Three mistakes I see web designers make over and over again

I was reviewing an online shoe store the other day. The landing page had this beautiful graphic of all these shoes. Gorgeous looking site. And then I clicked on another link, and saw this photo of food. That’s weird. This shoe store has a dietary help section?

It wasn’t a shoe store.

I finally figured out it was a web designer’s portfolio. These were examples of their photography.

I’ve been helping with a lot of website critiques lately. Here are three mistakes I myself have made and see over and over again.

1. You’ve buried the lede.

Age old wisdom for writers: “Don’t bury the lede”. But web designers ignore it. In my example above, you had to read deep into their page to figure out this was a portfolio, and they’d like you to hire them.

Use a single H1 tag on your landing page to state very clearly what you do. It doesn’t have to be the default ginormousness of an H1 tag, but it should stand out on the page.

Basecamp has a great homepage. Right away you can tell this site is about helping me manage projects. There’s no confusion that this could be a website consultant or a shoe store.


Bonus: Search Engine Optimization

Google wants to know what your site is about too.

I used to think SEO would just take care of itself, if we made a great product and had people talk about us in articles. Inkling, my first successful business, was deep on the second and third pages of search results for “prediction markets”, an important term for our business. But when we started telling people clearly what we do in H1 tags:

Use prediction markets to transform how you forecast, measure risk, and make decisions on projects.

We quickly went up to #5 on the first page.

2. You pretend no one says anything nice about you.

I went to a golf tournament once. I like playing golf, but I’m not that interested in watching other people play. I just went for the free food that came with the ticket.

But as I was walking, I saw a large group of people. I had to go see what they were looking at. As I nudged in, I realized why. Bill Murray was carrying the golf bag of one of the professionals. Everyone wanted to see Bill and shout their favorite quote from Caddyshack.

When you see a bunch of people paying attention to the same thing, it’s hard not to also pay attention. That’s why testimonials work.

Ecommerce stores use them to get more people to shop. Political campaigns use them to get more donations. Even my wife has used testimonials in writing a cover letter to get more interviews.

Someone somewhere is saying something nice about you. It doesn’t have to be someone famous. Start with your mom or some friends.

For Draft, I started with a single testimonial from a stranger I asked to user test. As they were testing, they said something really nice, and I asked if I could use it on my website. You’ve never heard of them. They didn’t have a website or Twitter account to link to when I asked. But that single testimonial next to a signup form helped me gather thousands of Beta testers. And I leveraged that single testimonial to help get many more testimonials from people you have heard of.

3. You’ve hidden the most important thing.

What’s the most important thing a visitor can do on your page? If you’re a wedding photographer, it’s probably contact you for work. If you’re a website designer, same thing.

But we hide these contact links. We make them blend in with all the other links. Or worse.

I was reviewing a beautiful long scrolling design the other day. There’s a neat parallax effect where the background shifts as you scroll. Gorgeous. And then, at the very bottom of the page, there was a way to contact this company.

Problem is: often it takes 7-9 impressions before someone will actually take action to contact you or buy from you.

Do you really want visitors to hunt through to the bottom of your site a second or third time to find your contact link? They won’t.

Figure out the most important thing you want someone to do on your site, and make it dead simple to do that thing as soon as they visit the page.


P.S. I’d love to meet you on Twitter: here.

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