The Most Common Web Design Mistakes We See (That Impact Sales)

24 Jan 2017

The primary objective of most commercial websites is to advertise a product or service. So you would think the art of getting more people to take desired actions (like buying something) is well known and practised widely throughout the industry.

Think again. 

In my experience usability, psychology and advertising best practices are well and truly left on the table in many projects we see.

At Ignition, we have time and time again been hampered by a really poorly set up website – to the point we became an Unbounce partner to get round the issues we were facing. Thankyou landing pages!

At Jon Colegate Ltd, I would say a significant and fairly routine sticking point in our review work is a website that has been set up badly at the conversion level.

So what sort of things do you need to watch out for? Broadly speaking, the issues we have highlighted and overcome can be summarised as follows:

Bad Forms

Designers neglect forms. 

I’ve no idea why. 

Forms are tied to the vast majority of website success metrics but they are often the last thing that gets attention. Often the budget for the project doesn’t run to forms and anyway why should it? A form is a form right?

A well designed form can be the difference between your project succeeding or failing.

In a benchmark study usability experts Baymard found that 61% of the largest e-commerce sites in the US required “seemingly unnecessary” information during their checkout process. This can only hinder sales and frustrate users.

In our own work we often see these sorts of errors:

  1. Bad ‘Call To Actions’ on buttons.
  2. Asking for marketing related information.
  3. Missing Tips & poor error messages.
  4. Daunting look and feel.
  5. Unnecessary tick boxes, disclaimers and spam warnings.

Bad ‘Call To Actions’ on buttons.

Try and make it clear exactly what users will get by filling in the form. Avoid buttons that say ‘submit’ or ‘send’. If you are trying to get signups, be clear what the customer is actually signing up for. Avoid putting people off through poor use of language.

Unnecessary Marketing Information

Asking for unnecessary information lengthens forms and reduces the chance of completion. A client we helped dramatically improve conversions rates had an account signup form that also asked for a load of marketing information. This lengthened the form by over 60%. We got rid of it and results improved straightaway.

Missing Tips & Poor Error Messaging

How many times have you tried to send a form only to find it wanted more information? Often the error messages are off screen or don’t do a great job in explaining the error. If you want someone to create a 10 digit password – make sure you say that upfront rather than people finding out the hard way.

Daunting Look & Feel

If your business really needs a lot of information, then that is ok. However many forms are designed by marketing staff who want to get the inside leg measurement of everyone that fills in the form. The result – huge forms that are daunting on desktop and untenable on mobile.

Unnecessary Tick Boxes

Same with forms. It can make you look more professional by adding disclaimers that say you will never spam anyone or will keep their personal data safe – but this study highlighted the negative impact of adding these messages.

Wait There's More....

If you want a really detailed study on forms, then read the brilliant work done by Shanelle Mullin at Conversion XL. This is a really interesting read because you will see that Shanelle points out that there is no hard and fast rule here. Essentially you have to apply common sense to the situation. If you website is trying to attract leads, then generally speaking shorter is better. If you need to take more data, then people will oblige as long as you explain why and they have an expectation as to why you need it.

Shanelle gives a common sense checklist on how you should approach forms:

  • The form is easy to understand and complete; there’s limited friction.
  • The value of the information your visitors are asked to provide is equal to or less than the value you are going to provide.
  • You are able to qualify incoming leads and provide the sales team with enough information to close deals.

A good form design with a clear focus on usability can bring you many more sales enquiries. It’s worth the time to get them right. Our advice is to specifically have form design high on your priority list and take the time to get them right.

If you are in e-commerce, this can be absolutely crucial. In our e-commerce reviews, we often spend more time highlighting issues with checkout forms than any other part of the site. The problems are less prevalent on the big platforms such as Magento, but some of the bespoke sites often have a huge amount of potential to improve.

Your web designers are probably not the right people to discuss this with – they built the site. Forms work for them, but do they work so well in a live environment?

Tip – have a look at your website contact forms. Have a go at filling them in. How did you find the experience? did you really need the info you asked for and if you do require it – is that to help your customer or you?

Benefit Led Pages

In the nicest possible way, customers want to know how your products and services are going to solve their problems. They don’t care for features, they don't care for life story's. They want benefits. 

Too often we see website copy that fails to identify and distil the key issues customers face and how they will solve them.

Tip - Have a look at the marketing of top performing businesses such as Dyson. Notice how they tend to showcase the benefits of their products first. They could easily drift into technology and jargon – but they don’t. Instead Dyson focuses on every day pain points as a primary way to engage visitors.

If you focus on addressing pain points, you will be increasing the chances of success from your marketing efforts.

Focus On Primary Aims

I’ve learned a lot about usability watching my children use games where they couldn’t read the words on the buttons they were pressing. They still managed to play and have fun. They did so because primary navigation was in the DNA of the games design.

- Where primary buttons were clear, they successfully managed to launch the game and start game.

- Where buttons were similar in colour and size and had no visual hierarchy, they gave up and played something else or fluked the start sequence by randomly pressing things until it worked.

It can be the same for adults. Often web pages we see end up a cluttered mess of ads and imagery and there is a lack of focus on primary objectives. This can lead to hidden site issues that become a frustration for visitors.

Do users really care for the huge homepage banner you have made? Or do they want you to introduce and signpost the key information they need?

Our advice is to work out what the main thing you want to achieve is and work backwards from there. Often just a simple change can make a huge difference.

Primary navigation aims can vary but here are the main ones to focus on:

  1. To buy something (add to basket, book form, complete a checkout sequence)
  2. Contact or enquire about a product or service (contact forms, live chat etc.)
  3. To get help or answers on a subject or learn more (brochure downloads).

Identifying Your Primary Aims

Look at your key pages and write down the main things people are wanting from that page. How easy do you make it for people to complete their tasks?

Do this for all key pages on your website – your primary aims will change from page to page and you need to profile your audience – are you dealing with well-educated visitors who want lots of product data or busy people who want to get the key facts they need as quickly as possible? Your aims should change depending on the general profile of your audience.

In our work the most common primary navigation crimes we come up against:

  • Menus and functionality ‘hidden’ in designs where users wouldn’t expect them.
  • Delivery & Returns information being hard to find.
  • Key products/services buried in fly out menus.
  • Ignoring analytics data in redesigns.
  • Search bars that are hard to spot.
  • Homepage banners that push key content below the fold.
  • Design clutter with clashes between key content and glossy imagery.

Often websites are built via design trends, not what your customers need. We have all seen and at times been guilty of following trends rather than taking a step back and asking what customers really want from each part of your website.

Google found that a high perceived visual complexity hindered the first impressions of web visitors. This in real terms means clutter and bad UX causes people to leave the site quicker. We are seeing more and more evidence that design & UX form a part of ranking at least to some degree. It seems the harder you make it for people, the less chance you have in the modern Google world.

When you next look at a website redesign, make sure you focus more on primary aims and less on glossy banners and cramming whitespace with images. Design is important, but ideally should be married up with solid usability for the perfect customer experience.

And Google might be watching…..

We Think Mentality

A personal bug bear. I have lost count the number of times a customer or design agency has started a conversation with ‘We think…’

Our advice - forget what you or your web designers think.

Site stakeholders often have a clouded judgement on how things work and how easy things are to use. They can be wrong. Often they have never used the software interface they are talking about. If you are responsible for a website build, but have never tested it in the field, you are making a potentially serious error.

Simple user testing can do a great job of identifying the pain points in your website and the last people that should do the testing are your design team. Why? Because they built the site. They know how menus work, even ones they have made hard for others to use.

Find people you don’t know and who know little about the site – you can recruit these cheaply online. Even family and friends can be great for feedback. Testing with only 5 people can identify the vast majority of issues to resolve.

Because something works – doesn’t make it usable. Your web design team may have met a functional specification – but is this enough to meet your real needs? The bottom line is you want sales and you should have the confidence to challenge your agency. As a minimum, look at some of the other projects the have worked on and see if you can spot any UX disasters.

The Existing Website Is Ignored

Are you throwing the baby out with the bath water? Has anyone looked at the good points of your website before you change(d) it?

In our work, you would be surprised how many times we have seen really valuable content dropped because the new agency want to go in a new direction or didn’t understand its value.

In a recent project we found that a web design agency had put forward a change that would wipe out nearly 50% of the clients organic traffic (and numerous sales contacts in the process).

Major web site changes therefore are inherently more risky than following an iterative process:

  1. If you change everything and it goes wrong – where do you start looking? If traffic or conversions drop, can you easily identify the cause(s)?
  2. New design teams can be under pressure to be more radical and come up with new ideas.
  3. Websites can be redesigned without any specific focus on existing weaknesses. It’s never a bad idea to look at where visitors spend time and where the UX could be improved. A redesign may take budget away from much needed functionality improvements.
  4. Project progress is generally slower. Smaller iterations generally push the project forward faster for the reasons already stated.

In some cases however, a full redesign is the only sensible solution.

A local maxim can also be reached where small changes stop making any difference.

In Summary

If you are currently looking at a web site build or thinking of changing your existing one, then hopefully some of these areas can be high on your discussion list. Try and avoid a chop and change approach - in some cases they can be very expensive.

Any comments? Agree or disagree let me know in the comments.

External pages mentioned in this post:

The article was written by Jon Colegate. Connect with Jon:

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