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10 Costly Assumptions

by Justin Palmer - August 6th, 2008

“Never assume.” – These 2 words represent the greatest advice ever given to me on the topic of website optimization. Here’s a list of 10 assumptions site owners make (myself included) that could cost you a ton of business.

Assumption #1: People will know how to find your website

We often assume that people have memorized or bookmarked our web address. But what happens when people forget, or are using a different computer and don’t have access to bookmarks? In addition to ranking on Google for your brand/company name, do you rank for common misspellings and variations? One company I work with uses uses pay per click to bid on at least a dozen variations / typos of their brand name, which is often misunderstood when spoken. What about your domain name? Especially if your URL contains dashes ( or a top level domain of anything besides “.com”, consider buying up every reasonable variation you can afford, and redirecting it to the correct address.

Assumption #2: People know what you sell

How many times have you landed on the homepage of a website, and were unable to understand the primary purpose, product, or service? We often neglect to succinctly inform our customers about our product or service, which leads to a prompt bounce from visitors.

Assumption #3 : Everything will go as planned

Here’s an experiment. Try going through your website conversion funnel (checkout process, contact us form, etc) and do everything wrong. For example, enter an invalid zip code, click on things that weren’t meant to be clicked on, click the back, forward, and refresh buttons on your browser excessively. You might be surprised what you see. How well does your site handle errors? When people stray off the beaten path, can they get back?

Assumption #4: People know where to click

Don’t assume that because you know where to click, everyone knows where to click. Creative can be beautiful and attention grabbing, yet completely worthless if people don’t know what to do next. The power of a strong call to action button on a landing page is priceless.

Assumption #5: People know how to get home

Yes, most people know that clicking the company logo will take them to the homepage, but not everyone. Recently, I performed a test on a website and found that 45% of visitors preferred clicking on a link that actually said “Home” instead of the company logo. Even worse is when interior pages offer no link at all back to the homepage.

Assumption #6: People know where they are

People don’t always start on your homepage, and navigate step by step to their destination. Maybe they landed on an interior page from a search engine, and they have no idea where to go next. Breadcrumb navigation helps orient visitors, and establishes a navigational hierarchy.

Assumption #7: People know how to buy

This one is quite common, unfortunately. Many eCommerce sites assume the visitor will be on the shopping cart page to checkout. However, my experience has found that customers will look for a “checkout” button from any page of a site whenever they are ready to complete a purchase. If it’s not painfully obvious where to go, you might just lose a sale.

Assumption #8: People will volunteer loads of personal information

It’s important to think like a customer when building registration forms or checkout pages. Is the information you’re asking for so important that you’re willing to lose a customer because of it? The truth is, you will lose a certain percentage of customers for every additional piece of unnecessary information you ask for.

Assumption #9: People will contact customer service if they have a question or problem

Actually no, they will probably just leave and never return. In my experience, one customer question or complaint usually represents at least 10 other unspoken ones of the same nature. It’s best not to count on customers to tell you about problems, but rather to discover them yourself.

Assumption #10: People will come back

Even if people love your site, don’t assume they’ll be back unless you give them a good reason. This is why it’s so crucial to capture an email address, since it provides a proactive follow up mechanism. Other tactics to help bring in repeat visitors include having an RSS feed, a section highlighting what’s new, and constantly updated, fresh content. I can’t tell you how many incredible sites I’ve visited and completely forgotten about. When a do remember them, I often can’t remember the url or brand name. (see assumption #1)

To follow my own advice, I’m not going to assume that you’ve already subscribed to the Palmer Web Marketing feed. If you haven’t, why not subscribe now?

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32 Responses to “10 Costly Assumptions” by Justin Palmer

  1. Orovo Tim Says:

    I really like that idea of doing PPC for all kinds of misspelling of the domain or company name.

    Those are typically some of the highest converting keywords and you would HATE to miss any of them.

    Assumption #11 – Assume your customer will use your site the same way you would. Everyone has their own particular ways of using the internet – try to have your site adapt to your customers and not the other way around!

  2. palmerwebmarketing Says:

    @ Tim,

    I love your #11. That’s why tracking other “mini-conversions” on websites is fruitful, because people will use it for so many other purposes besides making a purchase, filling out a form, etc.


  3. Bloggers Digest 8/8/08 | Get Elastic Says:

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  4. Chadwyck Says:

    This is spot-on! Especially #2. It’s very frustrating to land on a site and not find out what the site is for.

    Also, there are sites where I want to convert. I want to sign up for newsletters, join, buy, etc… but at every turn the site gets in my way.
    I’m sure some people pay a 3rd party to design the site, then they are afraid of touching it and just assume everything’s going according to plan.

  5. Gab Goldenberg Says:

    “At least a dozen variations / typos of their brand name, which is often misunderstood when spoken”
    The real mistake was picking such a ridiculous brand name, imho. lol

    @ the break everything test – It’s great, and I regularly use it when testing. Fun too :D .

  6. Kristen Says:

    Assumption #9 is right on the money (or lack thereof). Whenever you get a customer service call with a usability or check out problem, you can assume (ought oh) that everyone else with that particular browser/operating system combination is having the same problem. Then you know it’s time to do some research into what’s broken and fix it as quickly as possible.

  7. Internet Marketing Joy Says:

    This is a nice and informative post..thanks for sharing these misconceptions about website usability…I’m pretty lots of newbie like me were enlightened..^^

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  14. Tonya Cash Says:

    Great piece! I found your blog and website from the Daily Blog Tips link to your article. Just wanted to say that I love that you have “Christian SEO Company” on your website and offer discounted fees to help these ministries grow. Keep up the great work and great blog!!

    New Reader – Tonya @ Atlanta Marketing Concepts, LLC

  15. Angel Cuala Says:

    I found your post at DailyBlogTips and I am glad I did. This list is every helpful to me as I am aspiring to be a professional blogger someday.

    By the way, no need to assume that I already subscribe to you because I ust did.

    Thanks for sharing this.

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  25. Matt Arnzen Says:

    Great analysis for #9. Very similar to the old adage that you tell more people about a bad experience than a good one. In this case they are telling you by never coming back.

  26. Kathy Says:


    Thank you so much for this list. I need to work on #3 and make a “few mistakes” on my website and see what happens.

  27. Lynn Westbrook Says:

    Great article.

  28. verasec Says:

    To ASSUME makes an ASS out of U and ME.

  29. Recap of the Week June 13th 2009 | Darren Monroe Learn Entrepreneurship Online Says:

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  30. Florence Says:

    After reading this blog makes me want to start my own :)

  31. Imprinted Flash Drives Says:

    I have to disagree with the first statement about dashes. My website address is , but it still goes up in Bing and Google pretty well.

  32. flashrash Says:

    Thanks! I will recommend this to all my friends.

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