Top 5 Most Common Website Mistakes

By Ian Frost | 4 March 2020

Tags: security, search engine optimisation, performance, web development

It has never been easier than ever to build and host your own website. But the modern web is full of pitfalls for people who do not have a technical background. Make sure you’re not losing valuable traffic with these common problems that people make with their websites.

5. Having a poor international experience by not using a content delivery network (CDN)

For many sites, their audience is global. This means that the user experience for your website will be reasonable in the country you host it, and pretty poor everywhere else in the world. Unless you specifically build a high performance global website and test from external sources, you may not even realise how bad this problem can be. Failing to measure real user behaviour (See mistake #2) can hide how poorly your site performs internationally.

Luckily there is an easy solution to this problem. Use a high quality CDN to move your content closer to your audience wherever they might be and improve load times dramatically for global audiences.

4. Missing out on the majority of mobile visitors by not being mobile-first (or even responsive)

The trend towards mobile continues every year, especially if your audience are average consumers or come from a social media channel. Many sites are at least responsive, meaning they adjust the layout to fit the size of the screen. And if your site only works on desktop you need to fix that immediately.

But how many sites truly have beautiful designs that are built for the narrow width of the average mobile device? Too often, mobile design is an afterthought where the content just becomes vertically stacked but things like font size, navigation, pop ups or animations don’t work as they should. This one won’t apply to everyone, but if you know your audience is mostly mobile you need to nail your mobile design.

3. Degrading security and search ranking by not using HTTPS and redirecting to a single subdomain

These days using encryption is extremely important to being ranked well and to have reasonable credibility. This means your site should only be viewed over HTTPS or you will be penalised in terms of search ranking, and open your visitors up to man-in-the-middle attacks and potential information theft.

You don’t need to put your website on the www subdomain and most importantly, if your site is available with multiple subdomains google can treat them as completely different sites and cut your effective search ranking.

Use mandatory redirects from HTTP to HTTPS and from any subdomain such as www to your root domain.

2. Missing out on observing real user behaviour by failing to gather as much data as possible

Just collecting Google Analytics stats and looking at them every few months is no longer enough. You need to be obsessed with accurately measuring and understanding what is actually happening on your website or you are left guessing and relying on your own opinion (and you are biased to think it is great or you would have changed it already) or the false-positive feedback of people in your network who will never be as brutally honest as a stranger.

Use session recording like FullStory or Hotjar to have your mind blown as to the real world behaviour of your audience. If you are only relying on statistical tools like Google Analytics you are missing so much information.

Do this immediately if you are not already!

Be measuring in at least these three dimensions:

1. Where people come from and EXACTLY what did they click on?

When measuring where people come from, you need to look both at the channel eg social, organic search, paid search, to understand what channels are generating the most traffic for your investment of time and money. You also need to look carefully at what exact offer or call to action got their attention and made them visit and whether they actually got what they would expect to see. For example, when they clicked on google search ad was the keyword actually related to the content they saw when they arrived? Did they search “web design” because they actually wanted to buy your web design services, or because they wanted to web design learning resources? For more information look at this article on head and tail keywords

2. What did they REALLY do once on your website in terms of behaviour and action?

Trying to answer this simple question completely transformed my view on what users were actually doing when they arrived at my site, what content was effective and engaging, and what content was ignored completely.

In short, most visitors are barely paying attention.

  • A significant percentage won’t read below the fold. These visitors landed on something different from what they expected when they clicked, or you failed to grab their attention.
  • Many visitors will ignore your navigation menu, scan the entire page and scroll to the bottom and then read bottom-up.
  • Although some will ignore the content completely and try to understand the site first by clicking around the menus
  • A few will carefully read line by line with their mouse until they either get fatigued and then leave or click a call to action

It’s amazing watching these behavioural patterns play out when you replay your visitor sessions and it will give you so much insight into how to optimise your site for these various types of people. Looking at exactly where these visitors came from along with what they did when they arrived WILL show you exactly what you need to STOP doing and what you need to DO MORE.

3. What was their experience on their device and what could be IMPROVED?

Web development is kinda hard these days mostly because of the massive variety of different browsers and devices. Getting it right for the latest version of google chrome is one thing, but handling all the variations is usually incredibly time consuming and fraught with trade-offs. Unless you have extremely experienced developers who have access to an entire room full of different devices and unlimited time, I guarantee by measuring real user sessions you will discover issues on your site for obscure devices and browsers you did not realise were even possible. Always be looking at how long it took to load and how well did the message flow for different combinations and you will be optimising your site for the broadest possible audience.

1. Losing traffic, search ranking and visitor attention by failing due to slow load time

There are many ways to measure “load time” but here we are talking about the time it takes for the page to show the first content and images so that the user can begin to understand what your page is about and have a chance to be engaged by that content. It is critical for three major reasons:

We live in an age of instant gratification.

We are increasingly becoming bombarded with marketing, content and competing messages and as a result we are paying less attention to the media we consume. A huge portion of visitors will straight up navigate away from your site if they have to spend longer than 1-2 seconds waiting for it to load. Longer than 5 seconds and you might as well be throwing away 90% of your hard-won traffic (and marketing spend)

Not everyone has fast internet (especially on mobile).

As mobile becomes the dominant access method for many industries it becomes more and more important to decrease the amount of data required to load your page and decrease the amount of computing resources required to display it. In addition, developing markets are becoming more important every year with growing middle classes and more access to disposable income. Often these markets are geographically far away with poor internet infrastructure. Never underestimate how bad the connection can be for a meaningful percentage of your audience! And if you are only testing in ideal conditions you likely will never see how frustrating their experience can be.

It is becoming one of the major metrics Google will use to rank your site.

SEO is a constantly changing battle as Google and other search providers constantly tweak and refine their algorithms. One of the biggest threats to killing your content’s ability to rank well for your target keywords is load speed.

What can you do to improve speed? This depends on the site and there are a million different ways to improve, but start by measuring with tools such as PageSpeed Insights and the most common problems will be highlighted.

Common issues causing slow load times

Using a dynamic backend (eg poorly optimised wordpress sites)

This is where the page content is loaded and rendered for every visitor, costing your more in terms of computing resources and also load time

Large unoptimised images

That beautiful full screen jpg on your home page might be 20x bigger than all the rest of the stuff you actually need. And often the size can be dramatically slashed without significantly affecting the way people perceive your site.

Huge CSS frameworks where you don’t actually use 90% of the code

This can be a common trap for developers who want to get something running quickly before they know what they will need. It’s important to audit your usage of CSS and other resources to make sure only the styles that get used to load the first page of the page are loaded first as part of the initial page [inline style in the head], and everything else is either removed or loaded asynchronously.

Loading too many plugins from vendors all over the internet

Too many tracking cookies and javascript widgets can seriously slow your site down, both because browsers will only open so many connections at one time, and because all that javascript loading can slow your page down to a noticeable crawl. Use only quality plugins that truly generate business value, and if possible host them yourselves in a minimised bundle.

Loading too many files at the same time

Most competent developers should be aware of this, but your site should use a single minified bundled CSS and JS file to improve load times and prevent too many blocking resource requests.


Want to know how to get more conversions by fixing your slow and insecure website?

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