An informative, accurate and accessible website has the power to enhance the credibility of a business or professional — or greatly detract from them. However, as Hanford, Calif.-based website developer Katherine Andes points out, “Many individuals and companies do not understand the consequences of failing to properly maintain their website and being certain that what they say to the world is, in fact, accurate.”
She set out a list of the things that have the potential to cause a loss of business or, worse yet, land you in legal trouble. Here’s what you don’t want to do:
1. Fail to update your website design and functionality.
Consequences: Your site will look dated. Websites are like fashions. Styles change. So, you want to update the design and incorporate improvements in functionality. This will allow your content to be displayed on most devices, such as computers, tablets and smartphones.
2. Ask a friend or relative to do your website (to save money) rather than hiring a professional web designer.
Consequences: If your friend or relative knows what they’re doing, it might be OK. But if they are not being paid, they may not be prompt about doing the work, or they may decide to go on a long trip for several months, taking your website’s log-in credentials with them while they are impossible to reach. Hiring a professional connects you with someone who presumably knows what they are doing, will do a better job and are not likely to disappear on you, because web designing is their livelihood.
3. Assume your web designer can write your text. Worse yet, think you don’t need text.
Consequences: Thinking, “Photos of my dynamic product are sufficient, so I don’t need much text on my website,” is flawed reasoning because:
- Words help search engines such as Google find your company. To rank higher in search results, you need well-chosen language.
- Text establishes your expertise and authority.
- The failure to have adequate text can get you into legal trouble, especially if you are not explaining the details of your offerings or warranty protections. Someone might easily think, “I was misled by the attractive photos of the product.”
- Text is necessary to show specifications and what might be unique about an item you’re offering. Without that info, a potential customer won’t know if it’s suitable for their needs.
- Text helps to keep a customer from feeling buyer’s remorse and can keep you out of a fight with a credit card company wanting to reverse the charges.
4. Fail to update your website content — that could raise major legal issues.
Consequences: You must keep information current — especially if you change your prices. Not displaying accurate prices can be an invitation for someone to claim consumer fraud due to false and misleading web content.
It’s also important to have a prominent disclaimer in your site’s footer — which appears at the bottom of each page — that makes clear prices can change. Language along the lines of, “We keep this website current as best we can, but sometimes prices change before we can post them.”
Additionally, by not updating your content, search engines might conclude that you are not a relevant site, because the content is stale. So, delete old and irrelevant pages. A current website signals to customers your level of professionalism.
5. Skip adding alternative text tags on images, which risks an ADA violation.
Consequences: An alternative text tag describes, for example, what’s happening in a displayed photo, helping a visually impaired person to know what is showing on their screen.
While this is a highly complicated legal area, the best advice for anyone who sells items or services online to the public is to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Web hosting companies have tools that you can use to determine if your website is compliant. You do not want a disability lawsuit.
6. Neglect to put testimonials or project/portfolio images on your site.
Consequences: Testimonials are powerful validations of your product or service, especially in small communities where, with permission, you can use first and last names. Someone in that city or a nearby community might know that person and think that they are credible. A testimonial from someone in another city results in your page being search optimized for another area and improves your business’ ranking in search results.
Your website is an opportunity to show your work. Displaying a project or service, along with its location — which might be different from your main address — increases your website’s chances of ranking higher in search results for other cities.
7. Omit including your contact information — and in more than one place.
Consequences: If you want to cause aggravation, then don’t include a phone number that’s easily accessible — at the top, bottom and hopefully in the middle of each webpage. Make yourself accessible, and do not force a potential customer to fill out a lengthy form to reach you. They will move on to some other business or professional.
You can find more web design tips from Andes at her website, andesandassociates.com.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield, Calif., and welcomes comments and questions from readers, which may be faxed to (661) 323-7993, or e-mailed to Lagombeaver1@gmail.com. And be sure to visit dennisbeaver.com.
After attending Loyola University School of Law, H. Dennis Beaver joined California's Kern County District Attorney's Office, where he established a Consumer Fraud section. He is in the general practice of law and writes a syndicated newspaper column, "You and the Law." Through his column he offers readers in need of down-to-earth advice his help free of charge. "I know it sounds corny, but I just love to be able to use my education and experience to help, simply to help. When a reader contacts me, it is a gift."
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