Authors note: These observations have been assembled based on 18 years as a web developer, Internet marketer, web analyst and project manager. All examples are fictional and meant to be intentionally humorous. The reality is that it’s freaking hard to launch a meaningful website. It takes time, money and patience to get things done the right way. While this article points out particular faults that are made during the process, my hope is that you can use it as a checklist for “what not to do” on your next website launch. This is one of those posts that has been in my drafts folder for some time and while it probably should to stay there, I am publishing it anyway!
Your website sucks.
I’m sorry that I have to be the bearer of bad news, but someone had to tell you the truth.
Your website is a crime against humanity, an atrocious abomination, a target for Godwin’s law.
It is responsible for both world wars and a lack of peace in the middle east.
Your website makes my eyes bleed, my bowels move and my brain hemorrhage.
And it’s all your fault, because you let it happen.
The mistakes you made along the way are so damning that I want you to read through each of your violations before you issue an apology.
1. Your website sucks because you don't know the answer to the question “Why are we making this website in the first place?”
The year was 1995. Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise was on the air and after reading about the Internet in a magazine, your company CEO demands that a website is up and running. You get a CTO, a CIO, a C-whatever-O and go to work.
You started in the middle.
You started without a purpose.
You started without a strategy.
And your website has sucked ever since.
Why does your website exist? Really, why?
If you don't know the purpose for your website, then stop reading this article and go figure that out.
2. Your website sucks because you let your developers focus on efficiency, not crawlability
As a CIS graduate and occasional code wrangler, I know what it is like to write code for the web: you bang your head against a wall until something works, creating the simplest solution possible for your problem. Then you move on to solve the next problem. After all, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.
Your web developer made some decisions in creating the site that are making it hard for your content to be found. It turns out everything from your site is being served from a single server side file. Easy for them, but tough on search engines to actually find anything. Your website sucks because of it.
3. Your website sucks because you haven't embarrassed your HiPPO into submission
The Highest Paid Persons Opinion (HIPPO) often wins battles when decisions need to be made without data. After all, that person is paid the big bucks because of their experience and instincts, so they should be making important decisions, right?
Sometimes you need to embarrass your HiPPO by introducing data to refute their opinion. Add data into the equation and you will find that the correct decisions are made with much greater frequency. Data driven arguments are like kryptonite for the HiPPO mentality.
There's a reason your HiPPO hired you. Prove it by using data to deliver a first-class website that provides a measurable impact.
4. Your website sucks because you willingly made sacrifices to deliver the site on time, but you never revisited those compromises after launch
Launching your website was hard, wasn’t it? You decided to implement less functionality, worked long hours and even pulled an all-nighter to meet a deadline… and the launch was still 2 weeks behind.
Then you launched the site and celebrated by taking a vacation.
Now you are on to another project and completely forgot about the functionality that you sacrificed in order to get the site launched.
But what about those pre-launch compromises and omissions? You still haven’t implemented them yet!
Now that the launch celebration is over, head back to your computer and get the website finished. Don't forget about those minor sacrifices you've made. Your site will be thankful.
5. Your website sucks because you let your designer's ego gets in the way
Great design is hard to ignore and a cornerstone of a great website. But you put too much faith in the designer. You let them dictate where everything goes and enforce their will on the entire project. You hired a brilliant designer, but you let the tail wag the dog in the process.
Now you are stuck with a website that is a glorified print ad.
You need to work with your designer to create a website that incorporates all of your needs. It should be easy to navigate, visually appealing, and search engine friendly. Don't let ego's get in the way of doing the right thing.
6. Your website sucks because you used a $10 Designer and a 10 cent copywriter
You broke the budget on your designer and now you can’t afford to put content into your brilliantly designed website shell. It’s time to start outsourcing to someone in the Phillipines on oDesk, right? They speak English good!
More than any other factor, content is the key to a good website. If you do not have any content, there is no chance of ANYONE seeing the beautiful design that your designer worked so hard to create.
Well, except for your mother. She will always support you no matter how terrible your decisions.
A great copywriter will be able to deliver beautiful words that match the beauty of your design to make a site that is not only stunning, but easily found by potential customers. Budget accordingly.
7. Your website sucks because your client has never heard the word “no”
You were so afraid of your client firing you that you never told them NO when they had a bad idea. You said yes to everything and now you are in trouble! Your website sucks because you were a pushover and now your client doesn’t respect you.
Don't be afraid to say no to your client from time if it's truly in the best interest of their website. Otherwise, scary things like this will happen.
8. Your website sucks because you fail to embrace technical debt and now it looks like a NASCAR
When you keep on adding images, ads, badges and other trinkets to your website without taking anything off it starts to look like a NASCAR. This can not only affect the aesthetics of your website, but it can also cause some real problems behind the scenes through technical debt.
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The same should go for your website. For everything you add, make sure that you take something off!
9. Your website sucks because you constantly use “user experience” as a crutch, without ever consulting the user
Everyone sat in a room and decided on what was best for the user. Everyone but the actual user.
It turns out that the user experience groupthink session came with a company bias and did not appeal to the user at all. Now your website sucks.
Just because you use the internet, does not mean that you are an expert on what your users want to see. Leave the user experience up to the true users of the site. Run tests and optimize the process of getting users to the information that they want to see.
10. Your website sucks because you need to keep your Flash developers employed
Those pretty pictures fooled you again. You were drawn in by the hypnotic movement and smooth jazz playing in the background. Who cares if it doesn’t properly load on mobile devices, my cursor animates when I hover over things!
Flash is like the fats, oils and sweets of the internet development food guide pyramid. It may be tasty and irresistible, but it's still something to use sparingly.
11. Your website sucks because it is a bundle of tactics and not a strategic vision
All of the best practices in the world combined into one website is the holy grail of marketing, right? You thought that by combining what you learned on Moz, Hubspot, Smashing Magazine and sprinkling in 19 Ways Your Marketing Department Is Like “The Real Housewives” from Buzzfeed was the key to success. Now your website sucks because you tried to make a strategy out of tactics.
Tactics are like tools; they can help you gain incremental performance out of your existing strategy. But without a well defined strategy in the first place, there is nothing to improve upon.
Much like how before you purchase a calculator you need to learn how to do long division, you need to decide upon a strategy before you can implement tactics .
12. Your website sucks because your Mobile strategy is… “do we really need this to work on mobile devices?”
Yes, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 was supposed to be the year of mobile, so it has been hard to gauge exactly when you should get serious about mobile.
Yet when you look at the mobile visitor growth for nearly every website that has been in existence for 5+ years, the patterns look like this:
It turns out that while you were waiting for a particular year to be your mobile savior, looking at a longer timeline helps you realize that you are in the decade of mobile.
Yes, you really need to start considering the mobile experience of your website.
13. Your website sucks because you call your web analytics “Stats”
The last time your CMO was current on website measurement techniques, the only metric available in their “stats” package was website hits. As a result, they expect your reports to look like this:
While this might have been acceptable in 2004, it is embarrassing in 2014 to report on the stats of your website. If you are stuck in legacy reporting and focused on stats and hits, you can kiss meaningful analysis goodbye.
A lot has changed in the past 10 years, with Google Analytics leading the way. Collecting massive amounts of website visitor data is now something that you can do for free. Turning raw data into institutional knowledge is a sure fire way to get your website to suck less.
14. Your website sucks because you don’t have dedicated landing pages for PPC
Nobody seems to understand that sending visitors to the existing product pages of your website is like flushing money down the toilet. Introducing dedicated landing pages will reduce your advertising spend and generate far more leads, but you can’t get anyone to buy-in.
Your web developers tell their bosses that they can build a landing page platfrorm that is better than Leadpages or Unbounce… and they can get it done in 30 days. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your home-spun proprietary landing page platform will never be as good as the commercially available products on the market today.
15. Your website sucks because you lost the scent trail
Have you clicked on your PPC ads lately? Were you aware that your ads and landing pages don’t match? Seriously, how do you expect your customers to purchase anything if the ad they click on says “50% off your next purchase” and the landing page says “Meet my dog, Spot”?
Your website sucks because your landing pages don’t deliver on the promises of your paid search ads. There’s no faster way to lose confidence from your prospective customers (and real money in the process) than to throw money at chasing users away from your business.
16. Your website sucks because you try to get to home base on the first date
Have you ever bought a product or service online without doing thorough research? Of course not. You read online reviews, asked friends on Facebook and even checked for negative experiences before purchasing.
Then what makes you think that you can convince other consumers to purchase from you on your first introduction?
Like every relationship, sales take time. Don't set out to go all the way the first time someone visits. Guide them through the process until you reach that point where a relationship naturally happens.
17. Your website sucks because it doesn’t match your customer
It wasn’t your idea to design your site in hot pink and neon green, but you didn’t exactly say no either to the ironically retro design.
Why did you think that this design was a good idea for a website tailored to senior citizen? They don’t appreciate the irony and the colors literally make their eyes hurt.
Don't let your aspirations of perfect website design interfere with the needs of your customer. Not every brand needs to be a designer showcase, and not every customer will appreciate your bold choices.
When your website does not match the personality of your customer, you are doing much more harm than good. Just another reason why your website sucks.
18. Your website sucks because your coming soon section still has an animated under construction graphic
If this exists on your website, fix it. Spend one hour a day writing content for your empty pages and you will fill all of your content gaps within a few weeks.
19. Your website sucks because your blog was last updated in 2005
When you consistently go years between updates to the blog on your website, what message are you sending to potential customers? You are telling them that you will also neglect their problems!
Providing no message to your prospective customers is sending the wrong message. Start updating your blog once a month or get rid of your blog altogether. The SEO benefits of updating your blog are too good to ignore.
20. Your website sucks because your site navigation mimics your corporate strategic plan
Your users get lost more than people using Apple maps. They are more likely to die in a Siri fueled accident than clicking on the prominent navigational links on your site.
Nobody clicks on any of your links because they don’t care! If your navigation system is one big pat on your corporate back, that’s just another reason why your website sucks.
Your internal search engine has thousands of searches for what your visitors really want. Reward them by making these most common search terms a part of your navigation.
Space Jam was created in 1996, so they have an excuse. There is no excuse for making these mistakes in 2014!
21. Your website sucks because it can’t remember who I am
I have been to your website like 50 times man, how is it that you treat me like some pedestrian window shopping nobody every time I visit? DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?
Image found here.
22. Your website sucks because children are conceived and born faster than your web release schedule
Remember that website improvement you suggested in 2012? There are children who were conceived, born, moved to solid foods and started walking since your brilliant idea. If the cycle of life moves faster than your web development cycle, then it’s a pretty good sign that your website sucks.
Your website is a crime…
… and you are the only Sheriff in town. What are you going to do to prevent these crimes from happening again?