or whether to respond at all.

Sometimes forms ask for totally irrelevant information, or at least information that isn’t needed at this early stage.

But if you want potential new customers to contact you via your website, you need to make it as easy as possible for them, and that means asking as few questions as possible.

You may have to deal with more people you can’t help, but form submissions will rise too, as will the number of conversions.

There have been plenty of studies that back this up.

Why keeping forms short helps sales

Holiday company Expedia discovered it was losing $12 million in sales thanks to one extra form field on their website. The field asked for the visitor’s company and people filled it in wrongly, causing the transaction to fail.

A study by Kevin Hale, co-founder of online forms company Infinity Box Inc showed that site visitors are more likely to fill out shorter forms because they require less effort. The number of questions on a form correlates closely with the rate at which people abandon the form.

And a study by US web company Imaginary Landscape showed how reducing the number of fields in their forms from 11 to four resulted in a 160% increase in forms being submitted and a 120% increase in their conversion rate.

The smaller 4-question form resulted in a significantly higher number and ratio of submitted forms.  In addition, the quality of the submissions remained the same, even with the reduction in submitted information.

Also, the quality of submissions stayed the same.

How to keep your website forms short and efficient

Ask for essential information only – only what you absolutely need to progress.

On a simple contact form this often need be no more than a name and a means of contact – an email address or phone number, of preferably both.

Once you have these then it’s all you need, though it helps to have a comments form that people can fill in if they like.

If you are looking to trim an existing form then ask whether everything you are asking for is really necessary for a first contact. Do you really need to ask for company information? You will find it out soon enough.

More information

ZDNet: Expedia on how one extra data field can cost $12m

Six Revisions: 10 tips for optimizing web form submission usability

Smashing Magazine: An Extensive Guide To Web Form Usability

Inman News: Increase online conversion rates

Imaginary Landscape: Contact Form Case Study

Don’t use ‘Under Construction’ pages

Don't use Under Construction Pages

There’s possibly nothing more disappointing when browsing a website than following a link only to be met with the message: Page Under Construction.

Although Under Construction pages are not as common as they used to be, they are still with us,  and often used by businesses who should know better.

Page Under Construction graphic
Nice graphic, but you could have spent time on your content instead.

Often they are accompanied by nice graphics, as if to somehow make sloppy look professional.

They could have used the time it took to make the graphic to put some information in the page instead!

Frustration and disappointment are the main reasons people give up on websites, and finding pages under construction is a great way to do both to your website visitors.

It also reflects badly on your business.

Customers

In many cases your website is the first contact your potential customers have with you.

You have promised but not delivered. They followed a link expecting information, only to be disappointed.

It looks like you can’t be bothered.

An obviously incomplete website could indicate a business that is disorganised – even a business about to go under.

Page Under Construction
Some sort of graphic involving roadworks – an old favourite on Under Construction pages

Under construction pages tend to stay that way a long time, if not forever, and most people will not check back soon, if at all.

Even the phrase Under Construction is negative – apart from being a little pompous and unhelpful in its language.

There are better ways to say it.

How to avoid using ‘Page Under Construction’

The simple rule is if your page isn’t ready, don’t put it on your website. And don’t release an incomplete website.

Don’t tell visitors what you don’t have – focus on what you can do here and now.

If the information is important to your website then put some brief useful information there. You can always go back later and add more.

Better to have something than nothing at all.

It’s part of the beauty of the web: You can change anything on your website at any time. Your website should never be finished.

Don’t say ‘Coming Soon’ without giving a date

Another under construction graphic
Not what you want to see on a web page

Often alongside Under Construction messages is an invitation to check back soon to see a completed page.

These almost never have an indication of date, so what does soon mean: In the next few minutes? Next week? Next month? Next year?

To the website visitor, ‘soon’ doesn’t mean anything without a context. So rather than ‘soon’, commit to a date and stick to it.

But still it’s easily avoided – and you’re still talking about what isn’t on your site.

Do you think there’s a place for Under Construction pages on websites? Have your say in the comments.

More information

Sitepoint: Top 7 Usability Blunders Of The Big Players

Openglobal.co.uk: Don’t display ‘under construction’ pages

Jakob Nielsen: 113 Design Guidelines for Homepage Usability

More Website Sins

Things to avoid saying and doing on your business website.

  1. Never say ‘Click Here’
  2. Don’t use ‘Under Construction’ pages
  3. Why you don’t need an FAQ page
  4. Why pop-up light boxes are a bad idea

Five tips for writing effective website copy

Five tips for writing effective website copy

Writing for the web is different from any other form of copywriting and needs special attention.

It’s not just a matter of taking your printed promotional material, grafting it onto your website and hoping it will do the job – because it won’t.

And going on at length about what you have to offer and expecting people will read every word will not work either.

Writing for the web
Follow some basic rules and writing for the web gets a lot easier.

Content marketers like to bang on about web copy that is ‘engaging’ and ‘grabs the reader’s attention’, but this is wishful thinking at best.

After all if your customers are on your website you already have their attention: The hard part is keeping it!

How to write website copy that works

So here are five tips to help you make the best of your business website. We’re not intending to cover everything here – just the basics of how to structure and lay out your website content.

1. Make your text easy to understand

Generally, people will arrive at your business website with a task in mind and want to know if you are the people to do it for them.

Also, most people do not sit and read web pages from top to bottom, savouring every word: They scan pages, eyes darting over the words looking for something that matches what they are looking for.

So your writing needs to be clear and concise, without complicated sentences with ambiguous meanings.

You also need to put the most important points at the top: If you keep people waiting to get to the point the chances are they won’t hang around long enough to find out.

Don’t try to be clever and throw in some puns or other ‘witty’ writing. That sort of thing can get old very quickly, but mainly doesn’t help get your message across.

Make it easy for people and they are more likely to stay around long enough to find out if you can help them.

2. Break up your text

Great big blocks of text are hard to scan and therefore hard to read on a website.

Everyone is time poor these days with a thousand different things competing for our attention. This makes us impatient and blocky text will be skipped over rather than read.

So you need to use short, succinct sentences and lots of paragraphs – ideally one sentence – and one idea – to a paragraph.

You’ll be amazed at how much easier a page is to read if it’s been split up properly.

You can also use headings (heading 1, 2, etc, not just bold text and bigger font size) to break things up, and if you use the right, relevant, words these actually help your page get found on search engines.

3. Go easy on the formatting

Another trap that people fall into is to try to emphasise different aspects in their text, but tests have shown the more you try and make something on a web page stand out, the more you end up hiding it!

Bold text, entire words in capital letters and random big text sizes can all be used to add emphasis, but once you start using them it’s difficult to stop.

If you find yourself doing this, then the chances are there is too much irrelevant stuff in your web page and you need to edit the copy down.

Formatting needs to be consistent and sparse. Don’t use italics (hard to read), underlining (easy to confuse with links), stick to a body text size and font and set heading sizes and use bold very, very sparingly.

4. Keep it short and stick to the point

Information overload normally goes hand in hand with trying to squeeze too much into a web page – it’s a very common problem on small business websites.

We often see business owners go into all kinds of detail their potential customers do not need to know. The end result is visitors are bombarded with too much information and end up taking in nothing.

If you want to take your car in to be fixed by a mechanic you don’t want to know what make of spanners he uses, or for that matter anything about his methods. You just need to know that he is competent to do the job and how much it’s likely to cost.

Yet many business websites are marred by the business going on at length about how they do things when potential customers do not need this information.

If you want to make it easy for your website visitors (and that’s the only way they will stay), keep it short, simple and stick to your essential information.

5. Read it – Then cut it! (Then read it again)

If you are expecting others to read your carefully crafted web copy the least you can do is read through it properly before you press the Publish button. Sadly this doesn’t happen.

Everything that goes on your business website should be read by at least two people first, to make sure it makes sense and doesn’t contain grammatical errors. A spell checker is also a must.

If you can’t get someone else to read your copy, then take a break – overnight at least is good – and come back to it with fresh eyes. Sometimes it’s easier to read through copy that has been printed out.

At this point you should be reading with a view to cutting it down by up to a half. And once you’ve cut it you’ll need to read it again.

If this sounds extreme it isn’t – once you get into practice it’s amazing at how much you can lose and every word you remove will be helping to make your copy more concise – and above all more effective.

More information

Concise, SCANNABLE and objective: How to Write for the Web – Neilsen Norman Group

How to write for the web: BBC News School Report

If you want to hide it, emphasize it: Gerry McGovern – New Thinking

photo credit: RLHyde via photopin cc

Never say ‘Click here’ on your website

Never say Click Here. There are lots of better ways to say 'this is a link'

Whatever you do when writing links or anything on a web page, don’t ever, EVER use the words ‘Click here’.

The phrase has been around as long as people have been building web pages. And for as long as people have been using click here as link text, usability experts have been tearing their hair out telling people not to.

Link text says click here
Click here. And for added annoyance, it’s in block capitals too.

Why? Well it should be obvious, but then everything about creating user friendly websites is obvious once it’s pointed out to you.

So let’s look at some really good reasons why you should never use the dreaded phrase click here.

It’s patronising

You don’t see posters inviting you to ‘read here’ – you just read them. A bottle of beer doesn’t have the instructions ‘drink here’ on it either.

If you have to give instructions then your site is not user friendly. It should be obvious that the text in question is linked up so there’s no need to add pointless instructions.

Remember: Instructional text must die (©Steve Krug).

It’s not user friendly

Website visitors – or users – do not sit and read every word on a website. They skim, eyes darting all over the page, looking for something that matches their goal. For many this means skimming from link to link.

After all a link is a gateway to another page and the text that is linked up should really give people an idea of what they can expect if they follow that link.

Click here is mystery meat navigation – like a cheap burger, you have no idea of what you are going to get.

Websites should make things easy for people to use them. Click here inevitably assumes some knowledge on the part of the website visitor – as if they are supposed to know why they should click here. Which is annoying.

It’s no good for disabled people

Plenty of people using the web are disabled and many of them use assistive technologies to help them. These may, for example, just read the links on a page, and if your page is full of links that just say click here or even here then how are they supposed to tell where the links will take them?

It’s good practice to make web pages accessible for disabled people, especially since the first step to accessibility is making sure your site is user friendly.

It’s a common courtesy.

It assumes that people are using a mouse

Maybe a bit pedantic on the face of it, but many of the people visiting your website may be using phones and therefore won’t be clicking at all.

And back to the accessibility argument, some disabled web users do not use a mouse either.

Advert saying click here
Why say Click Here once if you can say it twice? And why does the guy on the right have two phones?

If you use it once, the chances are you will use it a lot

Like all bad habits it’s easy to get into doing, and once you start you can’t stop doing it.

If you use click here once, the chances are you use it a lot.

It becomes a sort of lazy shorthand for saying: This is a link, folks, please use it.

A little thought goes a long way and makes things easier for the people using your website.

The easier you make it for them, the more likely they are to stick around long enough to buy from you.

The more thoughtful you are for your visitors, the less effort they have to put in to use your site because it’s intuitive.

Click here makes things that little bit harder. And quite annoying.

There is always, ALWAYS a better choice of words than click here.

Try using active words instead and you will find that your links are worded much better and more direct – and where websites are concerned, direct is good.

So instead of click here to find out more about us, try find out more about us.

Actually, the more you think about your link text, the more you realise you are much better off without using click here.

It makes things much more long winded than they need to be, and you need to be short and to the point.

It’s bad for SEO

I’m not going to carp on and on about this but Google likes user friendly websites and that means sites that are easy to get around.

If the links on your site, especially the links within it that people use to get from one page to another, are clearly marked you get points for that. Just so long as you don’t overdo it because that’s annoying too.

What you should do – in a nutshell

Explain what users will find at the other end of the link, and do it in plain English and without jargon.

Be short and to the point.

More information

UX for the masses:  The curse of ‘click here’

Neilsen Norman group: Top ten web design mistakes of 2005

UX Movement: Why your links should never say “click here”

More Website Sins

Things to avoid saying and doing on your business website.

  1. Never say ‘Click Here’
  2. Don’t use ‘Under Construction’ pages
  3. Why you don’t need an FAQ page
  4. Why pop-up light boxes are a bad idea

photo credit: nsfmc via photopin cc

Shropshire Tree Services – Business website

Shropshire Tree Services logo

The Project

Shropshire Tree Services has more than 25 years’ experience of providing professional tree surgery services in Shropshire, Wales and Cheshire.

The company chose Moghill to build its new website after speaking to us and several local and national web providers about their aims for the site and what they wanted it to achieve for the business.

[caption id="attachment_1109" align="alignright" width="450"]Shropshire Tree Services website screenshot Shropshire Tree Services website screenshot[/caption]

The aim of the project was to create a website that will build awareness of the company and its services,  win new customers and make it easy for potential customers to get in touch.

What Moghill did

We got to know and understand the business and its services from the point of view of what customers would need to know and offered the company straightforward advice in plain English

Therefore we emphasised the company’s professionalism, experience and expertise and boiled down its services into easy to understand sections based on what potential customers may search the web for.

We were greatly helped by a large stock of photographs the company had taken during various projects, which who chose the best of to help illustrate how the company handles difficult projects, such as felling a large tree in sections, or completely removing a tree stump.

With a lot of other tree surgery sites in the Shropshire area we have built the site to perform well against the competition in web searches.

The site is to be a standard desktop website without a mobile version but still viewable on a phone. We have also provided email services, taking on an existing account, and two other domain names which now point at the new site.

View the website: www.shropshiretrees.co.uk

What the customer said

Gareth Stephens of Shropshire Tree Services said: “Moghill were not the first company we approached to build our website,  I only wish they had been.

“The service we have received has been first class from the first meeting to the point where the website was ready to go live.

“The professional approach of both Pat and Fiona has been superb! They made us feel that our website was as important to them as it is to us.

“Communication has been excellent throughout the process and nothing has been too much trouble.  There are many pitfalls when choosing a web design company and many companies will promise you the earth.

“Moghill have offered the benefit of their technological knowledge and expertise to build our website and I would not hesitate in recommending them.  Their straightforward and hassle free approach made the process of getting a website up and running stress free.”

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Why we love WordPress

WordPress logo

We are specialists in using the WordPress content management system because it allows us to build great websites at an affordable price.

[caption id="attachment_543" align="alignright" width="300"]Wordpress logo We love it! And so should you.[/caption]

But we are also experts at getting the best out of WordPress for you and your business and many of our customers come to us with WordPress sites that have been sadly neglected.

We can fix that for you and give your a site a complete makeover using the system you already have.

Why WordPress?

WordPress is one of the most popular ways to build a website in the world – never mind Shropshire – and with good reason.

  • It’s free to install with no licence fee to pay
  • It’s future proof as it updates to keep up with the web – your site can grow with you
  • It’s easy to extend and customise, meaning your site can do whatever you want it to
  • Google loves WordPress and gives your site a strong SEO basis to build on
  • WordPress lends itself to displaying on mobile phones, especially responsive sites

The possibilities with WordPress are endless. We can use it for:

  • Blog-based sites
  • Simple brochure sites to more advanced sites with hundreds of pages
  • Web shops
  • Directory sites
  • Online learning sites

It keeps us honest!

Another factor is that WordPress does not tie you to a particular host or web design company.

That means that if you want to move to a new provider you don’t have to start from scratch with a new site.

We see that as a good thing because web companies like us have to pay more attention to customer service and not hold customers to ransome.

Moghill and WordPress

When we start to plan a new website, usually we only need to consider WordPress as our solution for how to build it.

We pride ourselves on not being geeks but in the case of WordPress we’ll make an exception: We love Wordpress!

But now we’ve got that out of the way we also work with Joomla and Magento! If we have to.