Fifteen mistakes you should avoid having on your website

This article first appeared on my old website, back in 2004. I’m reposting it here for posterity, but most of it, if not all of it, is still valid 8 years later.


If you have ANY of the following issues on your site, rest assured, you will find many of your visitors will not hang around for long and will start looking elsewhere for their information. The content on your site might be extremely good, with tight grammar, no spelling mistakes and no broken links, but that’s not enough. Read on to find out what can cause a visitor to vanish.

1. Inconsistent layout

Always try to keep your navigation structure in the same place from page to page. It’s extremely annoying if for example, your company logo links to the homepage on some pages but not on others, or your sub level navigation appears in different places from section to section. A good site is one that has a layout that your visitors remember quickly and instinctively know where elements will be on your page.

It also helps if your structure doesn’t jump about, e.g. margins changing, etc, as this looks unprofessional.

2. Bad colour scheme

Bad colour schemes can cause problems when the contrast between a background colour and the text colours are too similar. For colour blind people they might not be able to see the text at all, and in some particularly bad cases, can’t even be seen that well by normal sighted visitors!

It is worth using a browser favelet that will greyscale your page, so that you can see where possible problems might arise.

3. Resolutions

Designing to high resolution is a crime. Whichever way you look at it, some visitors will not like it. If you design for a low resolution, those on high resolutions will have a lot of empty space with a waste of space. If you design for a high resolution, those with lower resolutions will have to scroll horizontally to read.

The solution is to try and design your site so that your content areas are not fixed, but will expand to fill space. CSS is great for this job. Use it!

4. Browsers

Never, EVER design for a specific browser, even if you’re creating a system which you can guarantee all visitors will use the same system. An example of such is a corporate intranet system, because even this can cause more trouble than you’d realise.

It is surprising how many errors can creep in that will not only make your site look a little worse in another browser, it’ll actually stop it from rendering at all, meaning some information will not be available to your visitor. For those of you with the luxury of knowing your entire audience is using the same setup, what happens if some time in the future, your company decides to change their setup across the company? Will your site still work?

The answer is to design for browsers that closely support web standards, following current HTML standards set by W3C. You may think that designing for these browsers is no different from the old “Best Viewed in IE” disclaimers that used to be widespread. In a way you’d be right, but there is one fundamental difference. One of the main reasons for using these web standards is that it helps make web pages degrade on a wide range of older browsers, making information available, even if it doesn’t look as nice. This is a major part of web accessibility, which affects a wide range of people, and not just those who are disabled.

5. Bad Forms and general Javascript errors

I have lost count of the number of times I’ve hit a page only to be confronted with various Javascript errors. Don’t you test your site thoroughly on the major browsers? If so, how come these errors are happening? Perhaps you don’t realise just how annoying they are? I’ve left sites because of them. Fix those errors!

Another problem is with forms that are built in a way which make tabbing through them difficult. Most of the time when I am filling out a form it makes more sense for me to use the keyboard to navigate as it means I don’t to move my hands off the keyboard to use the mouse, speeding up my form filling.

Now to me this is just a nuisance. For those who RELY on keyboard navigation, it can be enough to leave a site. Make sure that you can tab through your form in the right order.

6. Hard to find contact details

From time to time, you will have the need to contact a website, whether it is for more information about a product or service, or to inform them of an error on the site. Most of the time a contact method will be easy to find, but when you can’t find it, it is one of the most infuriating things to come across. You are shutting yourself off if you make it hard to contact you, after all, they might actually be doing you a favour by getting in contact.

The easier you make the contact method, the more likely they are to contact you. Some people prefer to contact you by phone because they prefer “human” interaction. If possible, provide a web form that they can fill in and send, because some people may not have their mail clients set up correctly, so an email link might not be enough. The most important thing is, once they do contact you be sure to reply promptly, because they’ll also want to feel like you are interested in what they have to say.

7. Pop ups

Who persuaded you that pop ups were a good idea? Your Marketing department thinks you can get more people to buy your latest product if you open a window as soon as they enter? Tell them it’s bad idea, and then tell them why. It’s very annoying and now may even be blocked by popup blockers, meaning all the work that went into them will have been wasted anyway!

For the users who do see them, most surfers will close it automatically, and subconsciously, you’re not giving them a good impression. After all, it’s the customer that matters, isn’t it? Now think about those people where popups actually cause major problems. Opening a new window can cause problems for accessibility. They won’t realise that they’ve moved to a new window.

8. Fixed font sizes

As monitor costs come down, more and more people are enjoying large screen resolutions. The problem with this is that anyone visiting your site with a high resolution may have to increase the font size in their browser to read it without straining their eyes.

The problem here is that some people are using fixed font sizes, e.g. pixels or point sizes to set their fonts, and that means they’re stuck at what looks like a very small font size on their screen. Most won’t bother to change resolutions in order to read it, they’ll just go elsewhere.

9. Images without alt attributes

This is mainly a problem where an image is used as a link. On a slow connection, or a slow server, it may take a while for images to load. All visitors are impatient and will start trying to find the link that they want. This means rolling over each image and finding out where the URL goes to. That is, unless you’ve hidden that with a status window message that makes it hard to know where it goes.

By specifying your alt attributes, those images should show alternative text which will helpfully tell them what the link is to.

10. A slow homepage

Images slow the download of a page, and the homepage is most important. If it’s slow they’ll try another site. Therefore, don’t put too many images on the homepage.

Images aren’t the only thing that will slow a page down. The way the page is built, e.g. nested tables, can slow down the speed at which a page appears. Also be careful with things like java applets, etc.

11. Horizontal Scrolling on common resolutions

By this we mean that a website designed for a particular resolution, such as 800×600, and yet still has a horizontal scrollbar when viewed at that resolution in full screen.  It looks messy, unprofessional and when paragraphs of text has been inadvertently dragged across into this hidden region, also makes it harder to read.  If an image is too large for the page, reduce the size.  If that means that the image becomes unclear, make it available in a larger view on a seperate page, with a back to previous page link.

12. Links should look like links

NEVER EVER underline a word on a web page, unless it’s a link! Users expect that anything with a line underneath will be clickable, so it confuses them if it isn’t!  Usability experts will also say that you should never change the default colours for hyperlinks, as this may also confuse users, but I think this is slightly overkill.  As long as all navigation links across the site are consistently the same colour, then they will quickly know what is clickable and what isn’t.  If you follow that rule, sometimes you can even be forgiven to think the user is smart enough to know that it’s a link even if you’ve not underlined it.  But don’t tell the experts I said that!

13. Any page that shows “Under construction” or “coming soon”.

This is another example of making your site look unprofessional.  It usually means that the user will have had to click a link and downloaded the page just to get that message!  it’s annoying for users, and slows them down when trying to find the content that they DO want.  The funny thing is, that quite often, any site that has an “under construction” message on it, tends never to end up being completed! Additionally, most pages are usually constantly “under construction” because refreshing and updating your content is important if you want to maintain high traffic and repeated visits.    Therefore, if the content isn’t available yet, don’t link to the page!

14. Navigational graphics that have an unclear purpose/destination.

By this we mean any image that is clickable that isn’t immediately obvious as to where it will take you, without having to move the mouse over it first, in order to see the alt/title text, or the URL in the status window.  If your icons are not immediately obvious, change them.  If this is not possible, e.g. if you have lots of small icons that mean different things, then provide a “key” to them somewhere on the page.

15. Make it easy to find things! (Searching, Sitemaps, good clear structure of content)

What is the point of having a really interesting or important article on your website if it’s burried beneath a series of clicks just to reach it? Chances are your users will only click 2 or 3 times before they decide to hit the BACK button and find another site that can provide what they need.  So, give them the ability to search.  Give them a site map, where they can see all site links on one page.  Especially important when you have more than 1 level in your navigation structure.  Also, if you have multiple levels of navigation, consider things such as a breadcrumb trail, in order to easily jump back to parent sections.  These are all invaluable things when making it easier to find content.

Conclusion

Think about your visitors. You probably don’t realise how many different people are on the internet, and how many different set ups there are. It’s not possible to please everyone, but it is possible to go a long way to making their visit a little easier. The faster and easier your site is to navigate and find the information they want, the more chance you have of keeping those visitors, and they will happily surf around your site. Who knows, you might even make a few sales out of it!

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