Having a website that is clean, organized, and easy to navigate is crucial to online success, but many webmasters fail to realize this. A website doesn't have to be perfectly designed to do reasonably well (although that definitely helps) -- but it does have to be free of what I like to call "online clutter."
You see, many beginners in the online world fall prey to the alluring promises of added "site stickiness," usability, and traffic that purveyors of free site "utilities" (such as counters, guestbooks, link exchanges, etc.) make.
However, the fact of the matter is that most of these utilities will add absolutely no value whatsoever to your website. In fact, they'll probably detract from it's value.
In an effort to reduce the amount that I have to look at the terrible mistakes you newbies make, and thereby create a more pleasant surfing environment for myself, I've compiled a list of the three most commonly (and inappropriately) used "utilites" and I'll show you why they're not for you.
I know what you're thinking: "Nu-uh! My counter isn't useless; I use my counter to find out how many visitors I get!" Unfortunately, you're just plain wrong. You see, using counters to track visitors presents two problems.
First and foremost, counters are horribly inaccurate as far as tracking visitors are concerned. Secondly, they provide tracking for only one page. What happens when you want to find out how your visitors move around your site or how much they're looking at a specific page?
In order to really track visitors to your site, you have to use a site tracking utility or service like HitBox.com or WebTrends.
Furthermore, counters let the world know just how much traffic you get. What if you're a new site with only a minimal amount of traffic? Do you want to share that with the whole world, or do you want to give the impression that you're a company whose services are in high demand? Option two? Then get rid of that counter!
Let's say you sell, well, anything at all! A visitor stops by your site with the intent to buy something from you, but sees the option to sign your guestbook, so he does that instead. He writes, "Hi, I just came to your site. Wow."
(I don't know about you, but it's just now become clear to me what the purpose of guestbooks are - to allow people to share thoroughly enlightening thoughts and comments.)
Anyway, his young child at home begins to cry, and he's pulled away from the computer and your website, never to return again. You just lost a sale -- but look at it from the bright side: you got a really wonderful comment!
Believe it or not, what those nice people at the LinkExchange website told you about being able to drive tons of traffic to your website for free with their banner exchange was a bunch of balogna.
Let me show you, mathematically, why most banner exchanges are completely worthless to most websites. (Also, note that having three or four banner exchanges per page doesn't make them any less worthless -- it just makes your website worthless.)
Let's say you sign up for LinkExchange. You put their banner code on your website and submit a banner for them to use in their rotation. Now, the way LinkExchange works is you get one impression per click.
This means that if someone clicks on one of the banners on your pages once, your banner will show up on their network once. Typically, about 6 of every 1000 people will click on a banner. But for easy math in our example, let's say that 1 in 100 will click on your banner and those displayed on your website.
Now, let's figure out how many visitors you'll need to get just one vistor to your website. In order for your banner to be displayed 100 times, which is required for one visitor to click it (and thereby visit your site), the banners you display on your site must be clicked 100 times.
If only 1 in 100 visitors clicks on the banners you display on your site, that means that 10,000 people must look at the banners before 100 click them. So, for every 10,000 people that visit your site, you get one visitor.
But hey -- if you've got four irritating, load-time increasing, space consuming, unprofessional looking banners on your site, you can increase that ration to 2,500:1. And who says Banner Exchange programs aren't effective?
Ok, I'm done with it. But not so fast, buddy -- we're not through just yet! I've got a bit more information to cram down your throat and then you can run home to Momma.
After removing all of the above three things from your site, whenever you consider adding to, removing from, or changing something on your website, ask yourself the following question:
"Will this change make my site more valuable to the visitor or improve my site in any way, or will it may it a worthless piece of dog doo-doo?"
Let your answer dictate the steps you take from there, and your website will be much more pleasant for me to surf!
I hope I've been sufficiently helpful and irreverent, and best of luck with your website!