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10 Biggest Small Business Website Mistakes -- and How to Fix Them

By Jon Gelberg
It is startling to me that most companies still remain clueless about how to conduct business online. The number of awful websites is simply staggering. It seems that all of the principles that businesses have relied upon to grow their offline stores get thrown out the window when they go online.

Here's my top 10 list of how companies mess up when trying to deliver their business message online, and what you can do to avoid them:

1. Failure to differentiate. Competition has never been fiercer. A single Google search can bring up your business and the businesses of dozens of your competitors. Fail to catch a visitor's attention, and she's one click away from your competitor. Are your products or services clearly superior? Do you have killer customer service? Are you offering amazing online deals? Whatever competitive advantage you have, you must broadcast it on your homepage and do it in a clear, concise way.

2. Lousy writing and grammar. The Web gives everyone the opportunity to become a publisher. Unfortunately, that means there are a lot of people out there publishing their terrible writing skills. Poor writing will always reflect poorly on your business. It tells your audience you don't care enough to do things well. It makes you look unprofessional or even incompetent. If you are going to have a website, make damn sure you either have an employee with copywriting talent or you invest in a freelance writer to handle your Web copy.

3. Failure to put a human face on your company. Give potential customers a reason to believe in you. There are several ways of doing this. One of the most effective is a company blog that takes your visitors behind the scenes. Give them a taste of your business philosophy, show your passion for your work, or use it to demonstrate your expertise. Many businesses are using videos in place of blogs and, if done well, can be enormously effective in turning visitors into customers.

4. No compelling "hook." Depending on which study you read, the average person's attention span on the Web is somewhere between four and 10 seconds. If you don't grab him soon, you'll lose him. So give your website a fighting chance by giving your readers a visible, compelling reason to stay and click around. Hint: Don't start with the words "Welcome to..." Which brings me to...

5. Huge blocks of text on your homepage. Most visitors don't have the patience to read dense copy on the home page. Save that copy for the landing pages that deal with the specific needs your visitor has. Your job on your homepage is to funnel your visitors to the landing pages that will best serve their interests.

6. Burying your phone number. Many potential customers are most comfortable first contacting you by phone. Don't make finding yours harder than trying to find Waldo.

7. Failure to provide testimonials. By providing multiple, convincing testimonials, you go a long way towards gaining your visitors' confidence. Put up testimonials that look bogus, though, and you go a long way towards damaging your credibility. I find that video testimonials are the most effective way to demonstrate customer/client satisfaction.

8. Failure to provide case studies. Most professional service websites make the mistake of talking in broad generalities. Visitors want to see real processes, real issues, real solutions and bottom-line numbers. If you can provide this kind of solid evidence for what you've done for other clients, then you help to create a comfort zone.

9. Failure to highlight your customer service options. Online buyers expect to be able to get in touch with a customer service representative quickly and expect a satisfactory answer immediately, if not sooner. In addition to making sure your phone number is easy to find, lay out all of your customer service options and make sure you can deliver via each one.

10. Failure to listen to visitors. Thanks to social media, discussions on the Web are two-way. But this means that if you're going to use social media to reach out to customers, be prepared to respond.

What did I miss? What mistakes do you see small businesses making on the Web?

Flickr photo courtesy of spcbrass, CC 2.0

Jon Gelberg is the Chief Content Officer for Blue Fountain Media, a Web design, development, and marketing company in New York City.

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