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E Book: Why Your Website Sucks

Published on 1st June 2017

Too many people treat online marketing like putting quarters into a lotto machine at a casino. Hoping for the best, they place quarter after quarter into the machine. With no strategy, they just put money out there and hope for the best.

Here’s the problem: the Internet is vast. You’re going to have competition that will be formidable even if you sell indoor outhouses, or you own a raccoon sanctuary. You already know you need a website, but what is your strategy?

Are you gambling and losing, throwing your money into marketing and hoping for the best? Yes, occasionally a lucky gambler will hit the jackpot at the casino. The key word here is lucky. For the rest of us gambling with Internet marketing – probability tells us that the house always wins.

Internet marketing doesn’t have to be a gamble. If you understand your objectives, measure your results, rinse and repeat what works and figure out what doesn't, you can form educated decisions that will work for your website.

If you want a generic article on why your website might suck, Google is happy to offer a million saying the same things. This eBook is different. It is a drop down list of tweaks to make to your site.

It begins with the most basic concepts, like determining the purpose of your site and how to measure results, drills down into quick fixes that need to be addressed, and then discusses the things people just don’t talk about enough on the Internet, like poor copywriting, getting users to subconsciously convert, and other topics that you will find genuinely useful.

Each section starts with a problem, then a short quiz to put things into perspective for you. Hint: the correct answer is always D. Although the quiz exaggerates for entertainment, now is the time to be honest with yourself. Are you gambling and losing?

Problem Number One: Your Website is so Lazy it Won the Netflix Marathon

Before you can figure out if your website sucks, you need to figure out what it sucks at – what you want it to do that it isn’t doing. Direct your attention to question one:

Question Number One: Why Does Your Website Exist?

A. My website exists because I know I need a website.

B. My website exists so that I can make seventy kajillion dollars a year.

C. My website exists because my competitor has one.

D. My website exists to create happy customers by providing them value, to sell X number more products than I am selling now, or to improve my brand message and marketing effectiveness.

The following process can help you determine if your website sucks:

  • Make a goal that is DUMB

  • Set KPIs

  • Obtain metrics

  • Measure macroconversions

  • Break macroconversions into microconversions

To make your website suck less, do the reverse.

  • Measure your microconversions

  • Increase macroconversions by tweaking your microconversions

  • Use your measurements to form metrics

  • Adjust and redefine your KPIs with your new knowledge of site metrics

  • Make sure your KPIs fit in with your major objective.

Rinse and repeat.

Answer D is clearly the right answer but let’s look into why. Avinash Kaushik, Google Analytics guru, explains that business objectives of a website have to be DUMB.

1. Doable

2. Understandable

3. Manageable

4. Beneficial

If you already have a DUMB goal, you are already a step ahead of a lot of people on the internet. From your DUMB goal you drill down into more specific steps that it will take to accomplish this goal.

Sell more stuff means:

Do X

Improve Y

Reduce Z

Then you can measure the effectiveness of your site against each specific step.

We will start with KPIs, break them down into metrics, figure out macroconversions then microconversions.

KPI – A KPI is a key performance indicator.

KPIs should reflect the performance of your business. KPIs should measure your DUMB goal.

KPIs consist of:

  • An indicator – a measurement

  • performance – the outcome

  • key - how important the measurement is to the website.

Examples of Good KPIs:

  • Conversion rate

  • Average Order Value

  • Days and visits til purchase

  • Visitor Loyalty

Metric – A metric is a numerical measure that reflects business concepts.

For example, “purchases from an e commerce site per month” is a metric. You are measuring purchases against time. Metrics need to be aligned to the business objectives.

Just like DUMB goals, the measurements should be feasible and predictable.

Examples of Good Website Metrics:

  • Total Sessions

  • New Visitors

  • Bounce Rate

Macro Conversion – Simply the main objective you would like to see.

Examples of Macro Conversions include:

Revenue based conversions:

E-commerce order

Paid subscription

Lead or Member based conversions:

Application Form Completion

Member sign up

Inquiry based conversions:

Contact form completion

Microconversion - The actions that people take leading up to a conversion.


  • Email Sign up

  • Newsletter sign up

  • PDF download

  • A Facebook Like

Is your website not meeting its performance standards?

So, now you have your DUMB goal, your KPIs and your metrics to measure your macroconversions and microconversions. None are performing well. If your website clearly ,sucks there are some very basic, yet complex issues that might be harboring you from conversions that need to be discussed before we go on.

Here is what the problem might be:

You didn’t take the time to understand your customer.

It’s a possibility that you made the site because you thought you should. If that’s the case, you may have created the website through your eyes, not the eyes of the customer.

Perhaps your website copy is ridden with technical jargon but your target audience has only a basic understanding of what you do. Perhaps your copy is the opposite – too general and doesn’t give the user an immediate understanding of what you do. Your copy, web design and navigation scheme need to appeal to your target audience.

Do you know who your target audience is?

Once you have targeted a group of people you would like to speak to, ask yourself the following questions about these people to make your site more relevant to their needs.

  • What does your audience do online?

  • What social media sites and communities are they most active in?

  • What blogs do they follow and comment on?

  • What newsletters do they subscribe to and what other subscriptions do they have?

  • What information does your audience consume online?

  • What do they use to educate themselves?

  • What trends do they follow?

  • What tools do they use?

  • What videos and podcasts do they watch and listen to?

  • How will your customers use your product or service? How will this satisfy the itch that they need to scratch?

Take this understanding and incorporate it into your website design and copy.

We won’t go into the specifics or details of buyer personas, target audiences and speaking to these groups in their own language. It's been covered before. For great resources on this topic, check out Hubspot.com

Problem Number Two: Your Website is so Annoying I’ll Never Forget the Time I Saw it. Even though I keep trying to forget it.

You notice your bounce rate is unusually high when you look at your analytics. You have an autoplaying video, flashing graphics, and an abundance of Adsense advertisements on your home page. What is your reaction?

A. Analytics says 80% of my visitors are landing on my site during business hours. My video autoplays loudly when my visitors are trying to be discrete. It’s up to them to figure out my confusing autoplay video control, because spending the time to turn off the video is slower and less convenient than simply hitting the back button.

B. I need my Adsense revenue. I need it because people are bouncing off of my site at an obscene rate. How else am I supposed to stay afloat, actually make conversions?

C. My flashing .gif graphics are too legit to quit. My users just don’t appreciate them because they don’t own a time machine to go back to the 90s. It’s their fault. Hammer, don’t hurt them!

Note: (This is an MC Hammer reference which the readers might not get. You can simply erase the Hammer don't hurt them sentence if this is the case)

D. I realize that my visitors are bouncing because my site might be annoying and I will take the necessary measures to make it less annoying. Although I find my video, graphics and ads important, the user is what my website is all about.

Quick Fixes You Should Immediately do if Your Site is Annoying:

-Use pop ups in moderation, if at all. Don’t make them even more irritating by trying to guilt the user; a new and annoying trend. (Example: Would you like to make 20,000 a day? Click Yes! If you don’t care about money and want to be homeless, Click No.)

-If you use video, do not use autoplay. Furthermore, make the video player controls obvious and easy. Make it easier to turn the video off instead of hitting the back button.

-Don’t use stock photos. Everyone knows they are stock photos. They are pointless and annoying.

-Make your contact information obvious. Don’t make people search to contact you in order to convert. That’s annoying.

Problem Number Three: Your Website is so Ugly it Needs a Prescription Mirror

You need to incorporate some pictures into your website. You choose to:

A. Post a stock photo of a man in a tie and a construction hat smiling and giving the thumbs up. Who wouldn’t buy from that guy?

B. Use thumbnails to convey important information. Which means you will either have to cram everything into a tiny space so the entire meaning is lost or crop to a meaningful part of the picture so the full image is lost. Either way the user will have to click even more to derive any meaning from your thumbnail.

C. Post a picture of yourself at the senior prom and crop out your mother from the picture, because you had to take her.

D. Use images carefully. Make sure that they are placed on the site properly. Don’t include meaningless images, and only use visuals that convey a meaning more effectively than text can.

To make your website less ugly, take inventory of the visuals you are using. A good rule of thumb is that the pictures you use should convey information that is easier to consume than text.

Perform these tests to choose correct colors, contrast and placement:

The Desaturation Test

  • Take a screenshot of your website.

  • Use an image editing application like GIMP (free) or Photoshop (expensive) and desaturate the colors completely.

  • Find areas of images that have a lot of contrast in color but not enough in value

-Tip: the Human eye is more sensitive to value changes than color changes

  • Look for page elements that appear to blend together

-Tip: Pay special attention to text. This is a common culprit.

The Blur Test

  • Make the screenshot blurry.

  • Look at contrast in value and the mix of color saturation across screen

  • You don’t want bright complimentary colors next to each other

  • Don’t clump light and dark values together.

-Tip: An example of a good value contrast is a checkerboard pattern. The values will stand on their own, attracting the human eye.

The Upside Down Test

  • Flip your screen shot by 180 degrees

  • Draw a line straight down the middle of the page

  • See if one side feels too heavy versus the other side of the page

-Tip: An example of this might be dark imagery in a single column with only light text to balance it out

  • The upside down test is good to asses your use of space and contrast and also gives you a fresh perspective on the design of your site.

Use Priority

Proximity is when you group related items visually. It cuts down on clutter and makes your layout more organized. Place unrelated items further apart to emphasize lack of relationship.

  • Group One: Things the website can not function without

  • Group Two: Adds benefitss to the site but is not essential

  • Group Three: Supplements or underscores content

  • Group Four: Redundant elements or elements that waste space in some way (come on, you know you’ve got some).

Fix Your Priorities

  • Group Four: Eliminate these elements

  • Group Three: Consider rewording or attaching visual elements that convey the same information

  • Group Two: Reconsider how important these benefits are

  • Group One: Keep

Ugly Quick Fixes to do NOW:

  • Fix clashing colors

  • Remove obnoxious colors or colors that don’t mesh with the nature of your business (a financial business should use green, not pink)

  • Add complementary colors if the website is bland

  • Remove or re-organize text

  • Place the important information above the fold

  • Take away crappy images and replace them with charts, figures, informative videos (not on autoplay!), headers and styles, or slideshows

Problem Number Four: Your Website is so Slow It Was Late to it’s own Funeral

Google webmaster tools is advising you that your website is loading too slowly. You:

A. Throw up your hands, say “what me, worry?” and walk away.

B. Decide this isn’t a priority because your website is awesome and is totally worth the wait.

C. Decide that this isn’t a priority because it has nothing to do with keywords, so it can’t be hurting your optimization efforts.

D. Understand the importance of page load peed and take the appropriate steps to correct the issue.

C’mon. Google asks us to only do 35 things to make sure our sites are optimized. One of them is loading your webpages reasonably quickly. When people have to wait for your site to load, they become frustrated and leave.

Fixes for Slow Loading Sites or Pages:

  • Use Gzip, a tool you can grab online used for file compression. Reduce the size of CSS, HTML and Javascript files larger than 150 bytes.

  • Compress your images in a program like Photoshop. Use the right image format. Pngs are best for graphics with fewer than 16 colors. Jpegs are better for photographs. Use the image editing software to compress photos for the web.

  • Minify CSS, Javascript and HTML. Optimize the code by removing code spaces, commas and other unnecessary characters.

  • Remove code comments, formatting and unused code

  • Reduce the number of re-directs your website has

  • Look up information from Google about leveraging caching

  • Use a CSS sprite template for images you use frequently on your site like buttons and icons.

  • Look into content delivery networks – a network of servers used to distribute the load of delivering content

Problem Number Five: Your Websites is so Confusing not even Google Could Translate it

Pop Quiz: The usability expert you have hired has reported after some click tracking tests that people are confused by your site’s navigation. You decide to:

A. Blame the user. If they can’t find what they are looking for it’s not your problem.

B. Blame the usability expert. Who are they to come in and tell you your site has problems?!? It’s not like you asked them to...oh wait, you did.

C. Continue to tweak the site with your current navigation but add some ambiguous signs and signals to confuse your users more.

D. Use an organization structure to define your information, signals that are universally understood and a “story board” to guide your beloved users through each sales funnel

Congratulations, you got people to land on your site. Now they can consume your information, make the necessary steps to make a conversion, then be on their way, right? Not necessarily. If they can’t find what the are looking for, they will leave and go to the next website similar to yours. (And there are at least hundreds of websites similar to yours).

How do you help your users access important information? The thing about information is that it needs to be organized for it to be meaningful and accessible. Think about an old fashioned yellow pages phone book. If it wasn’t alphabetized and sorted, it would be full of information, but it would be useless.

The phone book is useful to us (or was, before Google) because the items it contains are ordered by at least two shared attributes, topic and alphabet. If you are looking for “Paul’s Plumbing” you know that first you want to turn to the plumbing section, then scroll down the alphabet to “P.”

This organization scheme is pretty cut and dry – alphabetical. Another cut and dry organization scheme is chronological. There can be more ambiguous organization schemes though, like information grouped by audience specificity, topic, task oriented, or metaphor based.

What does this mean for your website?

There are two main organization structures on the Internet:

  • Hierarchical – This is perhaps the most common. It’s a top down approach. Broad categories on top, branching out into sub-categories. The information becomes increasingly detailed as the categories branch out. A good example of this organization structure is an e-commerce site like Target.com

  • Hypertext – This organization chunks information in a hierarchical or non hierarchical way. An example of this might be a news site. You use the main navigation or a search box to find the information you need, then find additional resources you might be interested in by clicking on links.

Your first step to making your site’s information less confusing is to organize your pages using one of these structures. If you are sure that you have done this properly, there might be some other things confusing your users:

  • Your users don’t know how to navigate their way around your site. Use navigation tools. These tools might be used to tell users where they have been and how to get where they need to go.

To put this into perspective for you, think about the navigation tools you use every day in any web browser. You have access to basic navigational features – the back button, the forward button, access to your web history and bookmarks to find crucial or favorite websites easily.

  • Your users might not understand what you are trying to tell them. An e-commerce site might do a beautiful job organizing their information hierarchically, but they have a blank search box. Users need to know how to use the search box with cues – like a little magnifying glass.

Better yet, give your users a full understanding of what they can use the search box for with placeholder text that says “search by brand, price, category or popularity.” Keep in mind that if your site is international, users of different backgrounds might not get metaphors or signals that are used in your native country.

  • Although your website might be beautiful and artistic, the signs you are using to show users how to utilize your site might be ambiguous.

Always keep the user in mind when you are designing every aspect of your website. Don’t let your designer bully you or talk you into creating a site that is his or her vision. On the web, design is a process of exchange with the user.

Quick Tips:

-Have crucial information and must see pages? Offer multiple paths to these for your visitors to use.

-Any form of contact with a user, even a customer trying to complain about a service, is an opportunity to make a conversion or provide the user with important information. Don’t make your users have to hunt down your contact information. It should be easy to access.

-Every page on the site should have a consistent presentation and layout.

Problem Number Six– Your Copywriter is so Boring When she Watches TV the Channels Change Themselves

I can’t even think about a humorous quiz because your copywriter is putting me to sleep. They are using salesy language, re-writing other content from the web just enough to pass Copyscape and therefore providing no value, and they are BS-ing to meet your minimum requirement of 500 words by repeating the same information in a different way.

If you are at all successful online, chances are you know already you can’t hire a freelancer from a far away country that doesn’t speak English natively to do your writing. We all come across heavily optimized articles that were clearly written by someone who doesn’t speak English as their native language. Although the writing passes Microsoft Office’s basic spelling and grammar check, you can just tell from their vernacular that they are not native speakers.

The key to effective copywriting on blogs is to provide unique and helpful content. One of the most annoying things about trying to find information online is that there are pages and pages of articles basically re-writing each other with the same information.

A good idea to ensure your copywriter is drawing their research from a variety of sources and is providing unique and helpful content is to develop a detailed template. The template should at least require the copywriter to source 3-5 other websites.

This ensures that you will get a variety of information, and that the information will be valid. A good idea is to require that every fifty to one hundred words get a citation. This will guarantee that the information comes from a variety of sources, and therefore will offer more ideas and be more unique. Also, it is easier to check your copywriter’s content with a plagiarism checker like Copyscape.

Boring, re-written content that steals other writer’s ideas and re-words them comes from hiring content writers that aren’t experts in your field.

However, boring content can arise from experts in your field who take your user for granted. They may employ jargon and technical terms that can alienate the reader.

You should develop at least four templates that your copywriters should comply with. Ideas for these four might be: A “How to” B “A simple answer to a popular question C “Top Five Best Products for your Market” and D “9 reasons why” 9 can be replaced with any odd number.

Try to have your copywriter link out to 2-5 deep link directory pages directly discussing the subject. For titles, Coschedule has a great free headline feature. Urge your copywriters to achieve at least a score of 70 on this site. Finally, consider having your copywriters add a teaser to the headline for social sharing and linkbait. Example: Top Five Word Processors You Can Get for Free (Don’t Open Your Wallet Until You Read This!)

Problem Number Seven: Your Website is so Shady

Somebody asks you “Why Should I Trust You Enough to Buy Something from Your Site?” You reply:

A. Why SHOULDN’T You trust me?

B. What’s it going to take to get you into this third party shopping cart today?

C. Because I hired someone to write on my site that we offer the best price and the best service. See? It says it there right on the website. And they don’t just give websites to anyone who can pay for it.

D. You should buy from my site because 5,000 people just like you have done it already, and they are talking about how great we are on our site, social media, and even sites that have nothing to do with us.

Let’s face it. They do give websites to anyone who can pay for it. Bragging about how great you are just doesn’t cut it in today’s competitive online landscape. It’s not a great argument to tell your child, but when you are selling a good or service, you want to tell your customers “everyone else is doing it, you should do it too.”

Utilizing Social Proof to Influence Users

You may have heard of a social experimenter named Stanley Milgram. Milgram toyed around with the concept of authority and what it takes to influence human beings. In one of his lesser known experiments performed in 1969, Milgram set up an experiment to see how easy it was to influence someone into taking an action.

-One person was set up to gaze up at the sky. Milgram concluded that 40% of other people surrounding the person looking upwards also gazed up at the sky.

-Two people were set up to gaze at the sky. Now, 60% of surrounding people also looked up at the sky.

-Four people were told to gaze up at the sky. At this point 80% of the crowd surrounding the experimenters also looked up at the sky.

The moral of the story? Whether we realize it or not, we take cues from other people on what to do.


  • Empty Restaurants seat diners at the window so that the restaurant appears to have more diners inside of it.

  • Baristas “prime” their tip jars before their shift even starts. When people see money already in a tip jar, they are more likely to leave a tip as well.

  • Nightclubs keep slow moving lines to enter on purpose. The club seems more exclusive and popular than it really is.

This concept of convincing your user that “everyone else is doing it” to win their trust and their business is called social proof. Most website owners know to use testimonials in order to demonstrate social proof and increase the user’s trust. But the fact that most website owners do this proves that this isn’t enough social proof to convince someone to convert.

Here is how to convince users that your solution, service or product is the accepted norm.

- This one is the most obvious – describe your product or process as accepted. Weave this concept into your website copy. A recent stream of commercials for a cleaning product that contains bleach declares that their product is used to clean up crime scenes. If the police are using “X-ox,” then surely its powerful enough to sanitize your bathroom.

- Work with the stereotypes people hold about your service or product. Negative or positive, chances are most consumers hold them. Reinforce them to your advantage. Returning to the “X-ox” commercial. One woman is shown picking out a scented cleaning product. A stern looking, older (so presumably more experienced and knowledgeable) woman steps out and reinforces the stereotype that cleaning products that are heavily scented are simply covering up the mess with a pleasant odor. She says something along the lines of “this isn’t the smell of clean. Bleach is the smell of clean.”

- Show your product in a number of different mediums to convince users it is accepted and used by others. Provide white papers of case studies where your product or service excelled.

-Use popularity indicators to show that people have purchased your product and to create a sense of urgency : X amount left, X left in stock, X until sold out

-Use third party websites or send your content to third party websites that appear independent of your site. Have these sites affirm the same positive concept that you are conveying on your site.

-Place positive statements and links to your site in areas where new users or shopping are unfamiliar with the subject and are searching for expertise

Testimonials still are a powerful way to gain the trust of your users and convince them that other people are using your goods or services. But testimonial power increases exponentially when the testimonials come from people we perceive are similar to us. If your target audience is white middle aged mothers of four with a college education, don’t provide testimonials from twenty year old hipster men.

Of course if your “about us” page isn’t properly set up, that is going to destroy your user’s trust right off of the back. Include appropriate pictures of you (actually you, not a stock photo). Don’t use technical jargon or industry terms that customers or clients aren’t familiar with that will make them suspicious, alienate or confuse them. The point of the about us page is to explain who you are, what you do, and why you love to do it. Keep this in mind.

Problem Number Eight: Your Website is so Useless it’s like a Screen Door on a Submarine

Someone Asks You “Why Should I Buy Something from your site?” You reply:

A. Why Shouldn’t You Buy Something from the site. Ever think about that?

B. Look at the happy construction worker with the tie. Who wouldn’t buy from that face?

C. Scratch your head and say “I don’t know. My competitor is offering way more neat stuff and resources to move you through their funnel.”

D. Because we only have three “X” left, because you don’t have to make a commitment right now, and because you already said you would on our website’s message boards.

So you have covered all of your basics, going down this list and fixing what needs to be attended to, but things are just not working. People are coming to your page, navigating easily, spending time on your pages, but they simply are not converting.

Your visitors just need a little nudging. Here are some things you can do to consciously and subconsciously convince users they should do business with you, and some conversion “no-nos” that many businesses commonly utilize, ironically, in hopes of making a sale.

-Don’t use coupon codes on your checkout page. Many businesses use these to entice users into signing up for email newsletters, promote repeat customers, and bolster business. However, this might actually hurt your conversion efforts. Do you notice that people are completing your sales cart funnel then suddenly dropping off at the billing section where it says “Enter coupon code here?”

Chances are, they are leaving your site to Google coupon codes that you might offer that are available. Then, they might realize someone else is selling the same product for less and give your competitor their business. Or, they might become distracted by a more compelling meta description. Or possibly, they are distracted by a cute Internet video of a kitten. Don’t lose customers right before you are about to seal the deal with a coupon code box.

-If people are spending time on your site, consuming content, navigating correctly, clicking through pages and just not converting, the issue may be you have the wrong target audience.

Here are some ideas of good people to target for a variety of reasons that you might not have thought of: opinion leaders, professional and business groups, government entities, industry analysts, your employees, particular social niches – like social network groups, niche communities or bloggers, interest and advocacy groups or even the media.

-If people are on your page, get them to commit! Consider building a message board or public forum where users can form groups with a commitment to doing an activity you care about. Consider gamification – (turning your sales funnel into a “game” with rewards for each step completed in the funnel.) Human beings naturally want to finish what they start, and if they have made a public commitment to do something, they are more likely to do it.

-Repeat a positive message about your product or service on every single page of your site. Just don't use the exact same positive message over and over, you need to repeat the message in different ways. Studies have concluded that people do not realize they are hearing the same message if it is phrased in different ways.

-Finally, don’t try to get to third base on the first date. Don’t go for that final conversion straight from your home page. Offer content, email newsletters, and other resources that are high quality enough to deserve a repeat visit to your page. You can of course measure the effectiveness of these materials and tweak them as necessary.

Internet marketing doesn’t have to be a gamble. By following this list of strategic steps you can pinpoint where your site needs to be improved, and make it suck less. Remember that the house always wins so make your decisions informed and always have a strategy.