I’m just making an assumption here, of course, but since the majority of all websites look terrible - corporate and private websites alike - I’ll take my chances.
Let’s face it, most websites look like crap. If websites were landscapes, the Internet would look like Detroit. No offense.
I know, you’re probably thinking, “Slow down, man. My website isn’t ugly.” And you know what? You might be right. But you’re probably wrong.
Here’s a list of the most common mistakes that almost everyone makes, and how you can go about fixing them. If your site has committed any of these cardinal sins, you’ll need to fix it immediately… because believe me, it’s costing you.
1) You make your visitors think.
This happens when your critical "call-to-action" materials are "below the fold". The 'fold' refers to the bottom on the viewable area on your monitor. It's the dotted line below:
When someone loads up your website, you want your call to action, all your important links, your navigation, and a way to contact you to be immediately visible. Don't make your visitors embark on a lengthy trek down your homepage, or even throughout your website, for them to find what you want them to do.
The Internet is not the place to test people's patience; it's the epitome of instant gratification. What matters needs to be prominent, and if it's not, your visitors will stop looking and go elsewhere.
Here are a few examples of good, correct, "above the fold" design:
This is Groove. The reason this design is "good", is because:
- You know what you're looking at immediately. The main headline entices the visitors by speaking to what they want: "to deliver awesome, personal support to every customer." It focuses on the benefit to your visitor.
Does your headline do that? Do you even have a clear headline? Is it huge like this one? You want to have a huge headline.
- The sub-headline gives some structure to the page, explains what the product is (=the features), and transitions nicely to the content below it. It describes the product in simple terms: "Groove is the help desk that's easy for you and your customers to use." It even lists out benefits (="awesome, personal support without feeling overwhelmed.")
- There's a distinct sign up button in red at the top right. Could it stand out more? Yes. But there are about 50 more sign-up buttons and other call-to-actions spread through the homepage, and the sign-up button stays at the top of the screen as you scroll down. This is great design.
Do you have dozens of calls to action spread throughout your page?
- They've included social proof in the form of a video testimonial, logos of some of their customers, and a "trusted by 1500+ companies" seal. Powerful stuff.
- Important links are displayed within a light yellow box that draws the eye and organizes the content. It looks really neat.
Do you have "graphical treatment" like this around your text so it looks more sexy?
- They've an easy contact widget on the lower-left of the page that's permanently there as you scroll down.
Here's another one:
This is Repartee. Let's see what it does right:
- Again, a nice big header and sub-headline, describing benefits.
- You know what it'll look like with a simple picture of the app loaded up on a smartphone. At the very least, you get the impression that it's going to be easy to use.
- A clear call to action - "Learn More," although it could definitely be more noticeable.
- And, of course, all the important stuff is above the fold. All in all, a great "less-is-more" approach to design.
So, does your website have the "below the fold" syndrome, where some of the stuff that could make it great is not immediately visible without scrolling down? Or even worse, is it cluttered or totally missing some of the good stuff?
You might know you have a problem, and so you shouldn't be surprised your website isn't performing how you want it to.
Or maybe you don't think you have a problem because your website is producing some results… but what you don't know is that it could be performing SO MUCH BETTER, and you're losing money every day.
So how do you fix your site?
Follow these two steps:
a) Check out these resources where you can find great looking websites that are similar in looks to the examples I gave you:
These are the same resources I use when looking for inspiration on how to design the pages to sell a new product and where I send my designers to go model things after. That's something you should do by the way...
b) Find great sites that meet the criteria I describe in this post. Then find a designer. Then steal as many elements/good looking things from these sites as you can, adapt them to fit your needs, have your designer create your design based on that, and boom - you've got a great site.
No need to reinvent the wheel, and it's almost guaranteed to be a better site than you have today.
Don't overload your homepage, though.
If you have more than 10-15 critical items above the fold, it's going to be too cluttered. To prevent overload, ask yourself, what's the goal of your site? What do you want your visitors to do?
Then remove any elements that don't support this goal. You should be left with a focused, concise collection of important elements above the fold where everyone can see it, leading your visitors to a very clear call to action. Don't make your visitors think to figure out what you want them to do.
Tell them clearly what to do, and they will. Don't, and they'll leave.
2) Your copy is lame, "corporate-y" and not personable
"Ugly" doesn't necessarily just refer to the visual aesthetics of your site. There are other mistakes that can give your website an overall ugly feel, even if the colors and layout are pleasing to the eye (but they're probably not, right now).
Bad copy is an all-too-common smudge on the otherwise pretty face of many websites (as rare as they are). Even seasoned entrepreneurs fall victim to writing dull, space-wasting drivel.
Symptoms of bad copy:
- It doesn't speak like your customer.
- It doesn't speak to your customer.
- It's not clear, too fluffy, or has no direct point.
- You use words or phrases like "mission statement" (or "vision statement"), "core values", "world-class", "superior customer service," "innovation", "quality and commitment".
- It's not prominently displayed or beautifully formatted. Think blurbs of text that nobody is interested in.
Even just one or two of the above points will result in copy that is NOT SEXY. If your copy is not sexy, NOBODY will read it. Nobody cares that you like to "innovate," or that you have "a commitment to quality and outstanding customer service." Those are things you do, not say.
It's like you're not in shape, or even slightly pudgy, and you say you're athletic. Your customer can smell the BS from a mile away, and quite simply, will not be impressed. They'll know in a second you're just simply average, and they'll close their browsers faster than you can place any of your precious little tracking cookies.
You MUST, MUST, MUST have sexy copy. I know I'm being repetitive, and maybe offensive, but I can't stress this enough. No good design in the world can make up for lame copy.
Let's look an example of ugly copy:
This is Fluenz, a site that teaches you languages. Can you tell that immediately from looking at their front page? Not really. Great company name wasted on poor copy.
Where's the call to action? Where are the benefits? This page does not excite me at all. It looks like a generic landing page that LeadPages or some other landing page tool puked out on a bad day.
Well, maybe it's just the front page. let's look at their story:
Wait, what? Is this even the same site? It looks totally different. That's a big no-no. It's confusing to the customer. Let's look at the copy.
An ugly, not-formatted block of text. If it weren't for their charismatic co-founder, would you spend a second on there? Nope. No benefits, no sexy formatting, and highly generic copy that's filled with buzzwords.
Even the quote on the front page "Fluenz trumps Rosetta Stone" isn't that great. Why? Because I have no idea why it trumps Rosetta Stone. That's not good. So if Fluenz claims to be better than them, then surely their website must be even worse, right? Let's take a look:
Crisp and sharp fonts. Inspiring, emotional copy with a great message that hits me right in the gut. Multiple strong, and very visible calls to action. Captivating, inspiring imagery. A STRONG offer (and offers in multiple places). And, they have a 'Why Rosetta Stone' section to explain to you EXACTLY why you should use their services versus anyone else's. They're just about doing everything right that Fluenz is messing up.
This is how it's done.
How to fix your copy if it's ugly
Write Better Copy Yourself
First, you'll want to make sure you're writing the right things. Let's look at what Rosetta Stone did correctly:
- Big, eye-catching headlines and logos.
- 2 calls to action right away (Try It Now, Try Our Free Demo, Try It Free)
- A strong offer and personable, emotional message that talks to me. The Why section tells us what the benefits are, what it'll do for me.
- The call to action creates a sense of urgency (FINAL HOURS? Better jump on that!)
- Easy and simple navigation in the header on top.
Try to use the same ideas with your site. You can also look at other successful sites that are similar to yours and see how their copy compares. Try to mimic their approach by selecting some of their best headlines and bullet points and rewriting them as your own. Here's an example:
Most agencies have it wrong!
They focus on traffic, not revenue.
This is a headline and subhead from NeilPatel.com. Neil is a fantastic writer, and the style he uses can be applied to a wide variety of topics. Notice how he:
- Devalues the competition by explaining what they're doing wrong
- Spells out what he is doing differently, which also happens to be a major benefit
- Uses a strong closing statement that is personable and shows he cares
Your business probably has nothing to do with helping others get more traffic or revenue, and that's the cool part: You can still use these principles. Let's say that you use your website to sell t-shirts. Here's how you could sell yourself:
"Where'd You Get That T-shirt?"
Prepare to hear this. A lot.
Our customers get tired of hearing this, but we can't help it. Our shirts look damn good. It's not the 100% premium cotton (you can get that at the Gap) and it's not the latest in silk screen technology (we just pushed a button). It's just you, looking better in our shirts.
Even though you're selling something completely different, you can still use the same approach. So feel free to copy headlines, calls to action, and certain phrases, just be careful not to plagiarize whole paragraphs or entire pages.
That'll land you in Internet jail faster than you can imagine, and that means a Google ban in the best case, and real-world legal trouble in the worst.
Hire a Pro
You could also hire a professional copywriter. Even though you might want to write your own copy, professional copywriters already have the experience, and know how to write to persuade and influence your visitors so they'll take the action you want them to take.
You can contact professional writers through websites like elance.com, warriorforum.com, and freelancer.com. Try to find someone with experience writing conversion-based copy. Put together sample copy from your industry and tell the writer what you like and don't like about the content. If they have experience with writing direct response (copy that's meant to invoke action), listen to their thoughts!
The number one qualification you should look for is this:
- Do they have tangible stats on their work?
- Before and after of websites or sales letters and % improvement? Or more $$$ made due to their work?
- And then testimonials that you can contact (for verification) of that work?
I'll get you more info on how to do this in another article, so keep your eyes peeled!
Ask both existing and new customers about their experience with your site. Make sure to use specific, open ended questions so you don't get useless feedback like "yes," "no," and "it was okay." Here are some conversation starters:
For existing customers:
- What would they change about the site?
- What parts of the site are unclear or confusing?>
- What could make the site easier to understand?
For new customers:
- What was it about [your company name] that made you take us up on our offer today?
Ask new customers about why they bought your product immediately after their purchase so their reasoning is still fresh. You won't believe the kind of insights you get to help you make your site, and even your products better.
Check out what Groove did to increase their conversions. There's a lot in that article about getting better feedback. Take a close look at it.
Surveys and other feedback tools can be very useful as well. Just don't setup a stupid SurveyMonkey poll and then wonder why nobody fills it out.
Instead, check out awesome feedback tools like Qualaroo or GetDrip. These programs will entice your visitors to take action and communicate with you, giving you all sorts of insight in the process. They tell you not only what your users are doing, but why. It helps you track how small changes on your site affects your visitors' behavior. And more importantly, making those visitors more likely to buy from you.
3) Navigating your site requires a degree in cartography
Along with visual themes, there are also navigational themes that tie a site together. Typically this is done with a header or footer that consistently appears on every page. Here are a few good examples to get you started:
This is a header from www.clicktale.com. Notice the neat looking, concise logo, unambiguous buttons, crisp font formatting, contact info/blog, and two calls to action ("Get Free Plan" and "Request Demo"). So, not only does this header handle navigation, it can also drives plenty of action in generating leads, or sales.
Here's Spotify's header. It's rather simple, but does everything right. Good branding, contrast, and simple navigation. Once again there are strong calls to action there, such as "upgrade" and the attention grabbing "download spotify" button.
This is Rosetta Stone's header. You may have spotted it earlier. It's a very simple design with intuitive, gorgeous and rich drop-down navigation, very crisp text, support/sign-in and two calls to action ("shopping cart", "try it free").
So if your 'Home' link is in one place on your "About Us" page, and in another place on your "Contact Us" page, you'll confuse visitors. And confused visitors leave your site right away.
Another rule of thumb: Have the least number of pages possible… eliminate content if it's not absolutely relevant to your visitors understanding the benefits you offer, and have any other pages only if they help build trust in your visitors.
Path testing for how clear your site is
Here's what you do:
- Document how you complete a process on your site, like adding a product to your shopping cart for example, click-by-click.
- Let someone who's never used your site try the same process, BUT DON'T HELP THEM.
- See if they take the same steps.
- Document the right and wrong steps they take, see if they're able to correct their course after getting lost.
Try to figure out why and how your test subject is getting lost. The less confusing your navigation, the less customers you'll have leaving.
Remember, don't stand over them while they're looking at your site. That doesn't count. You can't expect to get useful feedback if you're hovering over their shoulder and telling them what to do. In fact, it's better to leave the room entirely and let them write their thoughts, questions, and criticisms down in a notepad.
If they can't navigate your site without you holding their hand, you know there's a problem.
If you're having trouble getting people to look at your site in the flesh (or it's too time intensive based on the value of your time), you can use companies like Intuition HQ, Feedback Army, and User Testing to do it for you. These may cost a little (around $40), but the feedback you'll get back about your site is well worth the price (and if your site makes any revenue for you at all, it should pay for itself in a hurry).
4) Conversions and "Why Looks Matter"
You might be thinking "who cares!" Maybe you have a site that looks like garbage (and of course, you will think it looks good), but still attracts a good amount of traffic and even produces some revenue for you. Sure, it's possible. If that's you, then good for you.
But if you understood how you might be missing out on twice as much revenue, you'll be like "oh crap. What did I do!?!" It'll be the moment you realize that your business could be twice as big and much more profitable, for no extra work.
If you start attacking your website from a conversion angle, you may soon have similar results as Alex from Groove did:
Here's a perfect example from Groove:
Read Alex' article to really understand the difference between the two pages and why they had such a HUGE improvement. It'll be well worth your time.
Remember, "conversions" don't have to be sales. A conversion occurs any time a visitor completes an action you've designed for them… clicking a link, opting in to your email list/blog, filling out a form… stuff like that. Having conversions is the point of having a website.
It's hard to see flaws in your own site. You may have designed it yourself, or at least, you paid to have it done for you. But please don't tell me your neighbor's son or their dog designed it for you. Not cool.
Since admission is the first step to recovery, here's one last tip that could help you see whether you need to admit to yourself:
Yes, my site is ugly indeed. It needs fixing.
If your site looks anything like this:
(these sites were compiled by randomly going to a sample of sites hosted on popular web hosts)
…then indeed, your site is ugly. And you WILL have a massive increase in performance and revenue generated from your website by implementing the advice above.
Finally, you'll be doing your visitors and customers a huge favor, because they'll have a MUCH more enjoyable experience, and for many of them, that'll be the first time they are ever exposed to you or your business.
So make a great first impression!
Fathi CEO at Ecommerce
PS: What are some great sites you know? Why do you think they are great? And do you have a site that's not ugly? Tell me in the comments.