If you read our article “Want a Better Website? 20 Things to Start Doing Right Now,” you picked up a ton of helpful tips for decreasing your site’s bounce rates, improving its look and feel, and increasing its sales.
But what if you want to take an even easier approach to improving your website?
It can be difficult to go out of your way to implement new features. What’s easier is to simply stop doing things that can be harmful to your website’s effectiveness. By educating yourself about what these are and removing them, you’ll dramatically improve your website.
1. Stop using pop-ups and other interrupting elements
Years ago, someone had the idea of using pop-ups to keep customers on their site. Since then, pop-ups spiked in popularity and then plummeted, but there are plenty of websites that still use them to inform users about a special deal, welcome users to their site, or even pop up to discourage users from leaving.
Pop-ups aren’t the only offender, though. Have you ever tried reading an article on Forbes’ website only to be greeted with a 5-second, page-wide ad? Forbes’ blog posts consistently rank well for a number of search terms, yet they add a massive obstacle that discourages users from viewing those blog posts.
Elements like these have two key things in common: they interrupt user experience, and users hate them. Many of the business owners who still use these would rather keep a user on their site than encourage that user to have positive feelings about their business/website. These elements turn out to be ineffective, though, since the user will often just back out of the site as soon as they get the chance — with the intention of never returning.
2. Stop using autoplay content
The most common form of autoplay content is videos. Maybe you added a great video to your homepage after reading about the effectiveness of video marketing. But if that video plays as soon as a user loads your homepage, you’re facing the same problem as you do with pop-ups.
Autoplaying media like music or videos often happens with the best intentions. After all, you’ve heard that it’s best to share content in various media to keep your users engaged. But if your users don’t opt in to that content, there’s a good chance they’ll be annoyed when it starts playing.
You also have to consider that the user may not be in a good situation for your content to autoplay. Maybe they’re browsing without headphones on, so your autoplay content disrupts the entire room. This is even worse when the user is browsing multiple tabs at once and can’t figure out the source of the noise, so they have to frantically search until they find your web page and simply close that tab.
Oftentimes, users who are greeted with autoplay content just find a way to turn it off. They pause the video, they mute their sound, or they simply back out of your site. In these cases, autoplay content forces the user to opt out rather than opting in to content they find interesting. Can you guess which scenario would lead to happier, more curious users?
3. Stop cluttering up your site structure
Creating your site structure is tricky. It’s best to have pages with 300-500+ words of content, but it’s also good to separate your pages based on topic. A lot of small business owners aren’t sure how to strike that perfect balance.
The result is an ultra-cluttered website, where there are multiple, complicated dropdown menus in the main navigation and several pages that aren’t even included in the main navigation. Maybe you have 15 pages with less than 200 words each, or perhaps you have 1 or 2 pages that bombard the user with 1,000+ words of content.
A good rule of thumb is to aim for at least ~500 words on most pages of your website (excluding pages like “Contact Us,” where that content would be pure filler). Next, you want each page to have a clear focus, which will help that page perform better in search results as well as make it clear what the user should expect on that page.
Ultimately, the user should be able to get to just about any page on your website from your homepage. The exception to this is pages like a Blog page, where the user should clearly understand that clicking the link will lead them to a collection of blog posts. Your main navigation should include about 8 or fewer items and fit comfortably on one line. You want to make life as simple as possible for your user, so try to make it so that they can navigate to any page on your website within one or two clicks.
4. Stop creating link dumps
This is a very common thing we see among low-performing websites. A “link dump” refers to a page that exists for the sole purpose of linking to other websites. We’ve seen businesses offer these in the way of “Links” or “Resources” pages. A common method is to link to nearby businesses/points of interest in the town where their business is located.
But these pages do nothing good for your website. In fact, they do many bad things. First, think about what happens when the user clicks on one of those links. They leave your site! They may have been interested in learning more about your business, but your link to a random website sent them away.
Next, they really aren’t good for your search engine rankings. A big factor of SEO is links — who links to your site, where they link to, and how often these links appear. Google uses links to determine which sites should appear higher in search rankings. So links to your site can help improve your rankings, while linking away from your site sends some of your “link juice” to other websites.
This isn’t to say that you should never link to other websites. It can be a good thing to link to your social media accounts, a source that you used in a blog post, or a website that offers more information on a topic your users want to better understand. The key here is to be mindful of when and how you use these links and, if you have a page that’s dedicated to linking to other websites, just go ahead and remove it.
5. Stop using the stock photography cliches
Stock photography can be a great thing. It allows you to make a more visual website without the added expense of hiring a professional photographer. The problem with using stock photography is that you’re using photos that definitely exist on other websites, so it’s less personalized.
Because of this, there are a few photos that have become the joke of stock photography. They’re such a joke, in fact, that Adobe has released a clothing line featuring the most overused, worst stock photos. They include:
- “Man at desk frustrated with technology”
- “Smiling seniors using laptop”
- “International business team working around laptop”
- “Firm handshake between business associates”
- “Happy office workers pointing to blank sign”
- “Call center woman wearing headset”
So, what gives? You’re told to use images on your website to make it more engaging, but now some of those images will make users take your business less seriously. Well, the solution may be to not use stock photos of people at all.
Some experts say that any photos of people on your website should be personal to your business — pictures of your team or photos that accompany customer testimonials, for example. Rather than using stock photos of random people that have no real ties to your business, try sticking to pictures of objects and things. When you do want to include images of people, you may want to bring in a professional photographer to get some from your business.
6. Stop using jargon
Jargon is a super common crutch that businesses use when writing their content. This is especially true in more complex industries like healthcare and in industries where your product is more abstract (like coaching or consulting).
The thing with jargon is that many businesses think it establishes their credibility. They’re using terms that they understand and, after all, those terms exist because there is no other word that encompasses the same idea. In reality, jargon does nothing to boost your credibility, and it may even diminish it.
When a user comes to your website, they will, at some point, want to know that you’re qualified for the job. But first, they want to find an answer to their questions or a solution to their problems. They don’t want to go out of their way to understand you — they want you to understand them. Making any sort of purchasing decision is a lot more emotional than some business owners think, so your first step is to make a personal connection.
Jargon hinders you from making this connection. If anything, it can actually show that you’re out of touch with what your users are experiencing, or it can show that you don’t care whether they understand your terms or not. Sprinkling jargon throughout your website often achieves the complete opposite of what you were trying to achieve.
In cases where you must use jargon, ask yourself if it really is necessary or if there are other words you can use. If you really must use it, make sure that you explain it, and try to use it sparingly.
7. Stop cramming in keywords as often as you can
This isn’t a new concept on the Trajectory blog. In fact, we’ve written about it so many times because it’s an incredibly common offense committed by business owners. They’ve heard that keywords can help improve their search engine rankings, so they choose a list of keywords to target and pack their content with them.
As with a lot of items in this list, cramming keywords into your site content isn’t a good move for user experience. But that isn’t the only detriment. The reason that business owners keyword stuff is to improve their search engine rankings, but Google has made it clear over the last few years that doing so can actually harm your search engine rankings.
That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t use keywords at all. However, think about the way that Google determines which sites should rank first in search. They use an algorithm that’s sole purpose is to determine which page, out of all those web pages out there, will be most relevant to a user for their specific search.
Sites with a ton of keywords don’t really show that they are the most relevant — they just show that they know how to add keywords to their content. That’s why Google has shifted further and further away from keywords and instead puts more weight in factors like inbound links and types of content.
When you do use keywords, they must be natural in the content. Focus on including one key phrase per page, and make sure that keyword phrase is in the H1 and title tag for that page. Forget anything you’ve heard about keyword density (how often to use keywords in the content). Instead, focus on creating pages that focus on each of your target keywords, incorporating long-tail keyword phrases, and creating in-depth, useful content that would appeal to a user who searched those keywords in Google.
8. Stop letting broken links slip through the cracks
A broken link is a link that doesn’t lead anywhere. When you click on a broken link, you’ll be directed to an error page, where you can either close out the page or hit the “back” button. If you have broken links on your website, it’s likely that the URL was typed incorrectly or the page was deleted. It’s very easy to let broken links slip through the cracks and let them sit there for weeks, months, or years without realizing that they’re broken.
Removing broken links from your site is an extremely easy, extremely effective way to improve user experience, keep users on your site, and even improve your search engine rankings. This is, again, a topic that we’ve written about in the past. But to reiterate: use a free tool like Screaming Frog (or even look through your links manually) to find any broken links on your site.
All you have to do is swap out the broken URL for an updated one, or you can remove the hyperlink altogether if there’s no suitable alternative. You want to make sure that every single link on your website leads somewhere — and that it leads to its intended destination.
9. Stop overloading your customers with too much copy
Truth be told, this isn’t as common as business owners including too little copy on their website, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Sometimes, business owners get really excited about their content or about a certain idea.
That excitement is a great thing. But it’s not a great thing when that excitement translates into thousands of words of copy that isn’t examined with a critical eye. Just imagine if you were in the beginning stages of researching a business and you were greeted with a page full of 2,000 words of content. No images, long paragraphs, and no headers to break it up. No one would blame you if you didn’t want to read through all that content.
This is how your customers feel when they run into a huge wall of text.
If you find that some pages on your website have 1,000+ words of content (and they aren’t pages like blog posts or case studies where that amount of content is expected), consider whether this content can be broken up across a few pages. As we mentioned above, it’s good to have a balance of focused pages and pages with ~500 words of content. So, if you have 1,500 words of content talking about one of your products, consider breaking that up into 3 effective pages that each have a specific focus.
Overall, it’s best not to include long streams of copy anywhere on your website. Use things like headings, images, and bulleted/numbered lists to break up that content, and use shorter paragraphs to embrace white space. Content is a phenomenal tool on your website, but streams of it with no breaks will only overwhelm your users.
10. Stop using copy that you can’t stand behind
Part of the purpose of your website’s content is to encourage users to trust in your business’ abilities and to want to buy from you. That’s why website content often becomes quite promotional.
Anytime that content becomes promotional, you have to look at it from an objective standpoint to evaluate if it’s trustworthy and accurate. For example, it can be all too easy to use phrases like “We’re the best at…” or “We provide the best solution around.”
Terms like this have many of the same problems that jargon does. Your intent behind them is to establish authority and credibility, but they can actually lead users to trust you less. So, instead of making claims that any business can, try focusing on concrete terms that can be proven.
For example, if you have certifications, awards, reviews, and/or Better Business Bureau ratings, these are all great examples of more trustworthy content to include on your website. Try to steer clear of any claims that you can’t actually prove. Read through your content with the perspective of someone who’s skeptical about your claims, and stick to content that’s either educational or can be proven through a third party.
11. Stop trying to convince your customers that you’re the best
Similar to the point above, one common mistake that businesses make in their content is trying to convince people. They try to convince users that their product is worth trying, that their business has the right level of experience, and so on.
This is, again, tricky territory. While your content will naturally highlight key points of your business and have a confident tone to it, some business owners fall into the mindset that their content is a salesperson. But, unlike a charismatic salesperson who’s difficult to say no to, your content can disappear with a quick click of the “back” button.
Content can definitely help sell your business, but that shouldn’t be its main purpose. Think of the content on your website as the voice of your brand. What do you want that voice to say, and how do you want your users to feel when they hear it?
We dove into this topic in our blog post about web design for the buyer’s cycle. Many businesses begin their content writing by trying to convince their customers and sell their product. But the most effective businesses first consider their users and then create content that educates them and empathizes with them.
12. Stop showing suggested videos after a video plays
This is a quick and easy way to make an improvement to your website. If you embed your own YouTube videos on your site, make sure that you turn off suggested videos. This is a feature that YouTube offers to help users find related content, but it’s a feature that you can turn off when you upload a video to their platform.
There are a few reasons you want to turn this feature off. First, you can’t control which videos show up in the suggested feature. So your users may finish your video and then be suggested irrelevant, unrelated, or even inappropriate videos. Plus, since suggested videos are generated based on the content of your video, your competitors’ videos may actually be suggested to your users. Yikes!
All of this can encourage your user to get distracted watching unrelated videos, back out of your site, or even click on a video and be navigated away from your site. To prevent all of this from happening, simply turn off the suggested videos feature and make sure you include content or calls to action near the video that highlight the next steps.
Load up your video on YouTube. Click the “Embed” tab below the video and deselect the checkbox next to “Show suggested videos when the videos finished.” YouTube will then provide a new embed link, which you can copy and paste in place of the old embed code on your website.
13. Stop writing press releases in place of blog posts
Press releases, which are meant to be sent to the press for release, are news pieces. If you’ve made connections with local news outlets and your business is doing things that they might want to cover, a press release is the perfect way to tell your story and share it.
Blog posts, on the other hand, are meant to be read by your website’s visitors. They can come in all different forms and lengths, and the great thing about them is that they allow you to speak directly and causally with your target audience.
If your blog is filled with press releases, there’s a good chance that users won’t want to read them, and they wouldn’t know what to do with the information if they did. If there’s a certain point that you want to get across to your leads and customers, a press release is probably not the way to go.
When you do write press releases, it’s very rare that they should go on your blog. So, how can you know when to write a press release and when to write a blog post? Press releases should be sent to someone who may publish them in the local newspaper or on a news site. Blog posts should go on your blog and speak directly to the users who visit your site.
Are you tired of blogging and looking for new ways to publish content? Here are 10 new ways to engage your audience.
14. Stop cluttering up your forms
Forms are a fantastic way to get users to convert to leads. You can offer forms that allow users to schedule an appointment, make a reservation, send over their questions, or simply provide their contact information so that you can reach out to them.
When a user decides to fill out a form, it’s an exciting moment for your business. They’re showing that something on your website worked, you’ve piqued their interest, and they think you might be worth working with.
Unfortunately, some businesses halt this exciting process in its steps by demanding way too much information from the user. You have to remember that filling out a form is a big commitment for someone who’s never worked with you before. They’re likely giving you their personal information so that they can be contacted by you, which is a rare situation in most of your marketing.
Instead of overwhelming your users with forms asking for several pieces of their background, history, and contact information, stick to the key information that you need to get in touch. We’re talking name, phone or email, and maybe some information about their budget or what their specific concerns may be.
You can then use your follow-up to get all that background information. Or, if you want to be a bit more advanced, you can do what HubSpot does and get collect new information on old leads every time they fill out a new form.
15. Stop thinking like your competitors
This might be the most important thing to stop doing in order to improve your website. When you want to add new design elements, begin new marketing campaigns, or write the content for your website, where do you turn for inspiration? If you’re looking to your competition, you may be making a big mistake.
It’s natural to want to see what your competitors are up to. In fact, having a thorough knowledge about your competitors is a great way to close a sale with an interested customer. But there’s a fine line between knowing information about your competitors and looking to them for inspiration.
When you mimic design and content that you see on your competitors’ websites, you don’t set yourself above the competition. A user who visits all of these sites may actually be confused why they’re seeing similar websites over and over, making it harder for them to see a distinct difference between you and your competitors.
Instead, look beyond your industry for inspiration. Don’t limit yourself to just your competition when you’re improving your website. You can definitely check out what your competitors are doing, but do so to see what you think could be better about their approach.
By removing these elements from your website, looking at your site with a critical eye, and following your own intuition rather than your competitors’ strategies, you’ll greatly improve the functionality and appeal of your website.