“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 (example-url.com) 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?