You’ve finally made the decision: You need a website. Whether you’re selling products or services, maintaining an online presence is important to any business plan. If your customers can’t find you online, they will go with someone they can.

But throwing together a site is not enough. If you want to attract website traffic and keep visitors engaged, you need to avoid some of the most common mistakes and follow some Web design best practices.

Mistake: No Easily Discernible Purpose to the Site

One of the most common mistakes that Web designers make is creating a beautiful, functional site — that no one understands. When someone clicks on your site, he or she should be able to tell in seconds what it’s all about. Whether you use a tagline, headings on pages or offer hints through graphics, users shouldn’t have to search for information. You don’t want your customers to leave the site with more questions than answers, so consider what users are looking for in a website and provide it on yours.

Mistake: Ignoring Good Design

If you know how to make your own website, chances are you’re going to have fun playing with all of the options to make your page stand out. However, the most successful websites (those that get the most traffic) are those that focus on giving visitors what they need, not attempting to entertain or impress them. When you’re designing your site, pay attention to the principles of good design: Use no more than two or three attractive, easy-to-read fonts, avoid harsh or hard-to-read colors and skip the music or unnecessary animations. Keep your pages clean and easy-to-read; don’t be afraid to incorporate white space into your design.

Mistake: Limited or Ineffective Search Functions

One reason that people use the Web is to save time. If they have to spend two hours scouring your site for information, then your site isn’t doing its job. Designing the site for easy navigation is important, but you also need to consider search functionality. If you are using a business website builder, choose one that includes a search function and test the functions before going live. Avoid overly literal search engines that don’t account for typos or punctuation or variants of common search terms.


Mistake: Browser Windows, Pop-Ups and Other Annoyances

One axiom in Web design is “Don’t break the back button.” In other words, users should be able to click back to the previous page. Some designers mistakenly believe that having every new page open in a new window keeps users on the site, but this tends to have the opposite effect, sending visitors away. The same goes for pop-ups. Almost everyone has some type of pop-up blocker on their computer these days and even if your pop-up is requested, it will be blocked, frustrating the user.

Mistake: Poor Writing

Writing for the Web is different than print. Online visitors want clear and concise compelling content that’s easy to read — no long blocks of text or otherwise boring content. Good website copy includes short paragraphs set off by subheads and bulleted lists, making the page easily scannable. Keep the content simple and searchable — and you’ll keep visitors on your site longer.

Creating an effective website is not necessarily difficult, but it does require attention to detail and knowledge of how people use websites as well as what they want out of their Internet experience. As you start to work on your site, start looking at other sites in your industry. Make notes of what works and what doesn’t. By incorporating some of the Web design practices into your site, you should see the results you want — making your site a valuable addition to your business and marketing efforts.

Owen Carmichael launched his first website as a high school student, using a free website builder. Today, he works at a New York–based Web design firm helping companies of all sizes improve their online presence.

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