Have you ever wondered if your website may be suffering from bad design? You might suspect that something’s not working, but before you go making changes, you want to pinpoint the root cause. But that can be hard when you’re not a professional web designer.
I’ll discuss what warning signs to watch out for. With each sign, I’ll discuss practical tips to improve your website and attract more traffic, keep those website visitors around, and attract the good-fit customers to your business.
Low web traffic is one of the ways to know that your web design isn’t working.
Sometimes your first sign that your website has a problem is that you’re not getting enough traffic. If you are getting little to no visitors, it could be a problem with your website content. This isn’t really a design issue if the traffic is never getting to you in the first place– but it’s important. Check out the content marketing guide to get ideas on what to write about and get more traffic moving to your website.
Use Google Analytics or other traffic analytics, and Google Search Console to track your website traffic
In order to know for sure how much traffic your website is getting, you should definitely have some kind of analytics installed.
Traffic analytics is software that you install on your website that keeps track of how many visitors you get, whereabouts they are from, and how they engage with your content. Tracking this kind of thing is super important to understanding how well your website is working, and it’s vital for implementing the rest of the solutions that I have included in this guide.
Most websites already have some kind of analytics installed. By far the most dominant solution is Google Analytics, partly because it is free of charge to use– but that doesn’t make it the best solution.
Google Analytics is simple to install, but complex to use. It tracks many, many data points, and it requires a lot of legal disclosures in order to comply with privacy laws in the United States. In fact, it tracks the user so closely that it’s illegal in the European Union . That means if you are marketing to anyone in the EU, you must comply with their law (GDPR)– even if you are not inside the EU yourself.
Beyond that, many states within the USA are also adopting their own versions of privacy laws that require disclosures if you want to use Google’s analytics software.
Keep your business in compliance with applicable privacy laws by using a privacy-first analytics solution.
For that reason, I’m using a different tool called Fathom Analytics on all my websites going forward. This isn’t an affiliate post and I’m not making any money off this recommendation: I just feel better about recommending it. So it’s something I include in my care plan at no extra charge. A perk is that if you use Fathom, you don’t have to disclose anything about analytics in that annoying cookie banner at the bottom of your home page.
Fathom analytics can tell you which countries your users are coming from, which pages they first landed on, average time that users stayed on the website, how many pages they visited per session– all the really actionable metrics, without the overwhelm.
Besides traffic analytics, you can also use Google Search Console. Using this one doesn’t require having Google Analytics installed: it just tells you how your website is showing up in the search results of Google. Here’s a handy guide to show you how to get it set up on your website from the blog Hubspot.
Another bad sign: analytics show that website visitors aren’t sticking around very long
One of the ways that search engines evaluate your website is its “stickiness“. This is a measure of how engaged visitors are with your content. When it comes to websites, the stickier, the better.
Have you ever clicked a search result and then immediately hit the back button? That is what’s called a “bounce,” and your bounce rate is one measure of the stickiness of your page.
Some typical reasons for a very high bounce rate:
- Poor Performance: Most users are going to hit the back button if they don’t see content loaded in the first couple of seconds. So if there’s any competition for what you’re offering, you need to be sure that your website loads quickly. Otherwise, users are simply going to go back to the search results and click the next link.
- Bad user experience: Content that moves around too much while it’s loading, or immediately starts showing ads even before the user scrolls, is frustrating. This will cause many to abandon your website.
- Content doesn’t immediately look relevant to the search query: Sometimes your helpful, relevant content is simply behind bad design choices.This might be because you are using carousels or slideshows to display content. Studies (and likely your own experience, too) tell us that visitors like to simply scroll and scan through content, especially on mobile. But carousels/slideshows hide important content, and show it either on a timer or when the user interacts with it by swiping or clicking.
Another reason could be that important text or images are too far down the page. Sure, scrolling isn’t hard– and it’s usually the first thing people do– but if your field is competitive, why not reassure the user they are in the right place by placing important content at the top of the screen?
What if your website is generating very few leads?
Do you have enough traffic, but a contact form, a phone number, or signup form that is not producing many leads? That means that you may need to work on your calls to action.
Calls to action, frequently abbreviated “CTAs,” tell users what they should do as they move through your website. Having more than one is normal. After all, users may be at different stages of the buying process as they move through your website. But try to limit CTAs to one prominent call to action per page.
On your home page, that CTA might be a button in a contrasting color accompanied by a short, powerful “promise” statement. The promise statement is the immediate offer. For example, a dog trainer might promise that you can enjoy walking your dog through the neighborhood without stress.
Tip: Don’t say “Click Here,” “Join,” or “Contact Us.” Instead, use vigorous, descriptive verbs that tell the user exactly what will happen when they take action, like “Book a 30 minute consultation.”
Use different CTAs for different stages of the buyer’s journey.
The “buyer’s journey” might sound a bit hokey, but it just means that the customer needs to move from awareness, to interest, to desire, to action.
The buyer’s journey is also known as the marketing funnel. The top or mouth of the funnel is wide, getting all of the leads that you can. The top of the funnel can be whatever way the customer becomes aware:
- organic search engine results
- a pay-per-click ad campaign
- social media
- a physical ad
- seeing your signage in real life
For example, a customer might become aware of a dog trainer after seeing an ad on social media. Later– perhaps seeing the ad a second time– they might be interested in the prospect of enjoying a drama-free walk through their neighborhood with their dog, and click through to the website.
On the dog trainer’s website, they might desire to book a training session after seeing all the success stories featured there. And finally, they take action by clicking the CTA button that says “Book a consultation.”
To move customers along through the funnel to action, it helps to put yourself in their shoes and walk through each page of your website.
Home page: Your home page can be tricky because you don’t know where they are at in the funnel. They might have clicked an ad and are just becoming aware or interested, or they might have searched for you specifically and are farther along. So it helps to pick an action that represents the stage most of your customers might be at and have that be the most prominent action they see before scrolling.
But you also want to add reinforcing and motivating content, like a sample of (and link to) your About page, a glowing testimonial, some frequently asked questions to overcome objections, and trust indicators like third parties you work with, awards, or qualifications. Any CTAs in these sections would be about learning more to move the customer to desire.
Interior pages: About pages, Galleries, Services, and other interior pages should also have clear, prominent CTAs. Likely, as your customer has moved through to these pages, they will be farther along, so your CTA may focus on the final action you want them to take, like booking the appointment or making the purchase.
Get more leads by keeping in touch with customers who are earlier in their journey
What if the customer doesn’t move all the way through the funnel on their first visit? Some purchases are a bigger investment, whether it’s because they’re more expensive, take more time to purchase (if you need to book a consult, for instance), are a bigger effort, or because they require more education to see how they will benefit.
Having a mailing list can help recover those customers. If they aren’t motivated enough to pull the trigger on your ultimate goal, they may still be interested enough to sign up for your mailing list.
It’ll take more than a simple “Join our mailing list,” though, in all likelihood. You will need to offer a benefit in return. A dog trainer, to return to that example, might put together a simple PDF document outlining a calming routine for a dog who is overreacting to some stimuli. This is called a lead magnet. Your new lead magnet will accomplish 3 important goals:
- Entices the on-the-fence visitor to join your mailing list
- Establishes you as an expert
- Changes the relationship from selling to helping, increasing trust
The lead magnet should be a quick-win, actionable tip, no more than two or three well designed pages. It’s not a huge knowledge dump; it shouldn’t be something that will attract do-it-yourselfers who aren’t in the market to pay for someone’s help.
Your website needs to look trustworthy and credible to generate leads.
Avoid any kind of mistake. That means no error codes, from your website or your web host. No typos. No grammar mistakes. No broken images, and no broken links.
All information should be current. Do you have a ‘copyright’ notice in your website footer? What does the year say? If it doesn’t mention the current year, change it right away. Do you have a blog? If you haven’t updated your blog in over a year, remove all the datelines from the posts (and make sure that your content itself isn’t obviously dated).
Associate yourself with third party trusted sources. This can be your local chamber of commerce, big recognizable brand names you’ve worked with, or even the Better Business Bureau or other recognizable names.
Feature customer reviews. You want people who visit your website to know, like, and trust you. What better way than by featuring the personal experiences of those who’ve already done business with you? These reviews and testimonials can convince customers that you’re worth the price you charge, because you will reliably deliver what they need.
You don’t have to take my word for it– I’ve adapted the tips in this section from a Stanford University research paper which lists 10 guidelines for credible websites. You can read what makes a credible website here.
Another sign your website is in trouble: Poor quality, bad-fit leads
If you’ve made it this far, maybe your website has a) enough traffic and b) visitors are sticking around long enough to follow your calls to action and contact you, but…
They’re bad leads.
A bad lead might be confused about what you offer (which could be a content problem), or more often, they’re just a bad fit for your business. If your bad leads push back on prices, the fault might lie in your website. Is it sending the wrong message about your business? If your service or product is high-end, is your website making it look like the “budget option”?
In a way, good website design is like a velvet rope around an exclusive club. The velvet rope turns away bad-fit customers.
Customers, or potential customers, make snap decisions based purely on the appearance of your website. These decisions may not even be conscious. The customer might have no idea why they feel how they feel. But these snap decisions are powerful, and not easy to reverse.
Avoiding bad design is critical
Having a professional looking web design is important. But how can you know if your website has bad design if you’re not a designer?
Simply put, good design follows certain rules. That’s right– art may be subjective, but design isn’t. That doesn’t mean your website needs to look like everyone else’s, because there’s a lot of room for style within the rules. But check your website for the following elements to see whether it’s following the rules.
Fonts should be easily readable, and convey the personality of your brand. Serif fonts are traditional, and trustworthy; sans-serif fonts are modern and clean.
Ideally your design will feature two fonts, one for headings and one for body text. Sometimes a third can sneak in as an accent for text that’s not critical to the message– but keep in mind every font you add makes your site take longer to load. Websites that have too many fonts also tend to look messy and disorganized.
Colors should convey feelings you want customers to associate with your business, and be used in a way that ensures content is easy to access. For example, red text on a chartreuse background is a bad idea as it’s hard to read.
A great layout uses visual elements to keep customers interested enough to stick around to hear your whole pitch. For example, say you have a number of services and you’re listing them in a two-column layout. One column has an image, and the other column has the headline and a paragraph or two of description. The first item may have the image on the left, on the next item should have the image on the right. This arrangement gives the reader a little hit of “novelty” and encourages them to continue scrolling. Small, but it works!
A good layout also tells your users what’s most important. Headline text is larger and has space around it (but not too much space that distances the headline from its associated content). Other text can be bolded, colored more brightly or more muted to draw or deflect the eye, depending on how important it is.
Images should be high quality and add meaning to your text content. High quality means that they shouldn’t be pixelated or low-resolution, or with the wrong aspect ratio for the space. Image styles– for example, illustrations and photos– shouldn’t be mixed.
Good design makes customers stick around longer, and enables you to charge what you’re worth without pushback. Great design will make them genuinely delighted to pay whatever it costs!
If it feels like you’ve hit an invisible wall and you’re not sure why your website isn’t attracting qualified customers– or any leads at all– be sure to check out my guide “7 Reasons Your Website Isn’t Working (And How to Fix It)”. Just drop your details below. You can decide whether or not we’ll keep in touch– you’re not obligated at all!