Why most websites fail: The ultimate definitive numbered list of reasons

1. No website strategy

A website strategy is essential if you have set out to build a successful website. While this term may seem like managerial speak or corporate lingo, you will get lost in the process if you don’t create the strategic document. Why?

Because today’s websites are complex creations, light years away from how they were designed and developed for years:

The first version of Amazon's websiteThe 1st version of Amazon website. State-of-the-art 1995 web design.

Today’s successful websites involve a lot of planning and team members: designer, developer, marketer. These three are just the skeleton crew, even if it’s a small website that we’re talking about. Big, high-traffic websites involve teams that are composed of dozens of specialists. And if you’ve got no clear process, you’re bound for failure.

2. Company-oriented instead of customer-oriented

If you want to ruin your website, put yourself first. Not your customer! There are two ways to go about it:

1. Make sure that the first thing your visitors see when they arrive on your homepage is a huge heading in humongous, ultra-bold letters that says:

“We are [insert your company’s name here]”

Or

“We are a [insert pretentious and clever adjectives here] agency”.

Nobody gives a rat’s ass about you or your agency company. All they care about is what you can do for them.

2. Be like that dude in marketing dept. that has coerced the web team to plaster the company’s logo all over the place.

In fact, this is just the visual counterpart of #1.

3. Zero market research done

If you or your client are in business for some time, chances are you know your target audience well. You can definitely do more research to get to know your potential customers even better. But if you’re starting from scratch, you better do your homework or you’ll fail.

The web allows you to do a huge amount of market research for free. Googling, social listening, blog and forum research, you name it. But still, few are those who are willing to go through it. It’s not fun, I know, but get off your lazy butt and do it.

4. No clear messaging

A lot of websites either:

  • Try to come across as clever or
  • Have unclear messages.

Your prospective customers don’t know and don’t care about your internal company lingo and jokes.

Clearly and unambiguously state what you can do for them and you’ll be fine.

5. No differentiation whatsoever

Google “Welcome to our website”. You will get about half a billion results:

Welcome to out website Google SERP

I mean, come on.

Do you see this message on massively successful websites like eBay, Google?

The same goes for brick and mortar stores: The first thing they hit you with are the products which are strategically placed near the shop’s entrance. You don’t see a huge “Welcome to our store” banner above the main entrance.

And please, please, don’t put your dogs as team members on the “About us” page.

6. Your website isn’t optimised for the 800-pound gorilla

That’s right, for Google. Sure, there are other search engines around, but we are all more than aware of the big G. Heck, they turned their brand into a verb. Try to compete with that.

Of course, if you are building a website for Russian or Chinese markets, you will optimize it for Yandex and Baidu, respectively. But since what you’re reading now is in English, Google is the way to go. That’s also true for most of the other languages. Sigh.

* End mini rant *

This basic optimisation is sometimes called technical SEO. This means:

  • Https – go secure.
  • Speed – aim for page loading times under 3 seconds.
  • Open Graph meta data – make people want to click that link when you share it on social networks.
  • Schema.org snippets – increase your chances of getting seen on Google.

7. No one can find it

I had a few clients whose websites were so badly built that you couldn’t find them when you googled their brand. Try matching that!

The remedy to that is local SEO. It’s far more easy to do than global SEO. For starters, do these 3 things:

1. A little keyword research can go a long way! Find out what your ideal audience is searching for. Then optimise your web page titles, meta descriptions, schema.org JSON+LD snippets, Open graph meta data, body headings, ALT attributes and file names of images.

2. Make your contact data and location clearly visible. Make it easy for your website visitors to contact you.

3. Use Google My Business and local business directories to place your business on the map.

It’s not rocket science.

8. The website’s mobile version sucks

This happens because:

  • The designer/owner tries to get the same look & feel as possible on mobile as on the desktop version.
  • Cluttered screen – sticky headers, footers, chat boxes…
  • You can read “War and Peace” while the page finishes loading.
  • Everybody loves the horizontal scrollbar <3

9. Stopping after launch

You have finally launched your website – it has great content, appealing design that converts and functions seamlessly. And you stop there.

No, this is where it begins: test, test, test!

Use analytics and behaviour tracking tools to see what your website visitors are up to. Never cease to improve. Conversion rate can always be increased.

10. Single-digit traffic

There are 3 or 4 visits to your website on any given day, and all that traffic is generated by you. When it spikes to one more visit, it’s from that old acquaintance that you met and showed her your website on your smartphone. Wait… that’s also a visit from me, myself & I.

You want traffic?

Execute any of the following:

  • Paid advertising campaigns
  • Social media campaigns
  • SEO & content marketing (this one is a long-term strategy, but it’s second to none)

You can be the best in the world at what you do, but if no one is aware of your website’s existence, you’ll fail.

11. Usability catastrophe

You made an effort or hired a good digital marketing agency and the traffic is pouring in. But lo and behold, no one’s buying, reading articles, there are no calls or newsletter subscriptions.

Check if any of these apply:

The design is made for showing off and not for conversion

This can mostly be summed up in two words: Avoid animations.

Conventions are disregarded

Conventions exist for a purpose: to make our lives easier. Use them or lose visitors.

No, your website isn’t unique or revolutionary just because you have made the standard hamburger menu icon into an invisible, two non-equal-length-line error on the screen.

Yes, blame the designer again.

Aesthetics precede usability

Don’t be deceived by nice looks: Some websites seem usable, while they’re not. A lot of “clean”, minimalistic websites look like beautiful picture books, but your visitors can’t find their way around them.

Don’t get me wrong, if you get beauty and usability, you’re a winner. You should always think conversion first, beauty second. Great designers are those who can marry the two.

CTA mimicry

The CTAs (calls to action – mostly buttons) are blending with the background.

You want your visitors to click that button? Make it big and in high contrast with the rest of the page!

Gibberish navigation labels

I have seen a website that labeled a main menu link “Experience” instead of “Features”. And also, that link led to the homepage.

Make it clear what will happen when a visitor clicks on a link!

Poor website structure

Take an A4 and sketch your website structure on it. It will take you a few minutes and you’ll visualise your structure – the website’s information architecture. And no, don’t use an app to do it. Get acquainted with your hand (it’s not what you just thought).

A clear website structure makes the visitor feel confident – they always know where they are. This is especially important for huge websites with thousands of pages and dozens of sections.

Unreadability

Make your visitors’ eyes hurt! Use any of the following, or better yet, combine them:

  • Light-gray text on white background
  • Fonts are too small
  • Fonts are too thin

You will get rid of your website visitors for good.

12. Filler content

If you’re going to write 300-word articles just for the sake of publishing frequency, don’t bother. Great content takes time to create. It entails research, being knowledgeable about the subject matter and knowing how to write for the web. Thorough, well-written articles are at least 1.000 words long.

A great study on search engine rankings showed that 95% of all pages have zero backlinks! No wonder – when was the last time you have read a truly interesting article?

13. You’re cheap

Never ever hire just one person to build your website. Why?

Because it’s far more probable that you’ll encounter a yeti while being struck by lightning, than you’ll find the mythical all-in-one designer who also happens to be a developer and a web marketer.

Like any other product, a high-quality website doesn’t come cheap. Perhaps it was just pixel pushing 20 years ago. Today, website building is a complex discipline. Don’t expect to get a great website if you have hired a student to do it. The pros are those who have spent years designing, coding or marketing websites.

Also, don’t rent cheap hosting.

14. Quality assurance… is this something edible?

Once your website is live, double-check everything:

  • Click on every link to see that there aren’t any broken ones.
  • See how your website looks in every major browser (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Edge).
  • See how it looks on every mobile browser.
  • Test the functionality of every form, shopping cart, comments section, etc.

A web page that looks broken, even if it’s functioning, will turn off visitors immediately. It generates instant distrust.

The same goes for any feature that’s expected to work, but isn’t.

On the web, competition is just around the corner – one click away. So make sure that your website looks good and works properly.

15. Ego

The good ol’ ego wreaks havoc in every known industry. Website building is no exception.

1. Don’t get emotionally attached to your website’s design. Always keep in mind that your website is a means to an end – in most cases, a medium that brings you profit.

2. Just because you are successful in many aspects of your life, it doesn’t mean that you understand the value of content or principles of good UI design. This is especially important for entrepreneurs.

Conclusion: Leave website building to professionals.

It’s still a mystery to me why people don’t meddle in an electrician’s or plumber’s work, but they do in a web designer’s.

There is a saying: Everyone thinks they can be a designer or a DJ. Just because you can see and hear, it doesn’t mean that you can actually design a website or entertain people at a party.

16. Website left to rot

Technology changes and you should keep pace with it if you wish to maintain a healthy, successful website. Think not? Do you remember when the first iPhone came out? Responsive web design ensued. Millions of websites lagged behind, being made for desktop only. Responsiveness is a normal thing now.

So, keep up to date. Pay attention to new developments in technology and trends in design. Keep your content actionable and interesting.

And for heaven’s sake, don’t try to be innovative if you’re not a world-class designer. It’s much better (and profitable) to be a trendwhore than trying to be a trendsetter.