Having worked with web sites for the past eleven years, I've seen a LOT of errors, poor judgment and embarrassing gaffs on the web. Sometimes they are the fault of the client, the web designer, the IT Manager, or the SEO, but human error is always to blame. The saddest thing is that the problems are usually preventable.
Here is a líst of what I consider to be the Top 10 dumbest web site decisions ever, in reverse order, David Letterman style :
10) Misspelling a Domain
Back in the glory days of the late 1990's when I was working for a large Internet agency, the web designers had responsibility for the registration of domain names on behalf of clients. One particular designer had a face to face meeting with a major client, during which the client asked him to register CarTuneCentral.com (or so he thought!). The staffer did a check and was delighted to see the domain available. He made the purchase and proudly emailed the client.
An hour later his boss called him in to his office to say that he'd had a call from a very frustrated client who *actually* wanted him to register CartoonCentral.com. Needless to say the desired domain wasn't available and the whole office dined on his mistake for months.
9) Letting the Domain Name Expire
Now what type of company would allow their domain to expire a month after site launch? A very large one, that's who. I'll save the company some embarrassment and won't reveal their name but the site was offline for a total of 2 days while they scrambled to pay their registrar, sort out DNS propagation and cover their tails.
8) Flashing your Cyber Underpants
One of the most common web site management platforms provided by hosting companies used to store the site statistics in a common folder called /statistics/. You could password protect this folder, but the default was to leave it open to the public and so many unwary webmasters unwittingly published full traffic data for their site on the Internet, open to any person who knew where to look.
I learned this the hard way in a public forum from a member who said he had just reviewed my traffic for the previous month and was very impressed. Publishing site statistics for all the world to see is what I call flashing your cyber underpants and I haven't let it happen again!
7) Publishing Sensitive Company Information
Quite a few companies have been guilty of doing this, including AOL, who published a search data report in 2006 that contained the private details of thousands of AOL customers. Although the report was taken offline within a few days, it had already been mirrored and distributed across the Internet. The fallout eventually led to the resignation of AOL's Chief Technical Officer.
Although not quite as serious, an ex-client of mine once published a page that had notes on it from the Sales Manager about the best way to strong-arm a customer into purchasing a higher-ticket item. Apparently the web designer didn't realize the hand-written post-it notes were not part of the web page copy. Duh!
6) Using an Insulting 404 Error Page
I clash with the web design team of one of my clients on a regular basis. Earlier this year, my client completely re-designed their web site and so I recommended they ask their web design team to design a custom 404 error page in case visitors navigated to a page on the old site that no longer existed.
Their web design team put up a message that read:
"404 Error. You've obviously typed in the wrong URL. Either that or the page you are looking for no longer exists."
That was it! No apology for the missing page, no recommendatíon to use the navigation to find what they were looking for, just an insulting message that accuses the visitor of being an idiot. Persons viewing that page would be clicking the "back" button as fast as they could.
5) Taking a Site Offline for Maintenance
I find it fascinating that very large sites run by intelligent people still get taken offline for maintenance on a regular basis. Search engines don't understand the "Back in 15 minutes" sign and the longer the site is down, the bigger the risk.
If search bots try and index a site while it is down, they will most likely assume the previously indexed pages have expired and drop them from the search index. This means that all your hard-earned rankings could be flushed down the toilet until search engines can successfully re-index your site. Surely a mirror site for maintenance periods isn't that difficult to set up?
4) Buying a Dot Bíz When the Dot Com Was Available
Ok, I'm putting up my hand on this one. I'm not going to reveal the domain but yes, I registered a dot bíz domain back in 2000 when the dot com was actually available. The dot com version of my domain was bought by Yahoo a short time later and turned into a product site. Ack! My excuse is that, at the time, dot bíz sites were rumored to be the next big thing and all companies were being urged to choose them over dot coms. Ok, I was wrong!
3) Allowing a Customer Complaint to Remain on a Site for 12 Months
When I was working as a public relations consultant, I was given the responsibility of re-writing the web copy of a large real estate client. One of the areas I was asked to re-write was the welcome paragraph on the Customer Feedback page where existing customers of the estate agent chain could login and leave comments about their experience.
While writing the copy, I scanned some of the customer feedback and came across an aggressive message left 12 months earlier by an obviously unhappy customer. She had used some of the most colorful language I've ever seen (and some that I hadn't) and very detailed descriptions of how she was going to take her revenge on the company for allegedly allowing a tenant to destroy her house. Nobody in charge of the web site had even noticed the comment and I still wonder how many potential customers would have been put off from using the estate agent after reading it.
2) Switching a Web Site Off for a 3 Week Christmas Vacatíon
Yes, many moons ago, an ex-client of mine decided to take her entire web site offline (without telling me!) while she was on a 3 week vacatíon over Christmas. Only a month earlier, she had paid me $5,000 to optimize it for search engines.
It had just achieved some impressive top 10 results and all the carefully optimized pages were attracting good traffic when she shut it down and replaced the entire site with a 1 page sign that said "closed until after Christmas". I noticed the traffic and search ranking declines in her stats and was completely flabbergasted when I found the site gone. Her response when I confronted her? "Why didn't you TELL ME this could happen?"
And the dumbest web site decision I've ever witnessed?
1) Promoting a Domain Name You Don't Own:
My Alma Mater, the University of Newcastle, have spent thousands of dollars on television advertising here in Australia, marketing their new site for online post-graduate coursework: GradSchool Dot Com. There's only one problem. The domain for this site is actually Gradschool.com.au. They don't even own Gradschool.com!
Sadly, this glaring marketing error seems to have totally escaped them and they are happily referring to their brand as Gradschool.com on all their marketing material and throughout their .com.au domain. It's tragic to think of all the potential students typing in Gradschool.com expecting to find the University program. I see that whoever purchased Gradschool.com has slapped up some AdSense code on it so at least somebody will reap the benefits of those thousands of advertising dollars wasted by the University.
Don't let any of these web site tragedies happen to you. Make sure that your site decisions aren't in the hands of dummies!
About The Author
Article by Kalena Jordan, one of the first search engine optimization experts in Australia, who is well known and respected in the industry, particularly in the U.S. As well as running a daily Search Engine Advice Column, Kalena manages Search Engine College - an online training institution offering instructor-led short courses and downloadable self-study courses in Search Engine Optimization and other Search Engine Marketing subjects.