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Getting your small business’ first web presence can be an exciting milestone when initially launching your brand. I mean, you’ve invested all this time and money into developing your brand, and now the time has come to show off to the world all that you have to offer. However, in the excitement of getting your site finished and up for the masses to see, there are some common mistakes, both design & usability wise, that are far too often made that can not only undermine the professionalism of your brand, but may even deter potential customers altogether. To help avoid these pitfalls, we’ve put together a list of 12 design / usability crimes that you’re site may be committing.

1. The User Can’t Instantly Recognize What the Site is About
Let’s be honest, in this day and age our attention spans are minimal. This means that you need to grab the user’s attention as quick as you can. If they have to spend time trying to decipher abstract pictures or profound quotes before really even understanding what it is your business does, they’re quite likely going to pick up and go elsewhere. Make your message easily recognizable from the get go.

2. You Have a Harsh Colour Scheme
Colour scheme choices aren’t everyone’s strongest suit, that’s understandable. Remember that shirt and tie combo you almost went with at that wedding last summer? Exactly. Don’t fret though, because there are countless sites that do the colour matching work for you. One of our favourites is Colour Lovers. They provide tens of thousands of fantastic looking professional colour palettes, meaning there really is no excuse for having a mismatched colour scheme for your brand.

3. Your Site Contains Spelling or Grammatical Mistakes
This is perhaps one of the most crucial mistakes you can’t afford to make, yet is far too common. Nothing shouts unprofessional more than a spelling mistake, or using “your” when it should have been “you’re”. Proofread, proofread, proofread. That can’t be stressed enough.

4. You’re using a new fancy font that is almost unreadable
Sure you may think it gives your site an original edgy look, but if the user is getting a headache when trying to read your latest blog post, chances are they won’t stick around for too long. Make sure your content is easy to scan through. This means using an easy to read font for paragraphs, and breaking up huge blocks of text by using headings or images.

5. Music Begins to Play When a User Arrives at Your Site
Audio in the background of a site may sound like a good idea in theory, but more often than not, it generally just frustrates the user and makes them either shut their speakers off, or even leave your site altogether. Don’t subject the user to having to sit through music, even if you think the song playing perfectly accentuates your site’s vibe & feel, chances are someone will hate it. If you feel it’s an absolute necessity for you to play an audio file, at least let the user choose when to start it.

6. You Have a Splash Page or Intro Page Before Entering the Site
Now I may take a bit of flack for this one, but I’m a strong believer in the Steve Jobs / Apple mindset, in that the smaller the number of steps required for the user to access the content, the better. Chances are, they’re coming to your site to find out some sort of information about the business, not to look at your intro screen design, regardless of how beautiful it may be. Don’t give them a reason to leave your site before they’ve really even seen what you’re all about.

7. Your Contact Details are Hard to Find
If your site has nothing else, it should at the very least contain your contact details. After all, you’re here to create awareness about your product or service, and allow people to easily find out about what you do right? Displaying your phone number and/or email address is a crucial piece of information for people accessing your site in a hurry or on the go. They don’t want to spend time sifting through pages to find that info. I’ve always been a fan of placing your contact details somewhere on the footer of at least the main page, if not every page.

8. Your Site Uses HTML Tables Instead of Styling With CSS
Again, another point I may take a bit of heat over, but in 2012 there really is no need to be styling any part of a website using HTML tables. Basically anything you need to do to a website’s layout (and more) can be accomplished using CSS. Especially now with CSS3 gaining more and more support and compatibility, the possibilities are becoming endless.

9. It’s Tough to Decipher the Content From the Advertisements
If your site is going to make use of advertisements in the hopes of gaining a few extra bucks, be sure to separate out a spot for your ad banners. Peppering them in throughout your content can often confuse and frustrate readers, and may even make them accidentally leave the site altogether.

10. You Have a Lightbox Popup Message Before the User Can View the Site
This could be something as simple as asking a user to sign up for your mailing list, but if it’s done before they can even view the site’s content, it’s just going to annoy them. Let the user make the decision to sign up for something without forcing it on them as their first introduction to your business.

11. Your Site Isn’t Cross-Browser Compatible
Sure, your site may look incredible in Firefox, but it also may look horrendous in Google Chrome. Just because you’ve developed your site for your favourite browser, doesn’t mean your intended audience will be viewing it on that. Be sure to check how your pages look on all the major browsers (Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Safari & IE) to ensure everyone will have more or less the same viewing experience.

12. Your Links Aren’t Easily Identifiable
The user should have some easy way to differentiate what is a link and what is regular content. Whether you use a different colour, or an underline, you need to make it clear to them what is clickable, don’t just assume they’ll know. Mouseover effects, such as colour changes etc, can also be used, but be aware that users accessing your site on mobile devices won’t be able to see the colour change you’ve implemented, so you may need to style it an alternate way for smaller handheld devices.

You want your business to come across as professional as possible, and by avoiding these common pitfalls you will be helping your site convince clients that you’re the person for the job. Don’t give them a reason to continue searching, once they’ve found you.

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