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bad-website-designI’m a stickler when it comes to things like website navigation and customer usability. I don’t know if it’s just my nature or the years I spent working in consumer behavior research, but my opinion of a brand, its products or services, its customer service and the overall brand experience is largely affected by how closely each of those factors is geared toward what’s best for the end user.

I know that I’ve personally reached a point where I immediately downgrade any business that doesn’t have a website. I will add, however, that having either a poorly designed website or a highly frustrating website is usually just as much of an online marketing sin.

A recent local website “find” started off looking very promising. The site included great photography, had strong, branded imagery and gave off a trendy, cool vibe that matched the interior of the restaurant.

But after that first visual impression, my opinion quickly changed.

For starters, the Facebook icon on their site was linked to a personal Facebook profile instead of a fan page. Not only is it against Facebook’s terms to use a personal profile for a business, users are much more likely to connect with a fan page through a simple LIKE vs granting Friend privileges to a business (along with access to all their personal data.)

Second, the site had music auto-playing upon page load. This is a common peeve for many website visitors. Some people have their own music playing and don’t want that interrupted. Others may be viewing a site while at work, so the auto-play music tips off co-workers that non-work web browsing is underway. Some simply may not like the music selection you chose, so having music on your website could generate a negative feeling for those people toward your brand.

Third, the text on the site was in need of some editing. For example, 12 noon is 12:00 P.M., not A.M. Basic editing of content, grammar and punctuation doesn’t take long and can have a huge impact on how your brand is perceived.

By far the most frustrating piece was that the hours of operation were nowhere to be found.

Not on the home page.

Not in the footer area.

Not on the Contact page.

Basically, the days and times the restaurant was opened for business were not listed on the first 3 places the average person would look.

After a lengthy search, I happened to catch a line about their Saturday hours out of the corner of my eye. It was then that I studied each image that was part of a rotating series of photos on their home page. Sure enough, after 5 more photos flashed by, I spotted their business hours.

Having a hip, sleek or trendy-looking website might be at the top of the wish list you hand over to your designer, but fancy extras like Flash features, rotating photo widgets and auto-play music may not deliver the benefits you had hoped for. While an updated, fresh looking website reflects positively on your brand, so does a distraction-free, easily navigable website with easy-to-find information.

Be careful to not lose sight of the basics when designing your business website. And always, ALWAYS have your customers’ best interests in mind.

*Photo credit dubblethinkdesign