It may seem obvious to companies that currently provide street and e-mail addresses, phone numbers, and other contact information on their Web sites, that if you want to make it easy for people to do business with you, you have to give them a way to reach you.

Surprisingly, a number of companies still make it difficult for their visitors and customers to find contact information on their sites.

As part of the Web Site ScoreCard program—an effort to advise businesses that feature e-commerce as part of the Web site—Giga Information Group has compiled a list of common mistakes made by businesses. Not listing contact information and not including accompanying text when you use images as links are two of them.

In this article, we’ll take a look at both mistakes.

Last of five parts

This is the last of five articles built around eight common mistakes found by the Giga Information Group’s Web Site ScoreCard program.

The other articles in this series included:

Contact information
Steve Telleen, managing director of the Web Site ScoreCard program at Giga Information Group, says users should have as many options as possible for contacting you.

“Very few companies make a point of providing the contact points for all of these modes in one easy-to-find place,” he said. “The best practice is to provide a Contact Us link on the home page or global navigation link set. The linked page then contains information on how to contact the company via the Internet, by phone, fax, and regular mail.”

Telleen suggests that the page also should provide an address, driving directions, and a map for getting to the headquarters and other major facilities.

The intent should be to help users achieve the goals they have in mind when they come to your site, according to Harley Manning, a research director at Forrester Research.

“Existing customers might come to the site to get some satisfaction with a problem,” he said. “That would lead you to put in the contact information. But people tend to forget that.”

Elizabeth Lawler, CEO of Iris Interactive, which designs Web sites, says her company places an 800 number, a physical address, and an e-mail address in small type at the bottom of each page. “It’s also helpful because a lot of times people won’t pick up a phone book, but they’ll go to a Web site to get a phone number,” she said.

Besides making things easy for prospective customers, Dave Hunt, senior developer for Micro Computer Solutions, notes that contact information gives you more credibility. “If you’re doing e-commerce, you need to have a brick-and-mortar address listed,” he said. “It makes people feel easier that they’re dealing with a real company and not some teenager sitting in his parents’ basement building an e-commerce site.”

Using images as links
It’s easy to miss the importance of such a small detail as providing alternative text for your images, but it can make a big difference. Users experience the greatest problems when the images don’t load or can’t be displayed by the user’s browser.

“That’s the most failed category when we rate sites,” Manning said. “It’s easy to fix, but it’s just due to a lack of awareness. People tend to be very surprised when I show them alt text or the lack thereof.”

Another reason to use alt text is so that you can convey the message to some of your visitors who may otherwise miss it. Reading software for the blind, for example, won’t recognize anything that’s not tagged.

Search engines are yet another consideration when you’re looking at alt text. Lawler notes that although alt text is only one of the many elements that search engines consider when ranking a page, you shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to do anything you possibly can to further optimize your site.

“If you have a bunch of graphic content on your site, even your own search engine is going to miss it unless it’s tagged,” Manning said.

Do we have contact?

How have you listed contact information on your Web site? Is it accessible on every page or through a link on the home page? Post your comments or start a discussion about this article.