Sometimes Andy decides to have a long rant about something related to WordPress web design. Well, why not? Today it’s what he describes as “pointless website features”. Which got me thinking...
In the last couple of years, there has been a frenzy in which website owners have raced to get all the latest website features. A lot of people don’t really understand technology and feel quite overwhelmed by it all. When they read about the latest thing in the media, they don’t know how to challenge this or calculate whether it will actually increase their success. Instead, they assume that if their competitors are doing it (or - even better - if it’s something their competitors haven’t discovered yet) then it must be a good thing.
The consequence of this is that lots of websites have become increasingly cluttered with completely pointless features. They’re a nightmare to use, a nightmare to look at - and yet, their owners think they’re great!
We advise our clients against this sort of thing. I hope this post helps other people to see through the hype and choose the features for their website in a more sensible way.
What do you class as a ‘pointless’ website feature?
This obviously depends on the individual website. Something might be invaluable to one website, and completely pointless for another. It all depends on the purpose of the website, your business objectives and your target market.
But generally speaking, the following website feature should be thought about carefully before adding them to your site:
Social sharing buttons
Social sharing buttons are a major culprit. There’s a craze to make it as easy as possible for people to share your website content to every social network under the sun. But as Information Architects have pointed out before, they're usually not needed.
Social sharing buttons are popping up in stranger and stranger places. Some websites have them crammed into every available space - at the top AND bottom of every page and post, in the website sidebar, on category pages (why would you share something without even having read the full article?!), the website footer - the list goes on.
Use your analytics software to track how many people are actually sharing your content. You may be surprised to discover that no one is actually clicking those buttons. And if you have one of the unfortunate types of social sharing button that publicly display how many shares you’ve had, the data can actively hurt your business by showing how few people have engaged with your content!
If your content is that great then people will share it anyway. Yes, social sharing buttons make this slightly easier, but this may well be outweighed by the downsides:
- Many social sharing buttons significantly increase page load times.
- They add clutter to your web page.
- They’re basically adverts for the social networks rather than your own site, and are branded as such - so they detract from your overall brand.
- They’re often really annoying, too! I can’t stand the social sharing buttons that expand or pop up whenever you accidentally hover over them, so you can’t see the content you were actually looking for.
If you don’t need them, don’t use them!
Are all social sharing buttons bad?
No, but they should be used with caution. Here are my tips on using social sharing buttons sensibly:
- Design your own social sharing buttons to match your overall website and brand identity. That’s your priority, rather giving free advertising to the social networks! By creating your own, you can also ensure they don’t increase your page load times or add unnecessary cookies.
- Think about it from the customer’s perspective. Which elements of your website might people want to share, and why? They might want to share an individual blog post they have just finished reading, so put social sharing buttons at the end of each blog post or in the website sidebar. Don’t put them on pages that people would have no reason to share (I can’t believe how often I see social sharing buttons on someone’s ‘About’ page!).
- Only use social sharing buttons that publicly display the number of shares if you actually have a good number of shares. Otherwise you’ll just look unpopular and make people wonder why no one is sharing your content.
Closely linked to social sharing buttons is what Andy describes as "the overconsumption of every possible social network”.
Society is imposing a subtle, hidden pressure to be part of every available social network and it has become quite overwhelming. Feeding your social media accounts has become a full-time job. That’s fine for a big business with many staff members, but totally inappropriate for small companies and startups who need to focus their resources on direct ways to build their business.
Some people sign up to the social networks but leave them neglected. This is worse than not being on them at all, as it creates a negative impression of your company rather than no impression at all.
Again, it’s not that social networks are all a waste of time. Used properly, they can have significant business benefits. What I’m warning against is the use of social media as an end in itself.
Social media integration
Once you’ve signed up to each social network, you need to plan how it will relate to your main company website.
‘Like’ and ‘Follow’ buttons
You’ll want to increase the number of ‘Likes’ and ‘Follows’, as if this will magically translate into profit. So the obvious answer is to add Like and Follow buttons to your website, right?
Wrong! As with social sharing buttons, you should think carefully about this. Will people visiting your website actually be motivated to click these buttons? Will they slow down your website, add cookies and detract from your brand?
Perhaps Like and Follow buttons will boost your business, but only add them as part of a carefully planned social media strategy. Not just for the sake of it.
Social media feeds
A slightly more impressive option is to add social media feeds to your website. This will automatically display your latest tweets/your Facebook feed on your site. This can be a good idea if you tweet regularly or your Facebook page hosts active discussions that will add personality to your site. But there’s nothing worse than a social media feed with nothing on it.
What is the point of a blog? (irony duly noted)
It’s a question worth asking, as a blog can easily become an end in itself. If your competitors have blogs then it’s tempting to start one too. But don’t blog for the sake of it - think about the benefits, and weigh these up against the time it will take up. I often see small business websites with blogs that haven't been updated for several years!
Again, having a blog that you rarely post to is worse than having no blog at all, as it presents the impression of an inactive, dormant company without a voice.
SEO can be a bad influence
Search engines are designed to replicate real website users when they crawl your website - that’s what the search algorithms aim to achieve. But in reality, ‘less is more’ for real website visitors, whereas ‘more is more’ for search engines. This is due to the way search engines reward websites with lots of content (i.e. keywords).
SEO makes it tempting to add loads of unnecessary content to your website. If you were just writing for real people then it would be best to keep text to a minimum.
I agree that SEO is important, but just try to keep this in perspective. Real people are important too, so make sure your website isn’t so text-heavy that it’s putting them off. Perhaps keep your key website pages minimal and use a blog to add more SEO-friendly text.
WordPress is also the guilty party
As a WordPress web design company, we obviously think WordPress is great. But having a WordPress website can indirectly encourage people to add unnecessary features, as it makes these things too easy. Just because it can be done, doesn’t mean that you should do it!
If your website uses an off-the-shelf premium theme then it can be tempting to activate every single feature that’s built into the theme! Don’t do it!
A theme offers a starting point for building a unique website. Look at the theme demo and carefully plan how to adapt it to your own brand. If the theme includes a feature that is relevant to your message then use it. But don’t use features just because they’re there.
Pointless WordPress plugins
It’s great that the WordPress plugin repository allows you to add pretty much any feature to your WordPress site. But this is also a double edged sword, as it creates a temptation to add plugins you don’t need. As I wrote in Can a website have too many plugins, think carefully about why you need each plugin and don’t get carried away!
But I need all this to be successful!
No you don’t.
In my experience, the complexity of people’s websites are often in inverse proportion to the size of their business. What I mean is that the people who are obsessed with the latest pointless website features are often the ones who are still starting out. The most established companies we work with tend to have much simpler websites.
Could this be because faddy website features actually limit your success by distracting you from the bigger picture?
If you focus on your core aims and objectives, you’re more likely to be successful.
The tide might be turning
A few months ago, I asked a new client whether they would like a Twitter feed on their website. He said, “So, what would the business benefits be of using Twitter?” What a refreshing attitude! We discussed the pros and cons and he - quite rightly, in my opinion - concluded that tweeting would be a distraction and his time was better spent on actively growing his business.
This has happened a couple of times now. I’m noticing that more and more people are starting to question the value of the myriad of website features that are available to them.
But the pressure still remains, so it’s worth taking a moment to step back and consider what it’s actually worth putting on your website.
So, what should be on my website?
Whenever you have an idea of a new feature for your website, consider it as part of your overall content strategy.
- Will it advance or detract from your main business objectives?
- Does it represent the best possible use of your time and money?
- What are the alternatives?
A website shouldn’t just be a lazy amalgamation of the latest website features, desperately trying to prove that you’re on top of the latest trends.
Your website should have a unique message and tone. It should embody your brand and bring your business to life. That is so much more important than having all the latest features.
What do you think?