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The top five website errors committed by Aussie SMEs

Thursday, 15 November 2012 | By Michelle Hammond

While even our lumbering retail giants are, albeit reluctantly, beginning to embrace the digital world, it appears that the online progress of Australian small businesses is a little patchy.

 

This week saw the latest report card on how Aussie SMEs are doing online. A survey by design firm Snap found that 29% of the nation’s small firms don’t have a website, with nearly half of those that have an online presence waiting a ponderous six months before taking the plunge.

 

The research follows previous studies that show the proportion of website-less businesses could be as high as 50%.

 

Similarly, an Optus poll in May found that just 18% of SMEs offer mobile apps, although 48% say they plan to do so.

 

With the value of online transactions set to balloon to $37 billion in Australia next year, it’s perhaps surprising that so many small businesses are reluctant to invest in a new website.

 

But Snap’s research uncovered reasons why small firms may be wary of online. Businesses with websites reported that they encounter a number of problems, which may put off the uninitiated.

 

Here are the top five website errors committed by Australian small businesses, along with what to do about them:

 

 

1. Confusing navigation

 

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The basics of enabling customers to find their way around a website is the biggest headache for small businesses, according to the study, with 65% identifying it as a major issue.

 

If you are really struggling with this, it’s probably time to get outside help to avoid wasting your time and money.

 

While navigation (65%) is the major issue for most websites, ill-conceived design (42%), spelling mistakes (29%), unnecessary website downtime (29%) and broken links/error 404 messages (24%) also prove to be bugbears.

 

Stephen Edwards, CEO of Snap, says: “I think a lot of people designing websites don’t know where they need to go or what they need to ask. People receiving the brief are often backroom technicians.”

 

“I see a lot of websites and it’s about function versus look and feel, so it’s a very conflicting story.”

 

“Deal with a professional that has a bit of history in the market. Go to people who have credibility.”

 

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2. Ill-conceived design

 

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Shabby-looking sites will immediately put off consumers, who are just a couple of easy clicks away from your rivals. Worryingly, 42% of SMEs say that they have problems with their site design.

 

Bad design doesn’t just deter people who visit your site, it also has negative search engine implications.

 

“With a poorly designed site, Google algorithms just don’t become as relevant,” says Edwards.

 

“You end up getting not where you need to be. SEO is important but you need to have a link.”

 

Get the basics right – design a clean, uncluttered site that clearly states the purpose of your business.

 

To help you out, here are five key site design trends businesses are embracing. It may even be worth crowdsourcing a good designer.

 

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3. Spelling mistakes

 

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Concern over spelling mistakes is, at 29%, the joint third most common website woe suffered by small businesses.

 

These errors can creep in at the end of a long development process, according to Snap.

 

Some of these sites drag on [when they’re being built] and people get a bit of fatigue in the process and eventually just say, ‘Let’s get this done’,” says Edwards.

 

Get someone to proofread all the copy on your website and get friends and family to test it, to ensure there are no amateurish bugs that you’ve missed.

 

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4. Unnecessary website downtime

 

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Website downtime is a problem that bothers another 29% of SMEs. It’s vital that you carefully consider where your site is hosted.

 

Is your provider reliable? Does it offer tight security against cyber-attacks, which are becoming increasingly common for small firms? Are they responsive when things go wrong?

 

“This is very important when you’re deciding who you may go to,” says Edwards. “You need to assess where it’s hosted and what it means.”

 

“What’s the clout of the provider to get it fixed? That almost should be part of the quote. It’s a risk profile you do at the front-end.”

 

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5. Broken links or error 404 messages

 

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Nothing quite beats a broken link or error message to drive away potential customers in frustration.

 

Worryingly, 24% of small business websites regularly have a problem with these kinds of errors, again underlining the need to thoroughly audit and test your site as you build it.

 

“It just portrays you may have bought a cheap site or you may be a small entity, because people associate that with your company,” says Edwards.

 

“You need a checklist to go off when building a website. List the things that could happen, and treat it like a shopping checklist.”