Common website mistakes that are costing you clients

I get asked to critique freelancers’ websites fairly often. In general, I find we freelancers tend to make the same basic yet egregious mistakes:

  • We claim to be experts in creating a brand yet our own websites are generic web templates.
  • We advise clients on color schemes and consistency but use 10 fonts and 8 colors ourselves.
  • We constantly pare down clients’ copy but use long, difficult-to-read paragraphs of our own.

Most of us could benefit from spending more time on our own websites and listening to our own advice!

So carve out a few hours this week (or weekend) to put some serious effort into removing these common website mistakes that are costing you clients!

Spelling/grammar mistakes

Spelling and grammar mistakes are totally unacceptable in website content. In a blog or comment, it’s understandable, but as static copy on your website – absolutely not. This is a personal pet-peeve of mine – and one of the quickest ways to appear less than professional.

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If you struggle with proper punctuation, sentence structure, and spelling, it is imperative that you hire or trade services with someone who can help you. Or, use one of the many grammar editing tools available.

Tip: Check out the “we vs. I” post to determine which one pronoun you should use on your site.

Generic or inconsistent design

As a graphic designer, your website has to be thoughtfully designed. Think of it from a client’s perspective – if you can’t manage your own website, how could you possibly manage theirs?

Create an identity, select a color scheme, and inject some emotion into your website!

Tip: Select one color for links and use it throughout. This teaches your visitors that anything in that color is clickable.

Too many fonts

In combination with inconsistent design, many websites I see use too many fonts.

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The rule of thumb for your entire website is:

  • One font for headings
  • One font for content
  • One font for quotes

That’s it. Sometimes two of these rules are combined.

Look at your website. Does the font change between the About Me page and the Services page? (It shouldn’t.)

Hard-to-read text

According to Nielsen research on how users read on the web, just 16% of web users read word-for-word. 79% scan text, and the remaining 5% ignore text altogether.

For this reason, your most important information needs to be quick and easy to digest.

What makes text hard-to-read?

  • Poor justification. I’m talking to you, center-justified paragraphs!
  • Long paragraphs – break ’em up or write more concisely.
  • Long lines of text across a screen, which are very hard for your eyes to follow. Skinnier paragraphs (to a point) tend to be easier to read.
  • Fancy fonts. There’s a reason books aren’t written in Kaushan Script.
  • Poor contrast between the text and its background.

Tip: Use emphasis and bulleted text to highlight key words, and don’t be afraid to play with line-height (leading) to give paragraphs a lighter, more appealing look.

Text as images

The biggest problem with displaying text as an image is that you get none of the benefits of SEO. SEO works by having search engines “crawl” through your text and pick up key words. If your text is in an image, they can’t do that.

Furthermore, it’s a hassle to update information, and if your image ratio gets distorted, your text looks terrible!

Tip: If you want to use images instead of text for navigation buttons, use the img alt text wisely to beef up your SEO. For example, the “Services” button could have alt text that says, “<your company name> services.” This gives you the added SEO benefit of this combination of words on your website while still using beautiful buttons for your navigation.

Obvious exaggerations

“Hottest ever!” “Convert 100% more of your visitors!” “FREE everything***!”

By indulging in credibility-killing obvious exaggerations, your serious potential clients will exit in a hurry and you’ll be left with all the visitors who want a Porsche on a Ford budget.

Be straightforward and open with your web visitors – the best clients aren’t looking for gimmicks.

Lack of hierarchy

Have you ever heard the saying, “If everyone’s yelling then nobody is yelling?”

This theory applies to websites, too.

What do you want your visitors to see first? Second?

Now ask someone who’s not familiar with your site. Do they see things in the order you want them to or are they mesmerized by the floating, meowing, revolving kitten in the top right-hand corner?

Your website needs to have focus, otherwise it can be literally painful on the eyes when elements or garish colors compete for attention.

Extra considerations

As freelancers, we need to be our biggest critics.

Take a good, hard look at your website. Compare it to some of your competitors – or take a good look at some of these freelancers’ websites.

Now ask yourself these questions:

  • Would you hire you?
  • What types of businesses/companies/organizations would be most likely to hire you?
  • What emotion do you get from your website?
  • If you were a client, what advice would you give yourself?

If the answers to these questions don’t match up with your ideal answers, it’s time to get busy!

Speak up, Millo readers!

What common mistakes do you see? Which mistake is your pet-peeve that will make you refuse to do business with them? What changes have you made to your website that really improved it? Leave a comment below and let us know!

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  1. Hey guys! I’ve been reading posts on how to become a better freelance designer. The posts on here are really helpful. If you guys can, please take a look at my website at . give me feedback or comments about my site to improve it, criticize, or complement, it would be gladly appreciated. My site is still under construction for the portfolio page, but everything else is pretty much done.


  2. I just discovered your site today, and I can’t stop reading. Great articles all around. The “We vs. I” was hilarious, I was going through that dilemma last week as I created my new website. This particular article worked as a kind of checklist for me. My website is a minimal landing page sort of site, but I think I adheredto all the “rules” 🙂 Thanks for the great work. Im hooked!

    1. Dennis,

      Welcome to Millo! Glad you found us – we have a lot of great content and even better readers. Just a really great community for learning, discussing, and asking questions where no one feels silly.

      We look forward to your participation!!!

  3. I’m sorry but i think this entire article is bad.

    Clients care about your spelling and grammar mistakes much less then the value you’re offering. You’re valuing design way to highly when it comes to finding freelance clients. I find clients don’t really know if there’s “too many fonts” or generic inconsistent design – they only really care about what my offer is and how/if it will help them.

    After all, they’re not design experts that’s why they’re coming to you for design help.

    1. You don’t have to be a design expert to spot a bad design. If something’s hard to read / use, it’s probably badly designed – anyone can work that out. Design experts can then work out *why* it’s bad (eg, too many fonts, inconsistency etc.) and *how* to fix it. Even better if they can also fix problems with copy – that’s added value, after all.

      Some clients may only care about money, but some want an effective design as well – and if a designer’s own website isn’t well designed, such a client would be unlikely to hire them.

      1. Well said, Tom.

        If your niche is to be the best priced, a more generic design might serve you well.

        Sometimes I’m the client, however, and when I see someone with basic mistakes on a consistent basis, I’m concerned they’ll make the same mistakes on my project. I’ve got to take my work elsewhere.

    2. Robert,

      *Some* clients might not care, but the good ones do. And a lot of times, your clients are your peers in the form of collaboration or subcontracting.

      People – especially other designers – judge you by the first thing they see – the age-old first impression. If you don’t show them you’re a design expert, they’re going elsewhere.

  4. The sad thing is that I’ve actually seen a few sites where the all or most of the text is an image. Search engines aren’t gonna see that so either way, it’ll come to hurt you.

  5. Wow. I agree, but surely the points you make are mostly the fundamentals of graphic design – are these mistakes really common amongst designers’ websites?! My site’s not perfect and could do with a revamp, but this article’s reassured me it’s not that bad. Though I now realise I’ll look foolish if anyone finds any serious errors…

    1. Tom,

      You’d be surprised – I’ve repeated myself multiple times over with these tips to new freelancers (but not always beginner designers).

      The only “mistake” I notice on your site is that the subheadings above the images have a strike-through appearance because the line below runs through the text.

      So congrats! You are a cut above. 🙂

      1. Haha, thanks April! I checked those underlines across different browsers, platforms etc, and they were all OK, but obviously I can’t check every iteration. I’ve started my blog with WordPress and am thinking of rolling it out to my portfolio, which will hopefully be more robust.

  6. Getting clients in this hard time is really tough and therefore, we simply cannot afford to lose them. These tips will certainly help.

  7. Great article, but just a little side note..
    Checked out your Greer Genuis website on my iPad and noticed a few issues – a button split in half (is this deliberate?) and one of the first links to design tips in the body going to page that doesn’t exist.. Plus your contact form being pushed down to accommodate the picture on the right…etc etc
    So would You hire you….mmm maybe not 😉

    1. Michael,

      We all have something to work on, don’t we? The mobile aspect of my site is where mine needs work.

      Fortunately, most of my clients find me through desktop/laptop monitors, so I can hide that issue sometimes.

      Now, you’ve critiqued my site – where is the link to yours? 😉

  8. I do not like HTML5 websites. The overall design is the same for all sites. Text words for buttons, picture across the top of the screen. text buttons on the sides for navigation. And, the most annoying is the blinking that takes place between each page change. I prefer Flash websites. They are interesting in design, no blinking every time you hit a text button. Picture buttons (which are designed) can be programmed to aid in web searches, and they give a clients website a distinct look that keeps them separate from the pack.

    I will be working to develop more flash websites and export them using Flash’s HTML5 export for small devices.

    1. Bobbi,

      The biggest problem with using Flash is that it garners you zero SEO points because again, everything is wrapped up in a nice video or imagery. So its very hard to get interest in your site.

      Flash elements can be very useful for visual interest on a site, but be careful in creating an entirely Flash website that is very hard to find through search engines.

      1. Hi April,

        The SEO problem for flash websites has been solved many years ago: there is a very simple solution available (which however does rely on javascript to be allowed to function), the webdeveloper who taught me this trick owned a website built completely in flash and yet his site rated number 1 in Google on several topics.
        A more pressing problem with flash websites these days is the fact that iPad, iPhone and several other mobile devices do not support flash, which means that more and more people will not be able to visit these sites at all (and there are solutions to this problem as well, available even in the app-store, in the form of remote-surfing).
        But I must agree with Bobbi on the point that, just as with php-websites a couple of years ago, you get a lot of similar looking websites these days, because everybody is relying on readily availlable WordPress and HTML5 templates. It still pays to be able to actually design a website that has a non-template look.
        As for the rest: all of the points of your article are absolutely spot on!

        1. Andre,

          I do agree with you that because of ready-made templates, many websites either look generic or all blend together. That’s why I highly customized mine!

          Thanks for the info – I’ll have to look into that Javascript if I need some Flash integration.

  9. Five Foot Rule = Someone standing 5 feet from a computer monitor should be able to tell what you do by looking at your homepage.

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