I think at one time or another I’ve probably done every one of the practices listed below (my first Web site was in 1996 and had “blinkies” [coff]) and may still be doing some on older sites – woo hoo!
This list applies to Web sites created for businesses, companies, products, services, etc… not for those of you who have a Web site that pays homage to *Fluffy the Cat*. If that’s your site’s topic, then you can safely skip this list.
Keep in mind that this list applies to Web design, not necessarily SEO. HOWEVER. It is my belief that if you create your site using best practices (and even avoiding some of the things below) you’ll have a pretty good site that will not only get crawled and indexed by the search engines, but you might even find yourself ranking. A big part of an optimized site is just that – creating a good site.
Common Web Design Mistakes
Bad Grammar – If you’re unsure of yourself get a copywriter, that’s what they’re for and they’re worth their weight in gold.
Broken Links – Xenu is a great [free] program for checking the internal and external links of your Web site. It’s a must! When we launch a new site it’s one of three immediate audits we perform. Nothing worse than showing your client their “new” site and the navigation doesn’t work.
Broken Images – Thoroughly go through your site before a launch, if a picture is worth a thousand words and yours is missing you’ll have a page that says nothing.
Busy, Distracting Backgrounds – Oh gosh… I’m sure we’ve all seen these… backgrounds that literally make your eyes bleed. Keep your site aesthetically pleasing to keep people coming back.
Complex URLs – If you’re using a CMS or a database, it’s kinda hard to get away from complex URL’s. However if you have CONTROL over your URL’s, then there is no reason to make them look like this:
First, it’s a few directories away from root, secondly those directory names mean NOTHING to me, do they to you? Keep it friendly and keep it close to root if you can.
Confusing Navigation – Otherwise known as “mystery meat navigation” [coined by the wonderful folks over at WebPagesThatSuck.com] because you’re not sure what it is or where it’s from. The main problem with MMN is one of usability. Do you want your Web site to be useful to your target audience? Then make sure your navigation is intuitive, clear, straightforward and not hidden. Don’t EVER make your users think! Have a person test your site, a few friends perhaps that you trust to tell you like it is, and take notes on their findings. What may be intuitive to YOU will NOT be intuitive to others – I PROMISE.
Domains-That-Are-Really-Long-Are-They-Really-Necessary.com – Really? You’re going to try and stuff as many keywords into your domain as possible?
Flash – Unless you’re Madonna or Coke, you can probably probably skip that all-Flash Web site. One study showed that 25% of their visitors left IMMEDIATELY after landing on their cool Flash intro page. That’s a huge number to me. Search engines ONLY see text. By not having any text on your homepage, you’re missing out on potential customers/visitors.
Frames – Good ol’ frames. Not only do they consist of a few HTML files, but each of those files are individually indexed by the search engines. If your nav is contained in one HTML files and a user comes across a different HTML file in the search engines [because search engines will index each HTML file separately], they’ll be nary a clue as to how to get around your site. That is the ONLY problem with them. It’s been said that search engines “don’t like frames” – not true [programs are incapable of liking something btw] it’s just that they index each individual bit and don’t serve you the “whole page” – just the bits. Now who wants a bit when they can have the whole?
Gratuitous Use of Cutting Edge Technology (EX: Flash) – There’s a time and place for everything. Wisely select *ohh ahh* types of technology to “bling” up your site. Is your audience looking for a whirling, twirling, freak show? Or did they come to your site looking for specific information? Art sites, artists, rockstars… sure, they might all employ a bit of site bling but they can and you’d probably expect it given their industry.
Hidden Contact Information – Make sure your contact information [or a link to your contact info] is VERY visible on every page, in your FACE! Don’t make someone hunt for your information. If they want to contact you about your offerings and can’t find out how to contact you? Game over and you’ve lost [without a tilt].
Hiding Your People – Who works for you? Who’s part of this incredible team that you have? Do they matter? If they matter, why don’t you show them off either through your Web site or blog? WHAT ARE YOU HIDING! A cool thing about owning a small business is the quirky and eccentric personalities that lends to YOUR marketing (if you let it) thus making YOU stand out. Companies tend to hire people they like so why not show off your humans? Don’t constantly mention your “team” in your copy if you don’t want to introduce them.
Image Maps – Pretty old school and I must raise my hand on this one… you’ll find some image maps lurking on some of my old and forgotten Web sites. It’s best to use CSS. CSS can do anything.
According to one Internet user [and there’s a very interesting thread there]:
Long Download Time – You only have a few seconds to capture someones attention. At the very least your home page should load fast and contain the basics of your site. Art, Music and Photography sites are three industries that will probably have a bit of download time associated with them, but you’d expect that right?
Long Scrolling Pages – Scrolling forever isn’t cool. If you REALLY have that much content then you should probably break it up into more than one page. Help your users out!
ME ME ME – Is your entire home page filled with information about how wonderful your company is? Can users tell at a glance what you do? Your users are interested in the answer to one core question: what’s in it for me? Your home page copy should address how you’re going to solve someones problem whether it be with a service you do or a product you offer. No one cares that you went to Yale and were in a cool fraternity, really. Nobody wants to read your sh** is a pretty blunt article that covers this.
Multiple Colors in Text – I remember a site from years ago, almost every line of text was a different color and it wasn’t even Easter. Unless you can find a REALLY good reason for this, I highly suggest you tuck that practice away for a rainy day.
Multiple Fonts (Font Overload) – Just like with colors, some people get carried away with fonts. Far far away. Typography is an art in itself IMO. When you use 100 fonts on a page (ok I’m exaggerating a bit) it’s a nite mare except you’re wide awake. There’s nothing more visually pleasing than a site that utilizes fonts well, there’s a lot more involved than just picking out a cool font.
Music – It’s 1am, I’ve been researching SEO around the Internet, I’m half asleep and I click on a Web site to find that I’m blasted with *Viva Las Vegas*. Sorry Elvis, no offense, but when I listen to music I like it to be my choice and not by surprise. It’s a wonder I haven’t had a heart attack while listening to my OWN music full blast and finding someones site that forces me to listen to theirs full blast too. Don’t get me wrong, if I go to a Led Zeppelin site or [insert your fav music artist here] I might expect to hear Pagey in the background strumming an acoustic. Consider your target audience when you add music to your site or at LEAST don’t set it to auto play!
No Content – Why put up a billboard with no message? Enough said.
No Description Meta Tags – Yes they wont help with rankings – old news. But they show up in the search engine result pages [SERP] which means people see them. If you write an INCITING description why… someone just might click on your page! Craft catchy description tags utilizing a few of your researched keyword phrases for that page’s topic.
Orphan Pages – These are pages that aren’t accessible by ANY means on your Web site. If you can’t get to them, there’s probably no reason to have them UNLESS they’re pages made specifically for tracking marketing campaigns such that the ONLY way to get to the page in question is through an ad or other marketing practices. EXAMPLE: I have a QR code that is ONLY on my Twitter page and it resolves to a page on my site that can’t be accessed/found by any other way other than that QR tag [I even have that page blocked by the SE’s]. It’s interesting to see how many people get to that page… they’re actually scanning my Twitter page QR tag!
Outdated Information – When you move, update your Web site. Some people treat their Web site as a secondary form of marketing when it should be lumped in with and have the same importance as ALL of your marketing. If you change your address and/or phone number and you have a phone book add. Guess what? You’re SOL. Updating your Web site with your new phone number? Probably takes 5 minutes.
Poor Browser Compatibility – One of the of many joys of developing Web sites that work is insuring that it renders properly in popular browsers. Imagine turning on the TV to watch your favorite show and seeing a message “you must upgrade your TV to view the following program because your TV is outdated and no longer supported”. Another favorite: “This page can only be viewed in Internet explorer” – groan. It’s all about that target audience folks and another good reason you should keep your eye on your server logs… what browsers are people using to view your site? Which one is used most? Make your site as widely useable as possible.
Poor Organization (Usability) – Make it easy to get around on your site. Just because you can find things instantly don’t assume your users can. Keep your navigation consistent on each page of your site.
Pop-up Messages and Windows – Most people use pop up blockers. Why? Popups are just annoying. Period. Some even contain a payload of a virus… or if you’re lucky, a keylogger!
Scrolling Text, Marquees, and Constantly Running Animations
Spelling Mistakes – this can really really turn off a potential client. They take your lack of spelling as a reflection on how you might handle their project – ouch. I’m no one to point a finger as I can barely spell my name, but they do have spell checkers these days.
Splash Pages – These are a waste of time and for the most part self-indulgent. Most people don’t even look at them… instead they search frantically for that “skip intro” link which hopefully resides on the page allowing for a quick exit. What’s even worse is if the “home” link inside the site returns the user to the splash page once clicked. Just want you wanted… another view of a cool logo fading in and out that has “flames” coming out of it with text flashing across the screen all to the tune of “don’t worry be happy.” Trust me, you have a lot to worry about if this is you.
Under Construction Pages – Please oh please oh please don’t put up a page with an “under construction” message – PLEASE! If it’s not ready, simply don’t post it up. If you MUST have one page of your site that’s in development or something else… make a short profile of the pages subject matter at the very least or make an extremely cool under construction page [I might let you slide if your CS page looked like one of those]. The lil construction guy digging in the ground has just got to go.
Using HTML to Resize Images – A HUGE pet peeve of mine. This is probably one thing I’ve never done that’s on this list. Take a minute to resize and optimize your images peeps!
Using the Same Title and Metas for Every Page in Your Site – How would you feel if you looked in the table of contents of a book and found that EVERY chapter had the same title. Pretty useless eh? That’s how humans AND search engines will view your site if you use the same title and meta description. Make your Titles and Metas AT LEAST reflect what’s on the page!
Visible Page Counters – so 1996!!! Stat programs are all behind the scenes now. I remember people reloading their sites just to see the counter tick another number while saying *oooooo* in amazement [I don’t associate with those types anymore, I promise]. I had a visible counter in 1996, but I didn’t reload my page to make the numbers go up at least!
Welcome – Welcome to our Web site. You’re not throwing a party, you aren’t the doorman. When I search on the exact text, in quotes:
“welcome to our website”
there are over 8 million results!!! A lot of the time it’s in the TITLE for pete’s sake. Ugh!
Zero Inbound Links – Part of online marketing involves spreading the word. If you want to drive traffic (we’re not talking about links for SEO reasons, just plain ol’ “getting your site out there” links) to your site you need a strategy for building links in popular online areas (these change overnight) to create awareness that draws attention to your site.