Things To Avoid
Cardinal Sins of Inexperienced Website Design
This list is not a look into the worst websites of all time. If you’ve ever browsed the web, then you know a really bad design when you see one. These days websites that fall into the atrocious category aren’t even fooling the people that created them. They are usually produced by amateurs who are simply proud they were able to put anything on the web at all and, to their own detriment, are misguided in thinking that appearance isn’t important. If they’re delusional enough to think the work they produced can be misconstrued as professional, or that the sales will come pouring in now that they have a few, angry looking pages on the web, they are probably very close to being out of business or are possibly on the verge of being checked in by their family members. If you aren’t a design professional and created your own site, or if you hired a family member for a fraction of the cost of a designer, you may have one of these websites. This list is not intended for you. You’ve got bigger problems.
The intended audience of this list is for those unfortunate souls that hired designers who should know better; It is a look into the mistakes that professionals are still making despite recent advances on the Internet; It is for those of you who haven’t been checked in by their families, but may not know that their site is still poorly designed in the worst way possible: it is effecting their bottom line.
All the worst design mistakes by professionals who should know better can be boiled down to one sin: Coming Between Your Visitors And A Sale.
The single most important purpose of a website is to provide the visitor with what it is they are seeking; It is not to provide an outlet for the vanity of the company, yet many websites miss this point. If your visitors can’t easily find what they’re looking for from the landing page, or, worse, can’t fill out a contact form or request for a quote without jumping through hoops, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.
Think of it this way: If your salespeople were to tell a prospective customer they can’t sign the contract until after his sales presentation is finished, you’d fire them. The same should be true of your website. What to avoid:
- Some sites have a lot of cool things going on, but none that are useful to the visitor. Have you ever seen a Jerry Bruckheimer film? Just as explosions and car crashes don’t make up for a bad plot, things like nifty little 3D animations don’t make a website useful. When you look at something you think is cool on your page, ask yourself: “Does this actually HELP my audience?” Then ask: “How might this frustrate my audience?”
- Websites guilty of #1 are generally also guilty of #2. Websites that take forever to load aren’t just about bandwidth, they’re about overloading a browser with too much content. And guess what? Google and Bing now downgrade websites that are slow or oversized, so you’re not only making it painful for visitors to load your site, you’re making the search engines not want to send visitors your way. Pages should generally be no larger than 1Mb.
- If someone can’t figure out what your site is supposed to do within a few seconds, then it is guilty of having no clear purpose. Look at your site as though you’re someone who has never seen it before. Will you be able to find what you’re looking for?
- The usual suspects: “mystery box” navigation (links with text that is misleading/unclear, “click here” links, or links that are just images with no text, etc.), no content
- Lack of clear purpose is bad enough, but if a visitor can’t even figure out how to contact you or begin to make a purchase from EVERY SINGLE PAGE, then they’ll go somewhere they can: your competition (Don’t expect a thank you card from that guy either). Put your Get Quote form on every page, or at least a very big button. Essentially, make it easy for the visitor to try to give you their money.
- Putting a layover with the latest deal on your site that a visitor has to “x out” of in order to get to the page is annoying enough, but forcing a visitor to give you what you want before they can get what they want is sure to result in “back button” presses. You really just have to look at an example if you don’t understand this yet: TouchofModern.com
- Unless it’s absolutely essential, your home page should not force visitors to categorize themselves before they even know what they want from you. The home page of a site should be a portal to everything else the site contains, therefore it should contain the most important information. If, instead, it has three different language flags to click on for example, you are giving unimportant content to first time visitors and search engines and telling them it is important. Instead, the home page can be written in a default language and the three flag icons can be offered somewhere sensible on the same page.
- The usual suspects: Choose Bandwidth, Choose Language, Choose Country, Choose Company Division, or, worst of all, Click to Enter. Blegh!
- If a visitor comes to your site from a search engine, chances are it is because they are looking for something specific, and having too much text on one page forces them to sift through info they don’t care about. It’s not only better to sectionalize the info into different pages from a visitor’s perspective, but from an SEO perspective. Having too little, conversely, prevents a site from even ranking on a search engine, which means no one is going to find the site on their own. Write for your audience!
- The usual suspects: Highly technical websites, business-to-business
- Even worse than too much text is infinite content. If you’ve ever been on Facebook, you know that if you scroll down the page far enough, more content will show up. You also know that, if you want to look for something you saw the day before yesterday, searching through this infinitely long string of past posts is painful. If you’re looking for something from last week, forget it. Infinite scrolling is bad because it buries what people might be looking for and punishes them for trying to find it. Visitors that click on a search result and find they have to scroll through a mile of content to find an article posted two years ago will hit the “back button” instead. There is absolutely no substitute for separating content into individual pages.
- The usual suspects: Blogs, News sites