5 Critical Web Development Mistakes

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In this day and age, every business must have an internet presence. Whether you are a business owner who likes to undertake their own web development, a high level web dev working for a company or an agency, a freelancing gun for hire, or an enthusiastic amateur, you may fall prey to various mistakes when developing your web site.

Mistakes do happen, errors can be corrected, false steps can be undone – but there some mistakes that could cause you considerable grief. It may surprise you to learn that these critical mistakes are quite common and yet easy to avoid. Here are five to watch out for.

Reinventing the wheel

Understandably, you want your site to be unique and different from your competitors.

But you don’t need to reinvent  the wheel.

Apple did not build  the iPhone from scratch. It was assembled from different microprocessors, a lithium battery, firmware, capacitive screens and all packaged nicely to create a beautiful smartphone. Even its proprietary iOS operating system was modeled on another operating system, UNIX.

So… don’t be shy about modeling your site on others’. Chances are they modeled theirs on other sites, as well. It is human nature to build upon the existing, collective, wisdom of others. That is how we progress.

You don’t have to create a site that is completely out of this world. You just need to create a website that looks and feels better than the other sites that your prospect sees when they click around other sites.

How to avoid this mistake?

  • Find sites that you or your client like to get a sense of the style, and look and feel that you like. Go to Google, type in a keyword that is relevant to the business, and click around the top listings there.

  • Go to similarweb.com to see how other websites in your vertical look:

  • You can also use sites ike iSpionage.com to quickly learn who your competitors really are.

You may think you know your direct competitors in a heartbeat. But to your target audience your website competes with sites that show up in the Google search results when they type in their search criteria. And competitors who run Google Adwords are the ones that are serious in getting your audience’s attention.

Being Unclear About What You Want Your Site Visitors to Do

What is the one thing that you want your visitors to do when they get to your site?

Think about it for a moment…

The truth is, only a tiny fraction of your visitors will do what you want them do. In the internet world, a 2-5% conversion rate is considered good. Think about it, 2 out of 100 visitors. Don’t make it even smaller!

You need to define a clear goal for your visitors.

  • If it’s a service business and you want your visitors to call you, you might want to put the phone number on the top navigation.

  • If yours is an e-commerce business: you may want to impress them with your most popular product or your most amazing sale from the get go.

Once you know what you want your visitors to do, you can then design every single page, and the navigational structure of your web site to achieve that objective.

This will create a common theme to all of your pages and enhance the user experience your visitors have on your site.

Thinking You are a Web Designer

This is especially true for those who have skills in using Photoshop. I have made this mistake many times over, myself.

You can easily lose time in Photoshop trying to make your “design” look good. There are many unseen factors that an experienced web designer can square away easily which will take you hours and hours to get it right, like color combinations, font styles, font sizes, alignment, white spacing, etc, etc.

How to avoid this?

It’s better to hire a graphic designer to work on eye candy.  You can use sites like 99designs.com to run a web design contest and find your favorite designer.

Thinking Your Web Designer Understands

This is the other end of the spectrum. You  may want to outsource everything. But your outsourced designers don’t know about your business and your customers as well as you do. This is true whether it is your own business or you are working for someone else’s business. You know you understand what’s required, but does the designer to whom you outsourced the visual end of things?

How to avoid it?

Use tools like Balsamiq or Mockingbird to create wireframes. Creating a wireframe forces you to think about your visitors’ experience. It will help you organize and structure your content and the flow of it.

It will also give your web designer a framework to work with so they can see what you have in mind. It can expedite the whole process of website creation.

Building Your Site on a Custom Platform

Unless you are a web application or a software as a service (SaaS) company, you’ll be better off running your business on a common framework.

  • If the majority of your needs are updating the company’s content and look and feel, you should use a common content management system (CMS) such as WordPress, Joomla or Drupal.

  • If you want to sell something online and need a shopping cart platform, use something like bigcommerce.com, shopify.com, or Yahoo Store.


The main reason you want to look for commonly used platform is maintainability. You do not want to be in the situation where there are only a handful of people in the world who can update or upgrade your website.

And migrating from one platform to another is a real pain in the neck. So, choose your platform wisely.

If an agency is working on your website, make sure you ask them to use a well known platform to build it on. Don’t go with the agency’s “proprietary” platform.

Conclusion

You’re right. There’s no shock revelations in this article. You already knew just about everything in here. But do you use that knowledge to avoid the problems? Or do you just keep falling into the same traps, because you’ve never taken the step of avoiding them? Take a step back, look for the problem areas, decide on a strategy to address or avoid them, and then implement your plan.

No more critical mistakes for you.

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  • http://php-web-developer-pune.blogspot.in/ Ranjeet

    It’s an informative article which must read before going to design and develop any website if you are new to the web development. Finally, I would like to say that – It’s good guide to understand what’s your website need to have in-order to meet user need.

  • Pedro H.

    Great article Leon. There are some very hard thruths in there.
    But personally, the last one is debatable. I give that platforms suchs as Joomla, WordPress and Drupal, and also others like them are a great and easy way to setup a website, but sometimes, and it has happened during my lifetime has as web developer, that a certain client sticked with a very old version of one of those frameworks and, now and then, that client is hacked to the extend we have to always restore the backup. He refuses to upgrade and then we have an issue there.
    Updates are encouraged, but, sometimes, when using themes or templates for that particular version, from companies which build them, there is lack of support and the unwillingness to support or even upgrade those same themes to the client.
    Building with one’s “proprietary software” or custom frameworks is somewhat more advantageous to the client ( and to us, from a businesse point of view, of course ), since the website does what’s is supposed to do and it exists a very low percentage of the client messing it up. When things mess up it was because of the skill of the developer wasn’t enough to compensate for security flaws or event when the language updates no longer make our code suitable.
    I trust many developers ask themselves, which one to use? Joomla? WP? Drupal? Symfony? All of these are great, but a good developer likes a challenge and it designs their own CMS because they can fix an issue faster than key fix an issue on a community based CMS and the client is happy not to wait for them fixes. On the other hand, a developer can keep on learning and evolve it’s understanding of an client’s needs and build something just for that, rather than waiting for third parties to solve it for him.

    • http://ispionage.com Leon Krishnayana

      Thanks for the comment Pedro.

      I agree with you that it really depends on client’s need. If what they need is a complete custom functionality, then yes, custom CMS is the right choice.

      But I’ve seen many situation where the agency’s developer quit their job. The client was left stranded with a custom legacy CMS, and the Agency struggled to find a replacement developer who would be excited to work on an old technology. At that point when the client wanted to make changes it’s going to take awhile, which would create a bad reputation for the agency.

      In the case that I particularly saw, the client wanted to run SEO campaign. The SEO manager wanted to optimize the site’s link structure, and fix the page title and page description. All of these could easily be done by many of the SEO pluggins in WordPress. But SEO was not in the spec when the custom CMS was built at the beginning. So now they are stranded, and they are not happy with the agency.

  • Danny D.

    Great article, but you should update your link of http://www.mockingbird.com/ to https://gomockingbird.com

    • http://www.onsman.com Ricky Onsman

      Fixed. Thanks, Danny.

      • http://www.ispionage.com Chris Sparks

        Thanks for the corrected link.

  • TB

    I have to agree with Pedro on the last point. I would add that a custom CMS does not mean that only a “handful” of people in the world can update your site. If the web site and CMS are both built using PHP or .NET or other framework, there are plenty of developers out there who can work with your site. A simple custom CMS can often times be much more effective for site owners.

    • terry

      This is my thinking exactly. I have to maintain a site for a non-profit organization and I refused to maintain a dreadful cesspool of PHP so I can use a “popular” CMS. If I am going to work for free to get things done for them I decided to use tools I already know and love which includes .NET and not PHP. I’ll likely end up using a .NET based CMS with my own extensions or doing a simple custom CMS. I’m still learning PHP though despite the horrific code the PHP community creates and poor language design that plagues practically all PHP code I’ve ever seen.

      • Nicholas Johnson

        Ive seen at least two projects failed because the developer tried to shoehorn functionality into WordPress and Drupal. Use these if you need a CMS. If you need something different, use a custom CMS. I favour Rails, it really is much quicker to develop for than WordPress, and you get exactly what you need.

  • Chris Raymond

    I quote: “our outsourced designers don’t know about your business and your customers as well as you do” and that’s exactly WHY people should NOT use 99designs to hold a “contest” and pick a random designer to design your website on the cheap. You’ll get work that is more style than substance, and devalue the work of all the other designers who didn’t “win” and who, guess what, need to eat and pay rent!

    You should have a disclaimer in every supposedly expert post stating SitePoint’s financial ties to 99designs, the same as I expect the Washington Post to disclose how its owners have ties to Kaplan or any other business it writes about.

    • http://www.onsman.com Ricky Onsman

      Chris, you’re entitled to your opinion on the first point. You may not like the way 99design works – many web designers don’t – but I think many will disagree that the end results are always more style than substance.

      As to your second point, SitePoint in no way hides its relationship with 99designs. We celebrate it as one of the great success stories of the SitePoint group. That’s why it’s top of the list of our spinoffs on our About page. We write about it regularly, and we’re proud of it. As Editor, I make the call whether it’s relevant to point out that it’s part of the SitePoint group in any given piece of content. It doesn’t seem necessary to me in this piece. We also don’t say that Learnable is part of our group every time we write about it. Because we say it often enough for that to be clear.

      I think your attempted “supposedly expert post” slur shows where you’re really coming from, Chris. And your tweet confirms it. There’s no disclosure issue here at all. This just comes down to your personal dislike of 99designs.

  • http://KeithJamesDesigns.com Keith James

    Our design process has always been to start with exactly what do you want visitors to do.Not knowing leads to continued redesigns and wastes time, money and effort. Only after you have clear objectives, can you even begin wire framing.

    We always try to use either a framework or widely distributes CMS. We’ll do a custom CMS but we also explain to the client the obvious reasons we try to avoid it.

    Only after this point can we begin discussing aesthetics such as colors and typography.

  • http://www.purplepier.com.br Carlos Garcia

    Great article,
    I see no problems to be inspirated by others web sites layout if I´m not copying its code.

  • http://www.alabiansolutions.com/home.php Alabi

    This applies to non developers or business owner reading this. It is common in Nigeria for web professional (designers and developer) to register a client domain name in his name or agency’s name. This makes switching of agency or developer difficult or almost impossible even when you used the most popular CMS to develop the website