Web site design tip

1. Frames
A framed site usually has only one URL and therefore can only get one listing, which usually only contains frameset info (no keywords). You’ll end up with one weak search engine listing, if any.

In addition, splitting a page into frames is very confusing for users since frames break the fundamental user model of the web page. All of a sudden, you cannot bookmark the current page and return to it (the bookmark points to another version of the frameset), URLs stop working, and printouts become difficult. Even worse, the predictability of user actions goes out the window. Who knows what information will appear where when you click on a link?

2. Business Websites with Long URLs
Using a subdomain with a ridiculously long URL such as balbal.com/shopsitems/3223/index.html looks entirely unprofessional and will sabotage your credibility.

3. Broken URLs
All links should be validated before your web site is launched, and it is also important to re-check your links periodically. Many sites change URLs or move quite frequently. Broken links are a real turn-off to visitors and a signal that your site isn’t current.

4. Counters
Using visible counters is now considered unprofessional on a business website, as their accuracy is unreliable and a low count is a sure giveaway that

  1. you’re brand new to the web,
  2. no one knows you’re there, or
  3. no one wants what you have to offer.

What do you think when you see a site with a copyright over a year old and 20 visitors? How about when they make things worse by saying “Last updated 3/14/2001.” Duh? Your sales or inquiries are the surest means of knowing how your web site is faring, but if you must have traffic statistics, find out if your host provides a reliable server-based stats system or invest in a good program like Web Trends.

5. Disabling the Back Button
The Back button is the lifeline of the Web user and the second-most used navigation feature (after following hypertext links). Users happily know that they can try anything on the Web and always be saved by a click or two on Back to return them to familiar territory.

Except, of course, for those sites that break Back by committing one of these design sins:

  • opening a new browser window .
  • using an immediate redirect: every time the user clicks Back, the browser returns to a page that bounces the user forward to the undesired location.
  • prevents caching such that the Back navigation requires a fresh trip to the server.

6. Opening Multiple Browser Windows
Opening up new browser windows is like a vacuum cleaner sales person who starts a visit by emptying an ash tray on the customer’s carpet. Don’t pollute the visitor’s screen with any more windows (particularly since current operating systems have miserable window management).

Designers open new browser windows on the theory that it keeps users on their site. But even disregarding the user-hostile message implied in taking over the user’s machine, the strategy is self-defeating since it disables the Back button, which is the normal way users return to previous sites. Users often don’t notice that a new window has opened, especially if they are using a small monitor where the windows are maximized to fill up the screen. So a user who tries to return to the origin will be confused by a grayed out Back button.

7. Headlines Out of Context
Headlines are often removed from the context of the full page and used in tables of content (e.g., home pages or category pages) and in search engine results. In either case the writing needs to be very plain and meet two goals:

  • Tell users what’s at the other end of the link with no guesswork required.
  • Protect users from following the link if they would not be interested in the destination page (so no teasers – they may work once or twice to drive up traffic, but in the long run they will make users abandon the site and reduce its credibility).

8. Latest Internet Jargon
E-this, E-that, push technology, community, chat, 3D sitemaps, auctions – you’ve probably had your fill. The web is awash in money and people who proclaim to have found the way to salvation for all the sites that continue to lose money. More often than not, visitors are either confused or turned off by the latest buzzwords. Better to call a spade a spade.

9. Slow Server Response Times
Slow response times are the worst offender against Web usability. Users don’t care why response times are slow. All they know is that the site doesn’t offer good service: slow response times often translate directly into a reduced level of trust and they always cause a loss of traffic as users take their business elsewhere.

10. Design Elements That Resemble Advertising
Selective attention is very powerful, and Web users have learned to stop paying attention to any ads that get in the way of their goal-driven navigation.

Unfortunately, users also ignore legitimate design elements that look like prevalent forms of advertising. After all, when you ignore something, you don’t study it in detail to find out what it is.

Therefore, it is best to avoid any designs that look like advertisements. The exact implications of this guideline will vary with new forms of ads; currently follow these rules:

  • Banner blindness means that users never fixate their eyes on anything that looks like a banner ad due to shape or position on the page.
  • Animation avoidance makes users ignore areas with blinking or flashing text or other aggressive animations. Too much animation is FAR worse than none.
  • Pop-up purges means that users close pop-ups before they have even fully rendered; sometimes with great viciousness. DON’T use them.

11. Backgrounds That Obscure Text
Stay away from backgrounds that are too busy or too bright. There must be enough contrast between the background and text for easy, comfortable readability. Visitors will NOT struggle to read your message. Black or very dark against a white or very light background is considered easiest on the eyes.

12. Too Much Animation
Page elements that move continuously are hard on the eyes and a distraction from the content. This includes animated graphics, blinking text and constantly scrolling banners, as well as animateions such as Flash, ShockWave and the like.

In particular, Flash and ShockWave usually take too long to load, often require a software download before they can be viewed, and sometimes crash the visitor’s browser, in which case you can be sure they will NEVER return. They also create mega-problems with search engine promotion.

BEFORE you spend Major Bucks on Flash or ShockWave design, READ THIS: THEY DO NOT PROMOTE WELL, IF AT ALL! We know, we’ve rebuilt enough web sites for clients who have come to us asking for something promotable after already having spent a FORTUNE on Flash, ShockWave, or frames designs and then gotten absolutely NO traffic.