What not to do on your website.
Written by Laura Wheeler, specialist in successful low or no cost business solutions.
A staggeringly large number of sites offend, make nothing, or frustrate the user into leaving.
What makes a bad website, is failure to do what it set out to do!
The goal of a website is to sell something, persuade, invite, and attract people to come in and spend some time within its confines.
To achieve that goal, a designer must provide efficient function that works nearly every time. They must avoid confusion and unnecessary delays. They must not use elements which distract from the purpose of the pages, or which annoy so badly that the user cannot stick around without developing a headache or triggering seizures! The site must invite, offer, and then deliver in the most effective manner.
An ugly site that functions will beat a gorgeous one that doesn’t, any day!
A simple site that is useful and logical will outperform a complex one every time.
A predictable and efficient but unimaginative site will grow more than a creative but confusing site, without exception.
Every site will have a problem at one time or another. The problems listed here are ones that render a page unusable or ineffective, or so annoying that they do not leave a good impression with the visitor.
We’re not talking about the nit-picky little things that professional web designers sit around being snobbish about. We are not concerned with minor coding issues, or the debate over whether your site should use CSS or plain HTML. We aren’t worried about whether your pages are absolutely as professionally designed as they could be.
No, we are talking about the glaring errors that are so bad that we wonder whether the site builder even LOOKED at the site, or tried to USE it! We mean those features that are SO annoying that you just know that the site owner never bothered to think anything beyond the fact that they just learned a new trick and are determined to show that they can use it!
We invite newbies to learn here, so they can avoid the problems that will stop them cold. And we invite practiced website users to let us know if we left out something that drives you nuts!
A bad background is one that distracts from the purpose of the site. The most common background problem is putting text over a high contrast background.
The background in the left hand sidebar of this site is an example of a background that is right on the edge of being a problem. At first, it was as dark as the background in the header, and that made the text unreadable. It isn’t just the higher contrast of this background, but the fact that the horizontal stripes conflict with the readability of the text when they are very dark.
On the right, you’ll notice that we put the links into a white box. This is because text size also affects readability, and even with the text all black, it still looked choppy over the background. This is one strategy you can use that allows you to keep the effect of a background you like, while still preserving the optimum readability of text.
The major problem is a high contrast background. When there are lots of light and dark extremes in a background, items you put over it will not show up well. The primary concern here is text – any text over it will be unreadable. But even graphics may not show to best advantage when put on a busy background.
There are three basic strategies for compensating for a background that you just love, but which is not going to work well with text over it:
- Increase the text size and bold it. This will only work when the problem is minor. If the text has to be made very large, your site will look clumsy and unprofessional, if not downright ugly.
- Take the background image and open it in an image editing program. Turn the Brightness UP, and the Contrast DOWN. This may gray out your image some, but don’t worry about that yet. Just get it to where there is not a lot of extremes between the lights and the darks. Next, run it through the color enhancement tool – you can increase the intensity of the main colors that you are coordinating with your site. It is best if you go for a light shade which you can put dark text on, or a dark shade that you can put light text on.
- Use the table trick. Create a single cell table, make the background of the cell a solid color. You can even make the table one color, and the cell another (set the cellspacing at 1 or 2 pixels), to give it a contrasting border. This privides a simple, and attractive means of keeping your background, while popping out your text very nicely.
I’ve seen a LOT of sites that make the mistake of using a high contrast background. Some are so unreadable that you cannot even tell what the site is about. It is incomprehensible to me that the site owner did not notice.
Sadly, some of the sites I have seen that are like this are professional sites. Others are created by people who just seem to want what they want, regardless of whether it actually works or not. It is also one of the SIMPLEST problems to fix, so there is really no reason why any site should have this problem.
Big Images, Bad Quality Images
Image problems almost always have to do with size, but it is not visual size that is the most important measurement.
The most common image problem for new site designers is that they create a site that has images that are too large. The page looks GORGEOUS in their HTML editor. They upload it and then preview it in their browser and then it takes FOREVER to show up!
When a site visitor clicks through to your site, and they see a line of image show at the top, followed by another line of the image, and the rate at which the image is advancing down the page tells them that it is going to take a lot of time to show, they do not sit there waiting in anticipation to see what you thought was worth the wait! They get disgusted with your lack of consideration, and they either leave, or try to find a way to go somewhere else in your site.
Huge images are rude. The rule on a website is: Use the smallest images necessary for the required detail or impact.
Huge images occur for two basic reasons:
- The site builder is using a fast internet connection and has no clue how slow their site is on dial-up. Since over half of the world still uses dial-up, this is a significant issue!
- The site builder does not understand how to shrink an image, or what makes an image fast or slow to download.
The size of the image is determined not just by the visual size, but by the file size – how many kilobytes of information the file is made up of.
File size is affected by the number of different colors in the image, as well as by the number of pixels (dots) in the image.
Many times, someone will see the image in their image editing program, and will assume that the image IS the size that they see. But the program will have scaled it down on screen, without having actually changed the image size, just so you can see it all. Look at the top bar of the image, and at the bottom information bar, to see if it is being shown at less than 100%. It often is, and if so, it needs to be scaled down in order to get it to the size you really need on your web page.
There are four basic strategies for reducing image sizes.
- Scale the image down. Make sure you are viewing it at 100%. Then scale it down to the size you need it on your page. A snapshot can be scaled to anywhere from 200 to 450 pixels for easy viewing. Make it as small as you can and still get the impact or detail that you need to show. For some accent elements, you can use a repeating pattern instead of a larger image.
- Compress the image. Images online are saved as JPG, or GIF images. In general, you use JPG for photos that do not have large spaces of a single color. GIF is used for line drawings or clipart, and works very well for text. You can often choose a compression level for JPGs. You want to save it at the lowest compression level that you can, while still preserving the image quality. If you compress a JPG image too far, it will go kind of blurry and funky. The goal is to keep the image quality, while reducing the file size. Compression works by getting rid of color information that is not needed – the extra information bloats the file size.
- Slice the image. This means cut it up into pieces and put the pieces into table cells that are the same size as the pieces. You see this a lot on commercial sites when an image loads in blocks. If you slice it intelligently, with similar colors in each block, it can significantly reduce the combined file size, plus it is less annoying to the visitor to wait for it to load. This is most appropriate for very large images, such as those that are most of a page.
- Use Thumbnails for very large shots that require a lot of detail. Put the thumbnail image – a small version of the image which is just 100 to 250 pixels wide – on the main page. Link that to a full sized version of the shot, so that people can choose whether to view the big one or not. This works well if you want a high resolution image for printing, but do not want to annoy your visitors with having to wait for it to load before they can tell if they are interested or not.
In general, do not create a page that is almost all a single large image unless you use some aggressive strategies to reduce the load time. Some programs use image templates from PhotoShop for web design. Do not use these kinds of templates! HTML templates are MUCH faster to load, and no more difficult to use. If you want to create image intensive pages, then take the time to study up on how to make them load quickly.
Huge images that have no real reason to justify their size are rude. They will annoy your guests, and make you look like an amateur.
Poor quality images are also a problem on many sites, which comes from not understanding how to process images for the web.
The best formats for the web are JPG, and GIF. There are a few rules about making them work right:
- Use JPG for photos. Anything with lots of smoothly blended colors works better with a JPG.
- Use GIF for drawings, or text. Images with large blocks of a single color work best as a GIF.
- Use the smallest compression size that gives you a clear image without ugly distortion. Both formats have several options if you are using good image software, and you can choose the level that gives you the best balance. Very simplified graphics software won’t offer you any options, it will just make the choice for you.
Scaling and cropping images, and compressing them appropriately are skills worth learning if you want a site that is both quick, and attractive.
Before we go anywhere with this one, you need to know right up front that I have a very bad attitude about sound loops! I don’t even like recorded voices on websites, nor do I like sound effects. They bug me, when all of a sudden this website starts blatting or blaring at me!
They bother me so badly that I usually keep my laptop muted. Otherwise every time I get onto a site where something talks, sings, or croons, the kids come running over to say, “What’s that?”. Now, not that I have anything to hide, but I don’t like for my work to disturb the entire household.
It is important in this rant to point out that I am not the only person who feels this way. And even if I were, I am NOT the only person to grumble about Sound Loops!
The problem with sound loops is that they are usually set to loop “forever” or “infinitely”. I got onto a memorial site once (looking for info when we lost our daughter), and it started playing Amazing Grace. Now, the first two times through, it was tolerable. But the story was long, and covered several pages, each of which had that sound loop running in the background, and by the 12th time it cycled through, I was ready to strangle the very nice mother who had added it to the site as a tribute to her daughter. I’m not picking on anyone here, because as I tripped through memorial sites, I encountered no less than 5 sites with Amazing Grace looping in the background, and a good many more sites with other sentimental songs endlessly repeating.
Sound loops also bloat a page, making it take much longer to download. Some people may move on to another page before the sound even fully loads. When you are using multiple browser windows it is very hard to tell which one the sound is coming from, because it starts to blare the minute it finishes loading, whether that page is on top or not!
The solution for sound loops is very simple. Besides the usual rule of not using them unless it is for a significant reason, there is one other thing to do:
NEVER, EVER, EVER set the sound to loop forever! Set it to loop for 2, perhaps 3 times. That is enough! The audience can appreciate it fully, without being stuck in it.
I have been truly appreciative of site owners who have recordings on their site, which have controls to shut it off. I don’t like coming into a site, starting to read, and then having a voice start telling me what is on the page anyway. I’d rather read.
Some people WOULD rather hear it. Fine and dandy, but give me a choice.
It is great that the web is ever more dynamic and flexible, but in using the capabilities, we must make sure that they are not used in a way that drives people nuts!
Unnecessary Flash Animations
There are sites for which Flash is appropriate, and an enhancement, and those for which it is merely an annoyance and a distraction.
Flash requires a fast internet connection (or it takes forever to load), and it requires a plug-in that must be kept up to date. It frequently results in a wait, so whatever is behind the wait had better be worth waiting for!
When you are creating a site for people who are likely to have a fast internet connection and who enjoy movement and distraction, Flash is imminently appropriate.
When you are creating a site that must be accessible to everyone, and which needs to appeal to a wide variety of tastes, then it is not appropriate.
Flash should never be used on a site “just because you can”.
If you are using Flash buttons, then you need to make sure that they function invisibly – in other words, that they function in the same manner as any other clickable button, and that they predictably work. Do not ever try to use buttons which work in a way that is not standard and that people would have to figure out how to use (may sound obvious, but I’ve seen this!). They should also not slow things down.
I have seen sites produced in Flash which would have been much faster and no less functional in plain HTML. We are talking just a simple screen and button, where it did nothing but change the screen when you clicked the button. The ONLY difference in it was that the Flash screens took five times longer to load than an HTML page would have.
Flash interferes with SEO when it is used for primary content items, or links. The worst problem with it is when entire pages are constructed in Flash. If an object or two (such as an image rotator or video segment) is used, which is only part of the page, then Flash is more likely to be an enhancement to a site than if it is overused, and the SEO interference will be minimal.
And that is the real issue with Flash. Function. If Flash enhances the function and purpose of the site, then it is ok to use it. If it interferes with the function, annoys the visitors, or even just does not do anything worth the wait, then a simpler means of accomplishing the task is much better.
Make sure it is necessary, or that it actually has a purpose other than showing off the designer’s skills. Because Flash that exists for no other purpose but to show the world that someone knew how to do it, only serves to make the designer look BAD, not good!
Useless Web Pages
It starts with bad doorway pages, but goes much deeper. Useless pages are a waste of the time of the visitor, and a result of poor site structure and insufficient thought and planning.
I have often built a site, created the navigation, laid out the structure, and then started to fill in content. Often, by the time I get to filling it in, I realize that there are pages in there that did not need to be there. This happens with nearly every site, and is a natural occurrence. But some designers fail to recognize when a page is useless.
If a link states that it will take someone to a certain topic in the site, then it should take them there. No one likes to click a link, only to be presented with another page that says, “Click here to go there!”. They just DID!
You may think I am exaggerating, but I am not. I have seen this on sites from personal sites, all the way up to major corporate sites. It always surprises me when a corporate site does this, but some do!
Perhaps the most common incident in which this problem is found, is with Ad Supported sites. I think the one that takes the cake for sheer number of useless pages is It Pays to Learn. You take quizzes. When you finish a question, you click the answer and go to a page that says, “Click to continue” (just so they can show you an ad). Then you go to the next question. The rest of the site is similar.
Nobody wants to have to click an extra time, and wait for yet another page to download just so they can see an ad! You’ll annoy them, if not outright tick them off. Put your ads in places where they are going to be anyway, don’t create an extra page that exists for no other purpose than to show them another.
I also feel very strongly that one long page that includes a single integrated topic is better than three short pages that break the topic in illogical places. It has become popular on news sites, and other sites that are ad supported, to break stories into so many words per page, just so they can show more ads. But frankly, if a person is not interested in clicking on them on the first page, they are unlikely to be interested on the second! Most people click either on something at the top of the page (when they discover the page does not contain what they wanted), or on the bottom of the page (when they finish, and want something else to do).
Don’t waste your visitor’s time by making them wade through pages that aren’t necessary, or by creating pages that have no purpose that the visitor can appreciate. Remember, it is about what THEY want, more than what you want, and wasting their time is never what they want!
Wasting My Time
This is another major pet peeve of mine. I am a busy person, I have no time to waste wading through badly laid out pages, slow downloads, and features that cost me way more time and effort than they should!
I suppose this subject is fresh on my mind, because our bank recently changed from one online banking website service to another. I used to be able to check my bank balance reliably, albeit awkwardly. Now the whole process is so much more of a hassle I’d not have believed it could have got so much worse!
The old system had a link on the home page for Accounts. That lead to a page where it told you that your account access was on another site. You had to click to go ahead. That lead to a page where you had to AGAIN click Accounts. That lead to the login page. A simple login page on the home page would have done the job!
Once I got to the accounts though, I could click on the one I wanted to view, and it popped right up, after about 30 seconds. I bookmarked the login page, and cut out most of the hassle.
After they changed it, the first part of the process was the same, only every page took four times as long to load, and many of them timed out first. The login page loaded flawlessly, and then it was downhill from there!
I had to try 4 times to login, because it kept timing out on me. Finally the next page loaded, and it was a message page, with a Continue button. I was pretty exasperated by then! I clicked continue, and it timed out. It did that three times. Finally the accounts page came up, giving me the option to see details on specific accounts by clicking another link. I did so. It timed out. I did so again. It timed out again. Two more tries later, it finally went forward…. And kicked me BACK to the login page because the session had timed out! I went through the whole process again, including repeats on the downloads, until it finally let me view my account balances.
I have used this system since, and it is not much better. It is frustrating every time I use it, and even though I have a slow internet connection, this site will misbehave when no other intensive sites do.
I just hate it when someone wastes my time. Most people I know are very busy. Even when they have time to just play, they don’t want someone to frustrate them – that is their time to relax!
Pages that don’t work right, or that take several tries to get to work, pages that download painfully slowly (and usually without justification), or links that lead to useless pages (or that include useless or redundant pages in between), are colossal time wasters. People do not appreciate that!
Pet peeve or not, this is a very valid complaint, and something that can leave your site visitors not just clicking backward, but holding a grudge! The more necessary your service is to them, the more they will resent you.
Bad Doorway Pages
No one likes to wait for a page to download (often with a large graphic), just to be told, “Click Here to Enter Our Site!!!”. They just DID that when they chose your link out of the thousands of search engine results. Do not insult their intelligence or show so little respect for their time, by putting in a useless page as your most important introduction to your site.
Your visitors won’t appreciate you if you waste their time. They will not think your site is a good demonstration of efficiency, intelligence, or usefulness if you start off first thing by showing them a page for which there is no purpose.
Bad doorway pages come in two basic flavors:
Time Wasters – These are what I describe above. A Time Waster is a page that has no real function other than to require the visitor to make an extra click, and to wait for yet another page to download. If you have a doorway page to your site that does not offer multiple link options, then you’d better have a darn good reason to put it there, and that reason had better be one that benefits your site visitors.
A page with a choice between languages, a choice with or without Flash, or other options that offer a potential benefit to your visitors is one thing. A page which has nothing but your logo and the words “enter here” is a colossal waste of time, and will give a bad impression which the rest of your site will struggle to overcome.
Black Hat SEO – This is where a site owner creates multiple pages, in several domains, which all lead to the same site. This type of doorway page is frowned upon by search engines, and is theorized as a tactic that will get your site banned (no one is certain about what does or does not get you banned, but this one is universally accepted as a BAD Tactic). There is really no reason for these anyway, because in the time it takes you to set up a domain and upload a copycat page, you could go out and get yourself a couple of legitimate, good quality backlinks which would do you MUCH more good! And for the cost of all those domain names, you could get some good permanent links from either Paid Inclusion directories, or from flat fee text link placements.
Your home page is your introduction to your site. It should offer the most commonly requested options to your visitors. It should show the scope of your site (with visible product, service, or informational links), and it should offer easy access to contact info and support info. It should beckon the visitor deeper into the site, and invite them to see more.
It won’t invite anyone in if it gives no indication that you have any clue why someone would come to your site in the first place. It needs to show, right off, that it does or does not have the information that the visitor came looking for.
Bad Text Sizes
Size 1 text is very hard to read on some monitors. Even worse, it can show up even smaller than you think on other monitors.
As you can see, I have chosen to use size 1 text on the right hand navigation box – below the Google ads. But I have only chosen to use it for information that is not critical to the purpose or function of my site.
Size 1 text equates on MOST computers to about an 8 point font. This is readable for people with good eyesight, on a monitor with sharp clarity. For people with even minor vision problems, or monitors with less than sharp presentation, it can get difficult to read.
Not only that, but some browsers display text one size smaller than that. So size 1 text can show up as size 6, which, due to the way that a computer screen shows the pixels for the letters, is nothing but hieroglyphics!
This text size has gained popularity as the standard font size on a huge number of sites. People think it makes their site look sharp and professional. To perhaps 50 percent of site visitors though, it simply ends up being unusable. If they have set their browsers to display font sizes larger than that, then your site design will break if it is designed to accommodate the smaller font size without any room to spare.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, large font sizes can be pretty annoying. Who wants to have to scroll down every tenth word, just because the site creator put everything in the largest font size? Think I’m being ridiculous? I’ve seen business sites that do that!
Larger fonts are appropriate for headlines, labels, attention getters, and special emphasis. They are not appropriate for general use.
The last font size issue is one of extremes. More professional pages typically use a range of font sizes that does not cover the entire spectrum. Three, or maximum four font sizes are sufficient for a page.
It is also best to be consistent with your font sizes through your site. A headline font size that is the same on each page, an emphasis font size that is the same on each page, and then your standard font that you use for the bulk of your text. You may choose to use a smaller font as well, for items of less importance, which you want on the page, but which are not of primary importance. You can combine your headline and emphasis sizes, or just bold your main font size for emphasis.
Font sizes can be more precisely controlled with CSS, but for beginners who are starting out with nothing but a plain HTML editor, the best option might be to avoid the largest and smallest font sizes, or if you have to use the smallest size, use it only as suggested for non-critical items.
All Caps equals a perception of rudeness, and is the equivalent of shouting online.
All Lower Case equals a perception of Low Intelligence online.
You see this more in emails than on websites, but some website authors still are too lazy to use the shift key.
All Caps is harder to read than standard text. You should not use it unless you need to for emphasis, or for shorter titles or headings.
Use your shift key. Practice good typing.
If you fail to use the shift key when you type, in either direction, your site visitors will view you as lazy, and incompetent. They will not credit you with the attention to detail necessary to meet their needs. They will automatically lower your IQ in their minds by about 40 or more points.
So even if you are just producing information, it will not be viewed as RELIABLE information. It will be suspect, and your site will lack the credibility necessary to build trust.
To site visitors who see high quality text everywhere else, your site will be viewed as low quality, before they have really even READ the content.
It’s a small thing, that leaves a huge impression.
Advertising is a fact of the web. And one that most people reasonably understand as being the price of freely available information. But nobody likes to come into a site that has so many ads that it is hard to even find what the content is.
So how do you define the line between a reasonable number of ads, and too much?
Personally, I like to make sure that there is no confusion between the actual content, and the ads. If something is on my site and appears to be content, I want it to be something that I am recommending to my site visitors. But then, I am marketing to a group of people who like to be given up front choices about where they go and what they do.
When your site visitors have to work hard to find the purpose of the page, or when they must keep making a concentrated effort to avoid the ads, then you have too many. Just ask a few friends, and they’ll tell you if there are too many, or if they are obnoxious in their placement!
Ads are there to make money. So you want them to be where they will get clicked. There are two basic thoughts on this:
- Make them so they cannot be ignored. People who subscribe to this theory will put them in the most inconvenient places to scroll past. They will sometimes hide the ads by making them blend in completely with the page so it is difficult to tell that they ARE ads.
- Put them in logical places, where people can either pay attention to them or ignore them, as they choose. There are “standard” places for ads. And those are places that people will naturally look IF they do not find what they want on the page. Those places are the sidebars, and the bottom of the content area. People who use this strategy may also either contrast or blend their ads.
I don’t believe in forcing anybody to do anything on my site. So I don’t like the strategy of making ads intrusive. I’d rather put them where people can make their own choice about whether to view them or not. My sites with ads DO earn well, so for my site visitors, it works.
I also feel that when a site is ad supported, it is ok for the ads to be visible, and for them to be put in places where they are obvious, but not obnoxious. Because free information DOES have a price. SOMEONE has to pay for it!
AdSense has rules about how many ad blocks you can put on a site. The limit is 3 for Content Blocks. You can ad some link blocks as well. But generally, I find that 3 ad blocks is plenty anyway, and enough to hit the top, the middle, and the bottom as someone scrolls down. If a page is longer than that, then it can be divided up, or you can put some other type of ads in the middle of the content.
Ads are NOT content though. And the purpose of your site, while it IS earning from ads, is to provide good content. Without that, the site will not establish a solid and continuing traffic base.
I cannot think of a single instance where the use of frames enhances the user experience on a website, or in which it would make the use or function of the site more efficient.
Frames are usually used for the convenience of the web designer – when they do not wish to have to update links across an entire site, or when they want to show off that they can do it. Sometimes they are used in an attempt to conceal web code from the site user. They do not enhance the user experience in any way.
Frames also interfere with efficient indexing by search engines. This is especially key to shoestring startups, who need all the free traffic they can get! Putting your site into frames only creates another obstacle you will have to overcome in your marketing.
Some site designers make the mistake of making all links open into frames within the site – including off-site links. While this does keep your site visible, it also annoys the visitor when they want to get OUT of your site, or when they want to just see the other site without your frames around it.
Frames are rarely used by professional web designers. When they are used, it is only with a compelling reason for doing so.
They were sort of a fad about 5 years ago. The latest thing that someone could do, so everyone wanted to prove they could do it too. They allowed designers to produce a modular site design, where you could put site-wide elements into a section that you could update globally by just changing one file. A nifty idea, but one that caused problems in other areas.
The glow quickly wore off, as frames were found to be inconvenient, and since they introduced unnecessary complications. Most importantly, the search engines failed to index framed sites accurately, and a huge amount of SEO benefit was lost when using frames.
Today, EVERY HTML editing program has the capacity to produce sites with frames very simply. So simply that new site designers see it and just have to try it. There seems to be a compulsion in some new designers to make things as complex as possible, as though by doing so they can impress everyone by showing off their skills. Trust me, using frames is NOT the way to do it!
When you use frames in a site that could just as easily be designed using a simple template, no one is impressed by your prowess. It will make you look unskilled, rather than skilled. Even plain, unpretentious HTML pages with no frills look more professional.
Most HTML editors now have a way to handle global navigation, or to use “shared content blocks” or “global content blocks” so you can do rapid site-wide updates of key elements. There is no reason to use frames when you could spend the time setting up the time saving features that a program offers that will give you just as much design assistance.
If you want a modular site design that requires less updating, then take the time to learn to use a PHP based Content Management System. It will serve you better, be more flexible, and even be more search engine friendly in most cases.
Frames are another application of the rule for always choosing the simplest manner of creating a site. Use the least complex option to get the job done predictably and functionally.
Overlapping items are the result of bad, or improperly interpreted code. They typically occur from using browser specific code, or from using Site Builders or WYSIWYG software that does a poor job of creating compatible code.
When certain programs write code, they’ll use code that is not standard, or which doesn’t handle placement of elements well. The program which creates the code will show it in the way you wanted it to be, but when you view it in the Browser, the Browser interprets it in a different way. So when you are building the site, it looks fine in the software, but once you load it, it has problems online.
To further complicate the issue, sometimes the code will show up right in one browser, but not in another. This can happen for a variety of reasons, some of which are simple to repair, some which are not. And many sites which look great in Mozilla, will fail to display properly in IE, especially older versions.
When a program creates a container for each text block, requiring you to create a text box to put all text in, it usually causes problems. When the font type and size are not controlled in a way that works across all platforms, text can often overlap other text, or other objects on the page, because it can show up different sizes, or even with a different font, depending on the browser, the operating system, and the user preferences.
HTML Software that has the greatest problem with this is that which works most like desktop publishing software – it treats everything as an object. Now, this is not a condemnation of all of that type of software, just a warning that in general, the cheaper the software, the more of a problem it will be. Free web software that uses object oriented layout is the worst.
I recommend that if you use free software, you use the type that works more like a word processing program, instead of like a desktop publishing program. It works with text and elements a bit differently, and allows you the ability to view the code directly.
Always preview your site as well – Preview it in Internet Explorer and Mozilla. Those two will give you a good idea of whether the majority of your site visitors are seeing what you want them to see, in a way that looks good.
If it is not showing up right, then look for things like object sizes that need to be flexible width instead of set width, or positioning that needs to be relative (anchored to another object) instead of absolute (put in a specific spot on the page). Sometimes extra paragraph tags, or the absence of paragraph tags can mess things up. Sometimes the absence of a closing tag on an object or element can throw it all off.
One of the best pieces of advice I have heard about web design is that you don’t have to get the design to look the same in all browsers. You just have to get it to WORK and not look BAD in them! And usually, if it works ok in Mozilla and IE, that is close enough to run with.
In the early days of the web, monitors were small. You can’t quite appreciate that statement unless you have browsed the web on a Mac Color Classic with a 9″ screen!
Horizontal scroll allowed people with minuscule monitors to view pages that were wider than their screens. And back then, in order to fit very much onto a page, you really had to make it wider than the smaller screens.
But requiring a large percentage of your site visitors to scroll in two directions to see your content is rude. Generally, about 40% of the site visitors to an average site (not a highly technical one, where screen sizes tend to average higher) will have the current “average minimum” screen size. This has been 800X600 for about two years now, and is on the verge of changing.
What that means is, your site, by one means or another, should be easy to view on a monitor that is only 800 pixels wide. In another year or so you will be able to increase that to 1024 pixels.
You have two strategies to handle monitor size issues:
- Fixed width design. This means (at the current time), a design width that is 780 pixels wide (giving 20 pixels on the side for the scrollbar, on an 800 pixel screen). This is the most predictable, and least time consuming method of addressing this issue.
- Flexible width design. The design stretches and moves to grow with the width of the browser window. Now, this has several issues:
- No matter how carefully you design it, it will always have a problem of some elements not looking right, either because the screen is too narrow, or because someone stretched it out full size on a massive cinema display.
- At wider widths, rows of text can be very difficult to read. The rule is about three alphabets wide, and on a very wide screen, your content can end up five to eight alphabets wide. This makes tracking from one row to the next hard to do.
- Some items will get wider as the design is stretched, some will not. This means that column lengths will be increasingly mismatched as the width increases. It also means that you’ll end up with unexpected white space, or worse, elements out of place, as the width changes.
- You may not be able to view the design on your own screen at the width that someone else views it, so it may do unexpected things on their monitor that it does not do on yours.
- It will take more time, and more experience, to get a reasonably predictable layout using flexible width design. And no matter how experienced you are, it will still do odd things sometimes.
- Methods for setting minimum and maximum widths are not yet predictable across all major browsers.
I know designers who just have fits over fixed width designs, equating them with unprofessionalism. I know others who refuse to tolerate the unpredictability of flexible width designs, and who feel that they are simply not an economical choice. Still others could care less, as long as the design looks good and works good most of the time.
It is important to insure that your site performs for 95% or more of the people who will visit your site. So make sure that the width of your design will be friendly to their typical usage habits. If you make even 25% of your visitors scroll in two directions to see what you have, then your site will not be appreciated.
Worse than having to scroll horizontally on a site, is when someone designs a fixed-width design, and then sets the window to “no scroll”. Believe it or not, I have seen this problem on a MAJOR nationwide chain store’s site!
Designers sometimes use “no scroll” to eliminate the scrollbars on the side of the window, or more often, on the side of a frame. They do so thinking only that it will remove the scrollbars, not realizing that it removes the ability to even scroll at all! And designers often use larger than average screens to design on, so when someone with a smaller screen views the site, they cannot even access the parts that they cannot see!
You need to understand that I’d not even mention this here, except for the fact that I’ve run into it more than once, and each time it was on sites that were for major retailers! You’d not think that this would be a problem with anyone but a rank amateur who just learned a new command, but it has been!
The first time I ran into this, it was an inconvenience. The site had frames, and the bottom frame had information which ran off the right side. I could not scroll over to see it.
The second time, it was on a site without frames, and I could not see or access the right sidebar, where there was information that I wanted – it was referred to in the text, but I could not get at it! I finally slid the window over so it was off the screen on the left, and then widened the window until I could see it. This type of problem has happened more than once.
The third time, the site was again built in frames. It had a frame for the navigation on the left – the major navigation for the site. And that frame was set to No Scroll. The options for the site ran down and off the screen. The catalog links ran below the visible area. I could tell that the items I wanted were probably there, based on the way the site was organized, but I could not even access the links for them because the designer had stopped me. I could not use the trick of sliding the window because it was a vertical listing.
There is never a time when the “no scroll” tag is needed. The only thing it does is remove the flexibility from your site for it to be viewed on a variety of screen sizes. If you don’t like the scrollbars, then don’t use frames, or make your site design so that they won’t normally show, or so that it accommodates them without interference. It’s not like scrollbars on the average page are going to be a problem, they only interfere with content when a site is in frames, and there are very few instances where frames are justifiable.
No Scroll is not a neat little trick to pretty up your site. It is a rude and short-sighted option, which can completely disable your site for people with smaller monitors.
Microsoft Word Pages
I am not the only web designer to beg people not to build websites with Microsoft Word! Just because a program says it CAN produce HTML code, is not a reason to use it to build a site!
Word is not the only program to claim that it can write HTML code in addition to its stated purpose, but Word and Excel are the two WORST programs to try to use for the task!
You see, when a program has a primary purpose, and then writes HTML code as an afterthought, it rarely does a good job because nobody is concerned with really getting it to work right. In fact, programs which were designed specifically for writing HTML code are also flawed – it is the nature of the beast, that it takes a great deal of tweaking and patching just to get one to write acceptable code at all. Just ask users of DreamWeaver, or Front Page!
But when you take a program that was created for an entirely different purpose, and try to make it write HTML code, it will unavoidably do a worse job than one that is created with that express purpose in mind. Many Publishing programs and word processing programs will produce HTML code, but they do not necessarily do a good job of it. Open Office is perhaps the most acceptable one, but it does some awfully weird things too.
Word and Excel though, have taken the prize for sheer code bloat and warped code. Excel produces the same kind of code that Word does, so from here on out you can group them together. Bloated code means that it takes them 5 lines of code to describe what other programs take 1 line to describe. And 5 times as much code means 5 times as long to load the page. That is on the simple pages. Some pages produce even more convoluted and redundant code!
But if that were its only problem, we’d not have so much reason to complain. It is, alas, just the beginning of Word’s offenses! It also uses proprietary code. That is, Microsoft has again decided that no matter what the rest of the world is doing, they have to do it their own way (if it were superior, we’d understand, but I have yet to meet the computer guru who was not on the payroll of Microsoft who thought that ANYTHING that Microsoft produced was superior!). It uses code that is not even HTML code, but which some (but not all) browsers have incorporated into their programming. The problems with that extra code are legion.
The code produces further bloat, and it is unpredictable. It shows up differently from browser to browser – in fact MOST code does, but the differences with Word code are not minor, nor do they look at all similar!
Links fail to work, elements appear in strange places, and content gets lost in a sea of code that search engines won’t bother to wade through. Page widths display unpredictably, page lengths can go on for miles whether there is content to fill them or not, and not even Internet Explorer interprets the code correctly – you’d think that Microsoft programs would at least work with each other, but apparently the attitude of doing it their own way carries over to individual departments as well.
So, it is our opinion that nobody who wished to produce a functional page would EVER use this program! And ANYBODY who knows even the basics about web design would recoil in horror at the thought of actually uploading unaltered code created by Word.
Since copying and pasting from one program to another in Windows now preserves HTML code, even copying content from a Word document and putting it into an HTML editor can create a problem in an otherwise acceptable document. Many programs though, do have the ability to “clean up HTML code”, and some even have the option of stripping out MS Office generated code – you see, I told you it isn’t just ME that has a problem with it! You’ll probably still have to strip out STYLE and SPAN tags to get your page to display with your own stylesheet though.
With web pages, small problems with code are unavoidable, and usually won’t cause problems. But the code IS the page. HTML is a language which tells the browser how to display a page – it is a list of instructions. Put this item there, put this item here, make this border this color, etc. So getting code that shows things predictably, and which is efficient is important. Minor issues are pretty common, and usually not visible, but the gargantuan problems that Word produces are visible on the surface – in the form of slow pages and radically unpredictable behavior.
If you have to create a web page, and you lack software to do the job simply in a graphical environment, then download a free copy of NVU. It isn’t perfect either, but it will sure do a better job than MS Word!
Form problems can frustrate your site visitor into leaving, or make them distrustful of your company.
Forms have their advantages, no doubt. They can help you to solicit information of a specific type, and they can make it easier for people who are using the internet from a computer that is not their own. But they are not foolproof, and they often have problems.
I have been on a website that was not functioning properly. I wanted to give feedback and let the web designer know what the problem was. So I clicked the Contact button, and was sent to a form, which did not work either! This was on a HUGELY prominent site, and I was shocked that they had not insured that the form actually worked.
There was no email address. No phone number. No mail address. The only way to contact them was through the form, which did not work. They effectively silenced everyone who could have informed them that the reason they never got feedback was because it did not work!
It is wise to offer more than one means of contact, just in case one does not work for some reason. A form is ONLY a convenience IF it works properly.
Some web designers will tell you that you should put in a form instead of an email address, because it will reduce spam that comes in to you from your site. That is not strictly true, and forms have security problems that your email address does not have. A spammer can use your form to send spam to other people, which will then appear to have been sent by you. This will eventually result in suspension of your hosting account by your hosting provider. Not good business. The vast majority of easy to access forms have security vulnerabilities which allow spammers to misuse them, so it is important that you only use forms that have good security. After all, a flood of spam in YOUR inbox is an annoyance. Having your server shut down because someone else abused it in your name is a serious problem.
I also have a pet peeve about companies that use shipping forms that do not allow P.O. Boxes. If they only ship UPS, or some other carrier besides the postal service, this is ok. But some will prohibit P.O. Boxes because they feel that a high number of businesses conceal their identity behind a post office box number.
The problem with that logic is that there are many many small businesses and individuals who live in rural areas, who do not HAVE street delivery. And the Post Office can refuse to deliver mail that has only the street address on it. These honest people, when faced with a form which requires a billing address or postal mail address, but which prohibits Post Office box numbers, are told in effect, to go away, that they are not welcome there.
The best solution is to ask for a billing address and a shipping address, OR, a street address in addition to a post office box. To prohibit Post Office boxes just because you don’t like the way some people use them, sends a negative message to many people who have no choice.
Use forms wisely, and choose them carefully. A badly constructed form, or one that is too simply written, can cause problems for your site visitors, or problems for your business.
No Contact Information
There are certain types of sites where contact info is not such a big deal, but if you provide products or services, or if you produce information for which credibility is an issue, then easily accessible contact information is essential!
If you sell a product or service, the lack of easily visible contact info is a statement right from the start that you do not intend to back up the sale. Look at websites for the unquestionably successful corporations. You will find that almost without exception, there is a contact link available from every page in the site.
As a personal aside, two of the most visited pages on EVERY SINGLE website I own, are the Contact page, and the About page. I rarely actually get emailed, but they go there to see who I am and where I come from before they trust me.
Contact information can be provided by one of two standards:
- Place a Contact link on every page of the site. Put it in the same place on every page so it is predictably available. Standard places for Contact links are Top of the page (in a horizontal nav bar), Bottom of the page (again, in a horizontal bar), or bottom of the left hand sidebar navigation.
- Place full contact information at the bottom of the left hand sidebar. Placing this info here is an alternate placement, and removes the need for a Contact page. Sites with a lot of links in the sidebar, or which have a lot of advertising in the sidebar will not be as appropriate for this option.
If you provide a Contact link, you’ll want to create a separate page just for the contact information. It should include the following items:
- Company or Individual name (sometimes both).
- Specific contact name if applicable – If you have different people for support or orders, then that needs to be included.
- Company address – If you put a P.O. Box, a note at the bottom as to why may help with credibility.
- Contact Phone number – This isn’t essential, but it does help, because there are people who still prefer to call and talk in person.
- Email address – This one you MUST have.
- Any other support or contact options that you offer.
- Listing of company hours, notice about how fast it takes for replies to be received by sender, etc. Anything that might help them feel better about your operating procedures.
- If you have a contact form, then PLEASE provide a standard email address also. Forms are notorious for malfunctioning in unpredictable situations, and it is highly frustrating for someone to not even be able to tell you that the form doesn’t work!
Now, even if you have a contact page, you should also have a direct email link on each page. Yes, this is somewhat redundant, but for some people, that email link is just simpler and faster, and they’ll use it more readily than they’ll go to a Contact page.
The whole point here is that you WANT feedback. You WANT people to be able to contact you easily. For a business, feedback is very important to developing successfully.
If you don’t listen to your customers, then you really aren’t well suited to operating a business. Because the business isn’t about what you want to sell, or how you want to sell it, it is about THEM. It is about what they want to buy, and how they want to buy it! Shut them up, and you just shut the door on your greatest success roadmap.
The issues are pretty much the same if you are providing information, because they need a way to contact you if they feel your info is in error, or a way to let you know your site is not working for them, or a way to contribute a comment which can be used to your advantage. Keep the lines of communication open, and your site visitors will return information to you that is of value.
Contact links and placements are pretty standard online. Stick with the standard expectations and your customers might not even notice that you did, but if you neglect to provide that information, they WILL notice, and they won’t trust you.
Now, there are sites, mostly “one page sales sites”, or “squeeze pages” which are all hype. Their goal is not to develop a relationship with the customer, but to blow them over with hype, overpower their sense of reason, and persuade them to buy against their better judgment. Those pages almost NEVER have contact info on them. But they don’t get repeat sales either. They don’t build a solid reputation, and their business does not gain momentum.
If you want a solid foundation for your business, then give your potential customers reason to trust you, and make yourself accessible to them.
Pop-ups were once thought to be a great way to catch someone’s attention. Most smart marketers and web designers do not use them for marketing purposes anymore.
About half of all browsers are set to disallow pop-ups. That indicates right there that there are a HUGE number of people who consider them to be an annoyance that is enough of an annoyance to deal with the times when having pop-ups blocked will be an inconvenience (it is sometimes).
And of those people who still allow pop-ups, perhaps half of those do not block pop-ups because they have no clue how to do so, or even that they CAN do so.
The vast majority of people in general have the same automatic instinct when they see a pop-up: Click the Close button.
You see, a pop-up is an intrusion. It is not like television ads where the intrusion is just the price you pay for watching the show you like. It has a button where you can make it go away, so if you are annoyed by it, you can just ignore it. And most people do.
There are marketers who still say that pop-ups work, but they really only do among the most incredulous of potential customers! For the average web situation, they are rude, useless, and a waste of time or money, and in fact will do more harm than good if they drive away intelligent customers.
Pop-ups have been used to advertise the trashiest and the worst of internet products. They have a bad reputation. Use them on your site, or to market your site, and you’ll be tarred with the same brush.
Another element similar to this is the “non-stoppable pop-up” which is really just a floating menu. Now, reason with me here: The reason they feel they need a non-stoppable pop-up is because too many people either ignore or block pop-ups. People do this because they HATE THEM! So, by using a non-stoppable pop-up, you are going to FORCE people to see what you already know they hate! You are going PURPOSELY ANNOY THEM!
Hmmm. That really doesn’t sound like a really smart marketing tactic to me!
One pop-up is an annoyance. If you have them on every page, then people will leave the site. They really do hate them that badly!
Never assume that just because it is YOUR site, and YOUR product, that someone will make an exception to their pet peeves, just because you think what you sell is so neat! It isn’t. They aren’t nearly so thrilled about it as you are! They will consider you to be just another ignorant and inconsiderate yutz that they don’t want to do business with.
Everybody makes typos! Unless you are a major corporation with multi-level staffing where a site gets checked over multiple times by different individuals before going live, you are GOING to have typos! But there IS a limit!
When more than one word per paragraph is misspelled, when there are combinations of misspellings and grammatical errors, and when sentence structure and punctuation are jumbled, it makes reading the content and focusing on it very difficult.
Good spelling, grammar, and punctuation do equate in most people’s minds with intelligence, and attention to detail. Those are good qualities in someone from whom you are soliciting service, products, or information.
When the overall content is high quality, and the message is one that the reader wants, they’ll happily forgive the odd error. But when the text is riddled with errors, their estimation of your capability is seriously lowered, and the impact of your message is radically altered.
Each time they encounter a visible typo, it will register in their brain for a moment, distracting them from the content temporarily. If this happens three or more times, then it will gain importance, to where it begins to become the focus of the page to them, replacing the actual content as the element of primary focus. Enough typos, and by the end of the page they’ll not remember what you had to say, they’ll only remember how badly you said it.
You do NOT want them to go away remembering only that you were a bad writer! You want them to remember the substance of your message, whether it be product descriptions, information, service details, or instructions.
Most bad spellers KNOW they are bad spellers (and there are many who are very smart people). If you are one of them, then just make sure that you have someone competent review your text before it goes live. It is not that hard to do, and that extra step will really save you some headaches.
Spell checkers are helpful, but not completely accurate. They miss many spelling errors involving homonyms, and when you use “your” for “you’re”, or “then” instead of “than”. 100% accurate by the spell checker may still be significantly flawed!
Typos are some of those little details that it pays to attend to.
Purely Ugly Pages
Let’s be clear here, purely ugly is not the same thing as unattractive, or unimaginative. And I don’t mean a page that just fails to appeal! I’m talking about so ugly that anyone with any sense of taste would recoil in horror!
We are talking colossally, mind-bogglingly ugly. Plain is a different thing, and sites are often described as ugly when they are really just unappealing or without embellishment. I don’t mean that. I mean when someone DID embellish it, but did it all wrong!
Clashing styles, conflicting colors, wrangling textures, and other elements that, when combined, end up dominating the site with a message of repulsion that overpowers the content.
You may think I am exaggerating. I’m not. I have seen some hideously ugly sites in the years that I have been designing sites. They tend to be designed by the kind of people who were, in the eighties, still wearing orange polyester pants, with green plaid shirts from two decades before.
Now, bad taste is no determiner of character. My grandmother, who had a kind heart, loved to crochet. She combined colors that really should not have been combined, into items that were completely unattractive, and totally useless. Her character was noble and appreciated. Her Christmas gifts were not always, because she had no understanding of artistic aesthetics, contemporary fashion, or color combinations. She lived in a day when you must never wear red and purple at the same time, but where green, brown, and mustard yellow were an acceptable combination, and she could not see past the rules she had been taught. She saw things through those rules rather than with her eyes.
So this is not an indictment of any person who has no taste in design. It is merely an indictment of those who insist on keeping sites as they built them after they have been told that it is not usable. Some people do not innately understand how others will perceive visual elements. Some people do. It is only a problem if you insist that you can, when you can’t!
If you have any question about the design of your site, ask your neighbor – You know, the one with the tastefully decorated home? Ask an interior designer, or someone who sells popular craft items (the popular part is important!). They’ll know whether or not your site is acceptable. It doesn’t have to be any particular STYLE, it just needs to coordinate and work to present a unified message and feel!
Ugly design is rarely a matter of any single element being ugly in itself. It is usually an issue of the elements being put together in the wrong combination. So frequently, the solution to ugliness is merely changing one or two elements so that they coordinate instead of conflicting.
When in doubt about colors, use three of a similar hue – light blue, royal blue, and navy – and add black and white.
When in doubt about patterns, keep them subtle, low contrast, and use the same one in two shades.
When in doubt about page embellishments, keep it simple. Simple is almost always better than complex.
If something doesn’t quite go, leave it off.
Never get too attached to a particular design idea – this is a fatal flaw that often gets in the way for beginners, but which any good professional will not do! If the original idea does not work, discard it without regret!
With every design, there is a point where it comes together, and “clicks”. Keep tweaking until you get to that point, but if you tweak a lot and it still doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to scrap the whole thing and start over in a different direction.
Plain sites can work well, unimaginative ones can excel. Slightly unattractive ones can even get by. But downright ugly ones will repel, and conflict with your business message.
I was viewing a rather prominent professional website (designed by professional web designers) just a few weeks ago. The site was not a problem, but they had an ad on the site that had an extremely fast flashing GIF animation. After about 10 seconds, I felt like my eyeballs would bounce right out of my head!
That animation, even though it had nothing to do with the content of the site, and even though it was so plainly an ad (which I was trying to ignore), had such an obnoxious frame rate that no matter where I looked on the page, that flashing annoyed me at a very deep level.
The primary problem with animations is the frame rate. Too fast, and it can make the ad completely ineffective for several reasons:
- Animations with text that are too fast will not be understood, because the frames will change too fast for anyone to be able to actually READ the message.
- Fast frame rates can be very annoying. They annoy at a very deep psychological level. They can even trigger seizures in epileptics (I kid you not). Annoying your potential customers is NEVER a good idea!
- If they are TOO obnoxious, it will make it nearly impossible for site visitors to even get through any other content you have on the site. Like a crying baby while you are trying to read a book – you simply cannot focus on the sentences or appreciate the content while this thing is flashing in your peripheral vision. It will actually drive people off your site.
Such problems are serious! They completely stop your graphic from achieving what you wanted it to achieve, and actually become a negative factor instead of a positive one.
- Animations are good for getting attention, but if they are so distracting that people cannot even use the site, they are a harmful influence.
- Animations are also just great for when you have a small space, and you want to put more than one message into the space. Slow down the frame rate though so it is comfortable to view, so that the visitor can actually GET the message.
For highly distracting attention getters, consider looping the animation only once or twice, then freeze it. Animation programs give you control over how fast the frames display, and how many times it loops. Loop it three, or maximum five times. Enough for visitors to see it if they missed it the first time, but then give them a rest and let them appreciate the rest of your site.
Use animations to invite, not to push. Your site visitors will appreciate you. And if you are creating animated banners for display on other sites, the owners of those sites will appreciate your consideration also.
There are few things more frustrating than entering a site and not being able to even figure out where you can go from the home page. Some sites take it to another level by making it difficult to get from interior pages to other interior pages or back to the Home page.
When someone comes into your site, and cannot move around logically from one place to another, they will leave. And they are likely to leave with the impression that your company is not too smart, and that it is disorganized about more than just the website.
Good navigation does not ever need to be complex. It should be thoughtful though. The most common navigation problems are:
- No way to get anywhere from the home page, or illogically named links from the home pages into the site.
- No links on page to get from where you are, to where you want to be next.
- Inconsistent navigation – it changes from page to page.
- Badly organized navigation – some sites have links six or seven layers deep, in a way that is not logical, and there is no clue from the top level link that it is the one you need to click to get to the bottom layer links.
Navigation on a website is like the controls in a car. Imagine getting into a car that had the accelerator on the door panel, or the brake on the roof. I drove in a car once that had the windshield wiper control and the light switch right next to each other – driving at night, if it started to rain, you might just turn off the lights instead of turning on the windshield wipers! While web navigation errors are not life-threatening, they can be deadly to a business.
When your site offers confusion instead of intuitive ease in getting around, you make a bad impression on the visitor. You annoy them and complicate their life. Guaranteed that someone else out there has a site with substantially the same offerings you have, but which got it right!
Predictability is FAR more important than creativity in navigation!
Creativity is wonderful when you can do it in a way that does not leave the visitor feeling lost and confused, but if you have to sacrifice creativity for function, do it without a qualm!
There is nothing original in the navigation in 99% of the sites on the web, and there is a reason why. Because standard forms of navigation WORK. People using them know what to expect, and they are able to easily use it. It makes them feel like they are in a familiar environment, which makes them feel more comfortable about your website.
There are several standard navigation types:
- Single level interlinked. This site uses single level navigation, where every page is linked from the home page, and every page has a link back to the home page. This only works for sites with not much more than 50 pages. Google doesn’t like more than 100 links per page. It is the fastest type of navigation for getting your site indexed quickly.
- Tree navigation. This means that the home page has a series of categories linked to it, and each category has links off of it into sub-categories. With this type, you often use interlinked navigation in the subcategories – in other words, within a sub-category, each page is linked to each other page within the category. You might see this as a main navigation bar in one location, and some kind of sub-navigation bar to interlink the subcategory pages. Sometimes site owners omit the interlinking of the sub-category, using just a link back to the main category page instead. There are MANY creative and logical ways to build sub-category links. It is best to not go more than three layers deep unless you create a new site section, in a sub-folder, which you can register in its own right – search engines reputedly don’t spider very deeply unless you register a separate section deeper in the site.
- Ring navigation. This means the home page connects to one page, which links to the next, so you progress from one page to another in a specific order. This is appropriate for educational sites, or presentation sites where people need to see things in a certain order, but it is not appropriate for other types. You never want to lock someone into a ring navigation unless you have a reason that THEY can understand for doing so.
Many sites use a combination of these methods. For example, an online education site might use interlinked navigation for the home page and standard contact, policy and site info pages, with tree navigation for course section descriptions and choices, and then ring navigation for each individual course.
Each site should use navigation that is suited to the topics. I consider the number of topics that I will be addressing, how many categories or subcategories I’ll be covering and how varied they are, the general feel and mood I need to create with the site, and the types of links that the site needs. Some sites need two nav bars, some need three, some need four. Some need descriptions with each category, some do not. Some will need preview links for navigation from the home page and category pages, some won’t. The navigation I choose is always chosen for what I feel will be the best way to draw the visitor into the site, given the topic and items we are showcasing on the site.
The important thing is that it be obvious from the home page, which link to click if you want to find specific information. If I want to know the difference between standard snow tires and studded, then I would expect to find a link on the home page about “Tire Types”, then a link for “Snow Tires”. If I come into the site and find links for “Buy a Tire”, “Why Our Brand is Best”, and “Frequently Asked Questions”, then I’m not really going to have a clear idea about where to go to find what I want, even if the site DOES have the specific info I want. I might have to flounder around a bit before I find what I want.
Generally, people will click ONE link level if they don’t know quite where to find something. If they go through the links on that level and still do not have a clue where to look, they won’t bother digging anymore. You are wasting their time. Make it clear, in some way or other, what the information is behind the link. Well chosen link names, and logical categorization of information can make a world of difference in how much time people spend on your site, and whether they return, or whether they buy.
Good navigation takes a little practice, and it takes a good understanding of the target audience. Impatient audiences need simple navigation with logical and well defined link names. Creative audiences will usually be willing to put a bit more time into figuring out a navigation standard, but when they do, it had better be consistent through the whole site!
There is nothing unique about the navigation on most of my sites. Usually I have three navigation bars, and while I may change the locations some, I often use a standard three-column layout with a horizontal navigation bar. The horizontal bar contains site related info links – links which do not specifically contain topical content. The left vertical sidebar contains site content related links – the information that the visitor really came for. This is because most people will look on the left side for what they really want first. The right sidebar contains off-site links, extra informational links, or occasionally, this is where I’ll put sub-navigation links. This is because the right sidebar is where people look last for what they want – and because on a small monitor, that is the part that gets cut off. I rarely use a two column layout with just a right sidebar for that reason.
The important part about site layout in regard to navigation links is that the links be placed where people can logically find them, and then that they be grouped in logical groupings. Product or service listings should be in one place together. Contact, policies and about pages should be in a group together, even if they are next to the product or service listings. Informational offerings should be grouped by logical category. This applies even when the groupings are not labeled. People’s brains work logically, and if they see a Contact link, they’ll look beside it for an Email or About link.
Place the MOST important links in the most obvious navigation bar. Wherever that is in your layout, don’t misuse the space! It should be for the most important site content – the stuff that the visitor is most likely to WANT to see.
Maybe it isn’t creative, but it does work.
For sub-navigation, there are all kinds of options, all of which work well:
- Place the sub-navigation under the primary category topic, only indent it to set it apart slightly.
- Use different bullets with the sub-navigation than you use with main navigation.
- Place the sub-navigation in a horizontal navigation bar, or in the right navigation bar.
- Put the sub-navigation links above and below the content on the page.
- Nest the sub-navigation on the right or left side of the content, between the content and the main sidebars.
There are lots of other ways too. Good sub-navigation layout and links can make getting around in the site so much easier, and that encourages people to stay, and to come back.
Navigation on interior pages is critical, because search engines index each individual page in your site. That means someone may come in on any page – if you have no back links, no links to other pages, how will they look at any other pages in your site if they are interested?
Some people use a “breadcrumb trail” to show someone where they are. This is often shown as a simple text link trail at the top of the content, such as Home > Main Category > Sub-Category > Pagename. If your navigation is well laid out, a breadcrumb trail is not necessary. They work best for large and complex sites on which there may not be room to put interlinked sub-navigation bars.
Good navigation is perhaps one of the defining elements that separates professional sites from amateur ones. Learn how to do this correctly, and how to suit the navigation to the site, and your professionalism will skyrocket.
Navigation is a key element in overall site design and message. It is also a huge help in Search Engine Optimization if you get it right.
Good navigation standards for a website rank in my book as one of the least obvious, but most important aspects of good website design.
Flashing or Scrolling Text
Text that moves so much you cannot read it, flashing text that distracts no matter where you look, ticker tapes that take forever to read, scrolling reader boards that give you a headache if you try to actually decipher the messages, and other moving text should be used in moderation!
There are rules about these things, and they are all so much based on common sense that anyone could figure them out if they gave a moment of thought to the matter. Unfortunately though, many web designers neglect to consult common sense when assembling their pages. They are more concerned with screaming “LOOK AT ME!!!” than they are with truly conveying an effective message once someone DOES look!
The rules are:
- Flashing text should never flash so fast that it cannot be comfortably read, and it should not distract from the rest of the page. If you try to read the rest of the page and find it difficult to absorb the message, then the flashing text needs to go!
- Flashing text messages should never be more than a word or two. Otherwise it can be nearly impossible to read the whole thing.
- Scrolling text messages should be short. Reading scrolling text is irritating to the eyes, because it does not scroll perfectly smoothly. Long messages are annoying not only because of the strain on the eyes, but also because you are forcing the reader to absorb the message at the rate that you have dictated. This is also annoying, and half or more of the readers who visit the site will read at a HUGELY faster or slower rate than you have dictated.
- Ticker tape scrolling messages also should be short, for the same reasons as for scrolling text. They are simply too difficult to read for more than a short sentence. Five words is comfortable. Three sentences is tiring and annoying.
- Scrolling reader boards have the same issue as scrolling marquees, except that they go UP instead of across. This means that not only is it MOVING, but you always have to adjust your eyes UP and SIDEWAYS both as you read. Most move fairly slowly, but still, reading very much in one can be fatiguing and can end up being painful. Headlines only, is most appropriate. Unfortunately, most scrolling reader boards use a very tiny text size, which makes them even harder to read. A larger text size which allows the reader to absorb the message in a glance instead of having to peer closely at it can really help to make them less annoying.
- You should never have more than one moving object visible on the page at one time, and then it should be something that does not cause a distraction when the visitor is trying to digest the content on the rest of the page.
All of these elements have been embraced for one of two purposes:
To catch attention. What good is it to catch attention if you annoy in the process, or if your message is either not delivered because it is too difficult to read, or if it is delivered in a manner which gives someone a bad attitude about it? And what good is it to catch the attention of the reader if they then cannot ignore it and move on?
To fit more content into less space. This is only effective if people can actually VIEW the content that is squeezed in. If this is the reason you use them, then do be sure that the content is actually readable, and that it is short enough to be grasped quickly before it annoys the visitor. To quote a truism: More is not always better. Sometimes it is just more.
Use these elements conservatively. Never use them just because you can. They are a passing fad, and use of them on your page will only help it to appear and function in a more contemporary manner if it also functions in an effective manner. When using text, it is important to realize that the purpose of text is for someone to READ it.
Anything which enhances the viewer’s ability to read and appreciate the message is good. Anything which distracts from that purpose should be let go, without regret.
I’m not talking about sites with an obvious absence of information, I’m talking about sites that profess to give information, and then fail in the attempt!
This occurs in a number of ways, and involves a range of other topics such as integrity, knowledgeability, research, and common sense. The problem with those elements is too many people lack them, or don’t do them! Poor information is a result of lack of understanding, or sloppy content creation habits.
Some of the problems are:
- Fluff – Talking for several paragraphs without really saying anything conclusive. Includes ambiguous statements, and dancing around the issue. We also call this “politician’s syndrome”.
- Old News – This is a common issue with PLR articles, and quickie “AdSense Sites”. The information is substantially correct, but it contains nothing new that you could not find in any one of hundreds of other sources. There is no reason for its existence, it adds nothing unique or needed to the world. If you have an entire site on a topic, and you are not well-versed in the sub-topics, then a page or two where you cover nothing but basic information is ok, but the bulk of the site should have something unique and useful that is not easy to find elsewhere.
- Unsubstantiated Claims – Some people will write things that are extreme and rather stupid, without giving any evidence to suggest that their claims might be correct. They act as though just because THEY said it, it must be right, no matter how illogical it is.
- Ignorance – The problem with the web is that everyone thinks they are an expert. Even when they aren’t, they want to appear so, because they think they can profit from doing so. Make sure what you are saying is verifiable, and that it actually makes sense across the board, before you write it for the world to pick apart. Many experts start as experts in beginning the thing they are talking about. That is ok, as long as they don’t pretend more expertise than they actually possess, and as long as they are willing to admit when they don’t know.
- Absolute Statements – I make a few of these, but only after LONG experience and reasoning and research, when I KNOW there is no exception to the rule. The problem is that too many people make statements of absolutes which simply are not true, and they will drive away many visitors who spot right off that the integrity of the site is suspect. An example is “Everyone needs to take a multi-vitamin”.
- Talking about Talking about it – This is a huge problem on technical instruction sites. I once read a book where the author spent the first three chapters telling me what he was going to tell me, and then 5 chapters actually explaining what he was explaining. And when I finished, he had not completely covered everything he said he would in the first three chapters. One simple intro would have been enough, and then he should have got down to nuts and bolts! In an article, or web page, you don’t have time to blither around. Get to the point!
- Telling WHAT, but not HOW – “In order to remove the error message on startup, simply edit the system registry and remove all references to the error message.” That statement makes sense to me. But when I first encountered it, I had no idea how to edit the registry, or how to even figure out what it was I needed to look for when I did. The author of NUMEROUS books and websites made the same mistake, in telling me what I needed to do, but no mention anywhere of HOW to do it. This is a HUGE problem with instructional books and websites. Don’t just say what, but tell how, step by step.
- No Individuality – Personality matters. The best information has some individuality, something unique, a conclusion based on personal experience and research. You can even overcome some lack of knowledge and experience if you include individual references. People will believe a single personal experience, sincerely related, more quickly than they will believe an impersonal account that lacks appeal, no matter how well documented.
- Bad Writing – It is rife on the internet! A misspelled word or two in a page is not going to offend. Having to wade through grammar and spelling errors in every sentence will label you as unintelligent, and not worth paying attention to.
- Dry, Wordy, or Incomplete Descriptions – You have to make sense. Your writing has to actually deliver a message effectively. If it does not, then people won’t enjoy it or use it.
The above items are sort of written to be applicable to infosites, but they apply to product sites too. If your products are not well presented, no one will buy. And it is especially relevant to service sites, because people see the site more as an extension of the individual providing the service – if the site content is sloppy, they feel you will be sloppy in addressing the work for them.
Get someone to review your content, and then listen. Poor information on a site makes people go elsewhere.
When a visitor comes into your site, you have about 5 seconds of time, during which they need to be able to figure out the purpose of your site and how to use it. If they click a link to another page, and have to figure that out all over again, you’ll annoy them and they’ll leave!
Consistency applies to the navigation, layout, colors, text formatting, and to the way you present information. Your site needs to have a “standard”, by which you do things, so that your site visitors only have to figure out your way of doing things ONCE.
Use of a template for your site can really simplify the process of creating a consistent site, if the template includes everything necessary. A good site template will include navigation links, header or logo, copyright information, disclaimer, a layout that is logical for the entire site, and any other elements that you choose to include on every page (some people put contact info, and resource links on every page). It should also include predictable spaces for other items that may change from page to page, but for which space should be provided, such as ads, commentary, specific resource links, etc.
Beyond the template though, each page should have certain similarities in the content. The layout of the content should be easy to figure out and predictable from page to page. Text formatting should be consistent – Your page title and attention getters should be similar from one page to the next. If you use images for impact, they should be of a similar type and quality, to give your site a professional feel.
The content quality should also have some consistency – by that, I mean, if you provide highly detailed information on one page, then each topic needs to have the same level of detail. This draws in users to view more than one page – if they like what is on one page, they will expect the same quality on the next page they view, and since you never know which page they will enter into your site through, content quality is important for all of the pages.
It will also help if your site has consistent SEO – Search Engine Optimization should be performed to the same level on each page. There are times when it makes sense to go another step on one or two key pages, but other than that, you’ll want to make sure that when you do SEO, you work your way through your site and optimize until the entire site is finished. Some SEO can be built into the template, but most must be done page by page.
There are situations where consistency takes on a different meaning. When you have a doorway page that leads to multiple site areas, and when each of those site areas has a visual difference, then your doorway page will be different than the interior pages. But the interior pages should be easy to figure out, and consistent within each section.
Sometimes your home page is quite different than the interior pages. It is wise to maintain enough consistency in appearance that the visitor has no doubt that they are at least still on the same site! The page layout may be different, but the feel, the quality, and the colors should have some relation to each other.
Inconsistent site design will scream “poor quality” to every visitor who enters your site, so making sure that the site has a predictable and uniform feel is very important. It is one of the elements which separates functional sites from dysfunctional ones.
A website without marketing is like a car without an engine – it may look pretty, but it isn’t going anywhere!
Web design and marketing are intertwined. A website is a valuable element in a wise marketing strategy, but it, in itself, is valueless without marketing to promote it.
A smart business owner will devote equal investment to marketing and web design. If the web design taps out the budget, then you’ll have to invest time instead, and put your efforts into marketing ideas that work. There are plenty of free marketing tactics that DO work, so as long as you don’t get suckered by the bad ones, you can promote your website with nothing but intelligent hard work.
The problem is though, that many business owners, especially those with limited budgets, do not spend enough time or money on marketing. You really HAVE to give it one or the other! To get started, until your business builds some momentum, you are going to have to put 25% of your time into promotional strategies, or set a marketing budget of 25% of the amount you expect to make. By promotional work, I mean actually getting directory listings, writing and posting articles for marketing purposes, participating in forums, assessing ad tracking and adjusting ad copy, creating banner ads or text ads, searching for and requesting paid ads on independent sites, and other internet marketing ideas. Building your website doesn’t count. Adjusting copy on your pages to tweak it for marketing effectiveness does.
Giving the time and money is no guarantee that you will earn. You have to market effectively, track, assess, and adjust your ads, your campaigns, and your site content in order to optimize the response. But NOT giving it is a sure guarantee that you WON’T succeed.
You can give less than 25%. But you’ll get less out of it, and growth will be very slow. It will take many times longer to really be able to see the potential of your business, or to be able to see that it is building momentum.
Smart marketing consists of doing things that put a good message in front of people who want to see it. It does not include marketing to people who are trying to sell things to you, or blasting ads to people who are not listening, nor does it include annoying people with spam or pushy tactics. It takes time, patience, and consideration for your prospects.
Marketing usually builds on a curve. At first your work is primarily promotion, with a little bit of filling orders or doing client work. Then you have more orders or client work, and can do a little less marketing. Eventually, you work mostly on client orders, and a little on marketing just to keep it going.
You have to pour a lot into it before you ever get anything back. But as it builds, you can eventually give less and get more. I have actually tried to quit offering computer services here, and cannot, because people depend on me and don’t want me to quit, so I know that once you get your reputation established, things will carry on with just a nudge or two from you now and again.
Marketing is essential to the success of a website. If a web designer promises that you can make X number of dollars by improving your website, and they do not mention marketing in there, then they are just blowing air at you, because it won’t do a thing without marketing.
So get the engine into the car, and it will look pretty and move, too!
Some designers delight in making things more complicated than they need to be, even when that complexity inconveniences the user – as though the very technicality of the site is some kind of personal award to the site designer!
There really is NO NEED to design a simple site with complex coding. Indeed, many seemingly complex tasks can be done amazingly simply.
I am not talking about workarounds and make-do here, though there certainly is a place for that when it is all that can be done. No, I am talking about using the simplest form of coding, and the fastest, least intensive choices that will do the job efficiently.
I have seen a simple site, that was only updated about twice a year, with nothing more than articles and links to them, which was coded in ASP. Each page took four to five minutes to download on dial-up. The resulting page had nothing but a header, a sidebar navigation, and a story. There were no dynamic features on the site at all. Nothing that required high level programming. Yet the designer had created the site with dynamic code which took 10 times as long to download as it would have if simple static pages had been used.
I have seen other sites that used far more complex coding than what they needed, which caused unnecessary delays (slowing down the page by many times over what the alternatives would have done), and which instead of enhancing the function of the site, merely made it inconvenient and frustrating.
The rule on this ought to be to use the fastest, most efficient coding possible. That each page should be made as convenient as possible for the user, and NEVER just a means of displaying the advanced skills of a designer!
Advanced skills are nothing to brag about if, in obtaining them, the coder has forsaken their common sense.
Slow pages are most visible on slower internet connections. People with high speed internet may sometimes forget that over half of the world is still surfing with 56k or slower.
Slow pages always have one of two root causes that the site owner can control: bad hosting, or pages with a high total “page weight”. The other things that can slow them down, such as poor computer performance, or overload on an ISP, are not within the control of the site owner, but should still be considered when building large pages.
Your web host may be trying to fit too much activity onto a single server. This is a problem with many budget hosting services (GoDaddy has this problem). Those hosting services may not be a problem for lightweight pages and minimal traffic, but when either traffic increases, or if you have large pages, the hosting may no longer be adequate.
So what makes a “large page”? It is usually NOT the length or the visible size of the page. While a very long page certainly takes less space than a very short one when all other components are equal, the page weight is usually affected by things that the average person does not see. Because they do not see it, that makes it even more important to build efficient pages, because visitors WON’T understand why your page, which appears substantially equal to another page, loads three times slower.
Here are some elements which contribute to a high page weight:
- Code bloat. Certain programs (can you say, “Microsoft”?) produce code that is very lengthy, taking 3-5 times as much code for each element as what other software produces.
- Extremely complex tables. Normally tables are a common element which are used extensively to control placement of elements on the page. They are more predictable at this juncture, especially for newbies, than CSS is, so they are still used extensively even by high end site designers. But when you get complex tables, very large tables (such as to show a long spreadsheet type chart), or multi-level nested tables, they take extra code to describe them.
- HTML Shopping Cart Code. Since each link in an HTML based shopping cart (where you edit HTML code on the page to control the shopping cart – such as PayPal or Mal’s) has a couple of lines of code, or much more, what you see on the surface is not nearly what is behind the scenes. 10-30 Buy buttons on a page isn’t going to slow things down much. 50 to 100 will make a noticeable difference in the file size.
- Images. Images remain a separate part of the page – they are not embedded in the HTML file, but rather, they are uploaded beside the HTML file, as a separate file. But each image you show on the page adds to the total page weight and download time for the page. Images that are too large, or excessive images on a single page, are a major reason for slow pages. Since image file size is affected by more than just the visible size of the image, it is important to read up on this topic separately.
- Flash elements. Flash elements also reference a separate file that gets uploaded. They tend to be huge, often exceeding 5-10 times the size of the average page. These are items that no matter how efficiently you do them, will never be anywhere near fast for dial-up.
- Dynamic Page Elements. The coding for dynamic page elements is typically larger than for static elements, because it has more variables which must be accurately coded. They also have to go fetch individual results from the server, which also takes extra time.
- Dynamic Sites. Sites where the majority of the pages are created on demand, according to user input, are slower in general than static pages. This is because the actions of the user send a message to the server, and the software on the server then creates the code for the page based on what the message was. Some types of scripting are fairly quick, other types are much slower. I don’t have a problem with the delays when the site function justifies it, but I do have a problem with using this type of site for a site that could have just as easily be done with static HTML.
We get back to the justification issue. For features that are worth the wait, or that are essential to the primary purpose of the site, delays are acceptable.
But for sites where complex coding is totally unnecessary, or where page bloat is present due to lack of proper care on the part of the web designer, slow pages are a major annoyance.
More than an annoyance sometimes, because slower connections will often time out before the page fully loads. Many people do not even realize that they can click the Refresh button to have it try again, they just leave, feeling like your site doesn’t work.
Make each element as small as possible, while still retaining the necessary function, detail, or impact. Don’t add bells and whistles just because you can, and don’t leave elements too large just because you are too impatient to do them right. Take the time to streamline your site, and your visitors will never notice – that is as it should be! Fail to do it, and they WILL notice, and leave, and never come back.
Differentiation permeates all levels of a website, but it need not be unique in all its features. It just needs SOMETHING that sets it apart from the pack, and makes it unique and desirable.
Nearly every week I run across someone who is launching a new “Work at Home Directory!!!”. They are so excited about their idea, until a year later when they do not understand why it did not take off like they thought it would!
They have just built a website on which they throw some Work at Home links. They have not bothered to write any new content, or even to gather any articles that give useful information. They try to sell “advertising spots” to other home business owners, none of whom want to buy, because they know that nobody really looks at work at home directories. The site is unoriginal, redundant, and trying to break into a vastly overcrowded niche with no new focus at all.
Such a site will NEVER be anything more than a sucking hole in the budget and time of the person who builds it. Because it has no value. It has nothing to make it useful or necessary to anybody. They can find the same information more easily, and better information, somewhere else.
Your site has to have some feature or aspect that is unique, that makes it desirable and useful. If it does not, then it will not be able to build traffic, and nobody will come back, if they even visit it in the first place.
Taking the Work at Home Directory example, what can the person do to make that site useful? Since this is perhaps one of the hardest niches to break into because it is SO overcrowded with three kinds of sites:
- Genuinely useful and helpful resources.
- Scams and halfway efforts that are marketed with a lot of money, so that they overwhelm the startups that offer good resources.
- Floods and floods of identical, unoriginal, fairly useless sites that don’t do anything constructive.
So you’d want to find a way to build a site that is in the first category. But it would have to be done in a way that did not duplicate their efforts, that put an original twist on it.
The entire project would need to be approached in a way that screamed “Original!”, from the URL, to the site title, to the site description. You’d have to say what nobody else is saying, and in a way that really made it plain that nobody else was saying it.
I am using this example because this truly is one of the hardest arenas to carve a niche in. One problem you may have is that you may actually come up with a unique and different concept, but someone else out there may already have chosen to use the same words you do, for something that is NOT unique. I see the words “legitimate work at home” everywhere. But the fact is that 99 out of 100 sites that use the words “legitimate work at home” are hawking the same scams every other shady site hawks. Sometimes it is out of ignorance, sometimes out of an intent to deceive.
So if I want to build a straight talking, forthright site, and I say “legitimate work at home”, I sound like all the rest, even though I am not! Differentiation then becomes a matter of finding a new way to describe it, that still gets search engine hits, and that people can still understand the meaning of.
And then I have to figure out what it is that people really want, that they are not getting elsewhere, and incorporate that into the site. I can’t please everybody. I have to target specific people. Those who want MLM or business packages. Those who want to build their business from scratch. Home manufacturing, drop shipping, custom order stores, information site production, etc. Who am I going to specifically target that NEEDS what I have to offer? This is often referred to as your Unique Selling Proposition (what do you offer that no one else does).
My entire site and business need to be built around my unique feature – the thing that I can offer that no one else does. And I have to find ways to convey that difference quickly.
This is true of any business. Chances are, no matter WHAT you choose to do, someone else out there is either doing it, or saying they do even if they don’t.
Differentiation can make or break your business, before it even launches. And lack of differentiation is something that I see so often in website business concepts that I consider it to be a major area of misunderstanding in startups.
All Links, No Info
You see this in a couple of situations, either the site has lots of pages, but no info on the pages once you get there, or the only information provided is a list of links. In the worst case, it is nothing but disguised Google Ads.
Links are not content. Ok, there are people who will disagree with me here, but how likely are you to actually USE a site if all it has is lists of links?
A directory has descriptions, and often has some sort of rating system. This gives it what is called “value added”. There is a reason for its existence, beyond just accumulating links which have no meaning in and of themselves.
Even if you are intending to build a directory, it has to be more than just links. Directories are a dime a dozen, and in order to get good traffic, you have to provide something unique. Give it a twist, do something better, or provide additional information. It’s gotta be more than just a listing of links, and to a certain extent, any more, it has to be more than just links and descriptions.
There is no easy way to build a quality website – no shortcut to eliminate the element of personality and value that comes only from giving some time and work, above and beyond a token effort. Lazy content is recognizable instantly! And nobody appreciates it!
I went to check out a site this morning. It was all Flash design. I waited about 3 minutes for a page to download. Then it loaded a photo (which should have taken 30 seconds to load), and these words appeared, “Maybe I’ll tell you later.” I waited 3 minutes for something that could have been done in 30 seconds, and even THEN, would not have been worth the wait! Consequently, I chose NOT to offer the site owner the thing they were requesting from me.
When people come into a site, they want solid information. They don’t just want to be thrown a bunch of links that they have to wade through in order to even find out if they are worth their time, nor do they want to be greeted with a message that tells them that they have reached a dead end.
If you are building a site in stages, then some flippant message on the unfinished pages is not going to help your credibility. Give them something that tells them that even though you don’t have the information up yet, that you do care! Offer them an email address to ask you about it, or give them an idea of when you plan to have it up (if you can stick to the schedule). But don’t be rude or flippant, they won’t appreciate it!
Do not try to substitute ad links for content either. People CAN tell the difference, and they will come away with a bad attitude about your site.
Poor function can be caused by a range of elements, but it consists of a site that performs poorly in a mechanical way – such as scripts which give errors, visible HTML code on the page instead of visual elements, broken links, missing graphics, buttons that don’t work, etc.
Poor function is USUALLY the result of a coding error, but it can occur because of unexpected actions on the part of a user, or by the user choosing a browser that you did not anticipate.
- Most users will not stop to question whether they should be using a different browser.
- If they set their font size larger than you thought they would, and your page breaks and does unexpected things, they won’t think that they should change the font size, they will think your design is bad.
- If they view your site on a small monitor, they will just think you are rude if your site does not allow them to access necessary features.
- If they are using an older browser and your new code does not function in it, they won’t wonder if they need to update, they will just think your site does not work.
- When they click a link and it gives them a 404 error because you mistyped the URL, they won’t be able to correct it.
- If an image is not where it should be, they will not get your message.
- When code shows on the page instead of the feature you wanted there, the visitor will just go somewhere else to see if they can find what they want.
I have seen these issues with thousands of sites. I have seen them on some very major sites (eBay frequently has visible code on the page instead of elements at the top). Accidents happen. If you, like eBay, provide a world-renowned service that everyone wants anyway, and if your mistakes, like eBay’s mistakes, do not interfere with that essential service, people will stick around anyway.
But if you are trying to compete with thousands of others offering the same thing, or if the malfunction is serious, then people won’t keep trying. They’ll go somewhere else to find what they want.
The more complicated a site is, the more of a chance there is for something to go wrong. Again, keep it as simple as possible, and make sure there is a good reason for any advanced features that you add. Simple is always more predictable. Complex always takes more testing to insure reliability.
Reliability is pretty necessary! I mean, nobody cares if your site boasts the only feature of its kind. It won’t matter how cool it sounds, or how much it promises to do, if it fails to do it as promised, or if using it is so inconvenient that it is not worth the trouble.
When you decide that advanced features are necessary to the function, it is worth your time and money to insure that it is done right. An experienced developer or coder will know better how to adjust the code for reliability and predictability. And that experience can save you huge hassles and expenses later.
“Content is King” is not a new saying. But it gets said over and over because content is the purpose and the driving force of the web.
Content is the purpose of your pages, the meat beneath the gravy, the reason why people come to your site, and the reason why they will, or won’t, come back.
Content can be images, information, software, instructions, a service, a product, or anything else that gives a site visitor something they consider to be of value. Content is the value in the website.
Flash design, links, headers and logos, site layout, CSS, HTML, PHP, SEO, NONE of those, are content. They are merely a framework to hold the content.
Good quality content lives up to its promise. If you have a website about shoes, then someone interested in shoes should be able to enter on any page, and know that your site is about shoes, and that if they click a link that says it is about shoelaces, that they will find information about shoelaces, or products, or downloads, or whatever. But something they will value about shoes. If it fails to deliver on that promise, you just lost a visitor. Permanently.
Good quality content has impact. It may be the “ah-ha” factor, the “wow” factor, or the “YES!” factor. When you give someone the key to understanding something they did not previously understand, or impress them with the value of an item you have available, or express an opinion that they can strongly agree with, then you got them! Your site then has indisputable value to them.
Good site design will coordinate with and compliment the content – it is a seamless extension of the content if you got it right. Bad site design will not lower the quality of the content, but it can change the visitor’s perception of the content. There is a whole lot of neutral ground in between the two extremes.
Many sites with bad content did not set out to be that way. They may have elevated design above content, or placed Search Engine Optimization as more important than high quality content. The sad thing about that is, when you have good quality content, SEO pretty much takes care of itself, and when you start with content, and design for the content, the site design comes together more easily too.
There is nothing more important in creating a high quality website, than starting and ending with high quality content. Offer people something of genuine value – it does not matter whether you are offering it free, or at a price they can see. Either way, it has to have solid value to them, and be recognizable as good.
Browser Specific Sites
I once investigated a “business opportunity”, which was a long standing and reputable business. Their site required Internet Explorer 5.5 or higher. I was using a Mac, and the highest version of that browser at the time was 5.0. I was prevented from even looking, because their site required a browser I could not even get.
Some people still design sites for IE, or Mozilla, or whatever. Now, when it is just a matter of it looking a bit better, or having an extra feature in the browser of your choice, that is one thing. But when key function of the site is dependent on the site visitor using the browser you specify, that is, in my opinion, pretty dumb.
The facts are that internet users, by and large, do NOT keep more than one browser on their hard drive. Those who do, use the one they choose for very strong reasons, and do not choose to use a different one even if they DO have it lurking around. To tell them that what they are using is not good enough, and that to use your site they have to do it YOUR way, is tantamount to saying “Go away, we don’t want you here unless you follow our rules!”
There are only certain circumstances in which you would EVER have a reason to design a site that did not function correctly in more than one browser – generally in ALL of them!
- When you know, through research, that your site visitors are all going to have high powered computers, and are going to use a specific browser – such as a Linux Only Online Gaming site that requires Mozilla.
- When that is the only possible way you can get the necessary function, and it cannot be done any other way. I cannot think of a single instance when this would be the case, but it could conceivably be.
The real kicker is that most of the time it is NOT an issue of actual function! A slightly different coding would eliminate the need for a specific browser. Most browser specific issues are not a matter of NEED, but a matter of choice. Sometimes they are a lack of consideration, borne of thoughtlessness.
Even if 90% of your site visitors use a single browser, to make your site REQUIRE that browser is still stupid. Because 10% of your visitors being told to go away is NOT smart business! Even if you get just 2000 visitors a month, that is 200 that you are sending a rude message to, that you do not value them, and that you want to control their computer more than they think you should. And they are right!
When coding essential features for your site such as layout, navigation, and function, use standards that are compatible across the board, and which are not browser dependent. Your site visitors may never thank you for it – if you do your job right, they’ll never realize you ever made a choice. But they won’t curse you for being rude either!
When you design a site that requires a plugin, you had better have a darn good reason that involves functionality that the user wants. Because you are going to be annoying a good number of your site visitors by requiring them to download something before they can use your site.
The point is not to criticize plugins wholesale, but merely to point out that a lot of times, whether you use a simpler coding method, or one that requires a plugin is a matter of choice. I can’t tell you the number of times I have run across sites that use complex features that could have been done more efficiently and faster using standard coding instead of trying to show off their advanced skills.
A good many site visitors are distrusting of plugins. So when you build a site that requires one, you are automatically going to lose a certain percentage of visitors. How significant that percentage is, depends a great deal on the average make-up of your target market – some are much more trusting than others.
Impatient people will NOT download a plugin. They will go elsewhere. They also will NOT wait for Flash or other features to load, especially since they are misused so often for things that are not even appropriate for their use.
Plugin downloads are viewed with suspicion with good reason. Active X has a bad reputation for allowing spyware installs, and when someone clicks on a link to download a plugin, they want to be sure it is actually what it says it is – often it is not. Fears on this point are not in any way groundless, and you may automatically set your site up for being viewed with suspicion if your site requires plugins.
The rule is ALWAYS:
Use the simplest method to accomplish the task, and always provide the least possible inconvenience to the user.
When you choose which method you’ll use to accomplish the function of the site, you must consider it from the user’s point of view. If you use a method that takes longer to download, then it must be something THEY will want badly enough to be worth the wait. If it is only a matter of glitz, and not a matter of providing necessary function, then think twice about it, and consider hard whether your target audience might be more annoyed than appreciative.
The fact is, that special features are more often used as a means of showing off a designer’s supposed skills, or as a convenience to the site owner, and LESS often as a convenience to the user, or as an item for the user’s benefit. This is one reason that they have a negative reputation among some users (and they do!). If they were used properly, and only when truly justified, there would not be a negative attitude about them.
When you feel that special features will be of benefit to some users, offer an alternate whenever possible, so that users who do not wish to risk downloading something, or those whose computers won’t support it, will have an option for using the site anyway. More time and hassle on your part, but polite and helpful, and always appreciated by those who need it. It is a mark of consideration that does not go unnoticed.
Don’t inconvenience your users, and don’t annoy them. If you are going to require something extra of them, then make sure that THEY think it is worth it.
It is highly frustrating to read a site description in the search engine listings, and then come into the site and not have a clue where you are to go to find what you want!
This is one aspect of sites designed by non-professionals which strikes again and again. The site seems to have been assembled without order, and as the site owner thought of new things to add. There is no logic and no concession given for the fact that people expect certain standards on a site, or that there are certain human behaviors which help a designer know where to put things for greatest effect.
Many of the considerations of site layout come only with experience. But others are so apparent that it makes you wonder how anyone could miss them! The general guidelines for effective site layout include:
- Put the MOST IMPORTANT site information “above the fold”. In web talk, that means, the visitor should be able to see them BEFORE they scroll down. Now, you do not need to have ALL of your site content there, but you should at least have enough that they know if they keep reading a list or an article, that they will find more of the same if they DO scroll down. The navigation list on the left of this site is a good example. It has only some of the list above the fold, but it is enough that the visitor knows to keep looking for what they want.
- The upper left is the most powerful block in the site. It is the first place someone looks on a site. So use it for something important – logos and site names often go there. Right under that is where people will look for someplace to GO. And the center is where they will look for more information about that page. The right is where they will look last, and often as sort of an afterthought “no, I’m not finding what I want, are there any other options?”
- The purpose of the site should be clear on each page. The purpose of each page should also be clear. You have to tell them what the page is about, and give them some indication of what they are to do there, or what they can expect to get from it. This occurs in headlines, graphics, links, and other elements.
- The layout should be logical, and it should give the visitor a reason to keep coming on in. The first impression should not only define what the site is about, but there should be clearly visible and well named links to lead the visitor deeper into the site.
- Your site should use a similar feel through the whole site, and it should have a sense of order and thoughtfulness. A site that looks like it just happened as a place to scatter info with no purpose or planning is not going to persuade anyone to click anything other than the back button.
Site layout should make sense. Unimaginative or unoriginal site layout that makes sense and gives people what they expect is FAR better than original disorganization.
I think that every single web design client that I have ever had has failed to understand that one thing you do not want to do with a website, is put a sign up that says “under construction”. I have had to explain it to each one – and they were all intelligent business people.
Under construction signs seem like such a logical thing to do. People figure they can get their site up, register it, get people coming in, and just put a sign on each page they have not yet finished. Bad Idea!
First of all, you gain no advantage by doing so. You are better off just adding the pages later, rather than putting them in before you have them finished. If you MUST put them up and finish them slowly, there are much better things to do.
“Under Construction” signs are a red flag to search engines, and to people. They tell them outright that you are not finished, and have nothing of value on the page. It is much better to put a notice like this:
“We have a lot of (name item) to put on this page, we request your patience while we get it ready for you. In the mean time, if you have questions, or need (specific item), please email us at (email address)… We’d be happy to help you personally.”
This kind of notice lets your customers know what you have, and where they can get it if they want to email. It is NOT a substitute for real content, but it is better than a notice that tells everyone that you aren’t prepared.
If you take this course of action, it is advisable to get real content into place as quickly as possible, even if it is just one or two bits – a paragraph or two if it is information, a product or two if it is a sales site. Any little bit will tell them you really are working on it, and it will help you get indexed by the search engines and bring you more traffic, sooner.
Avoid the “Under Construction” plague, it will just harm your business, both with people, and with search engines.
5 Pages or Less
OK, this Bad Website Idea covers two distinct website types:
1 Page Websites – an internet marketing strategy which I particularly despise.
3-5 page websites – offered by low end web designers as an “affordability option” for startups.
Both are very bad ideas, but for distinctly different reasons.
1 page websites are a tool of manipulation. They are a single page, designed to pressure someone into making an impulse buy. These pages are often called “squeeze pages”. They usually have miles of copy, and tons of testimonials (which are frequently faked or written by friends of the seller), and so much hype that you feel like you have to wear earplugs. They are long on emotional appeals, short on critical details. They lack contact information, and any kind of credibility. I strongly advise that if you value your reputation, that you not use one of these – and do not follow the instructions of any marketer who advises one! I also suggest strongly that you not buy anything from one, because they are inherently misleading.
3-5 page websites are aimed at small businesses on a tight budget. A web designer may offer you one, without telling you what the fatal backlash is.
In short, no credible business in this day and age has a 5 page website, much less a smaller one! You cannot present a persuasive marketing message, along with validation of your legitimacy in even 5 pages.
See, there are pages that are expected on each site, and if they are not there, then your site will suffer. These include: About, Contact, Policies. Then you need a home page, and pages that explain who you are, what you do, and why your product or service is worth their consideration. You need pages for each product, and you need enough information on your site to demonstrate your expertise. This is especially important for service businesses.
Those extra pages also serve a great purpose, in helping you to get more search engine traffic as well. The pages can be targeted more precisely to close topics, which search engines really like.
I’d never suggest a 3-5 page website for a client, because I know it would do them a disservice. It would make them appear cheap, unprofessional, and shady. The deep dark secret of web design is that it takes VERY little more time to produce a 10 page website than it does to produce a 5 page website. If you can produce a 5 page site for $400, you can produce a 10 page one for $500. Because the design and site structure do not change, and they are actually the hardest part of building a small site.
So don’t get suckered by either one of those approaches to building a website. Either one will hurt your business.