10 Deadly Web Site Sins

Have you ever stumbled upon a page that made you think, "Wow! This would be a really great site if only they hadn’t done BLANK". Or, "If I see one more page with those BLANKITY BLANKS, I’m going to scream!".

Today we’re going to fill in the blanks.

You can spend every waking moment promoting your site, but if it’s not a well designed site to begin with, you’re fighting a losing battle. Good sites help to promote themselves.

What should you do to develop a "good" site? Well, it’s probably easier to tell you what you shouldn’t do.

In this two-part article I’m going to cover what I feel are the 10 Deadly Web Site Sins. Although these are only my opinions, I believe that lots of Web surfers share my point of view. Like most things in life, it’s hard for a group of people to come to an agreement on what the "ideal" is in any given area. But you can bet that we can all pretty much pinpoint what’s downright annoying.

Before you start thinking, "Well, well, aren’t we Miss ‘Webbier-Than-Thou’ ", let me share something with you: one of the reasons I can say these things are a mistake is because I’ve done many of them myself. Yes, I did some of these very things and I *liked* them; I liked them a lot. I have come to realize the error of my ways and I’ve reformed. BAD! BAD WEB DESIGNER! BAD! BAD!

But before I get too carried away with my little mea culpa, let me say that some of these things I’ve never done, I never will do, I wouldn’t even consider doing, and I hope you won’t either because they jump all over my last good nerve. Read on and see if you agree…

WEB SITE SIN #1: Slow Download Times

You can have a site that provides the best content in the world, but if it takes forever to download no one will hang around long enough to view it. As a general rule, the longer it takes your site to download, the fewer visitors will stick it out ’til the bitter end to see it. The next time you’re tempted to take that 8×10 photo of you at age 5 with Bozo and turn it into a clickable image map, it might be wise pass on it.

When visitors hit your site, they’re looking for information, services, or products. For the most part, they aren’t interested in that cool new graphic it took you a whole day to create.

So, should you just deliver your information in a text-only, no frills format? No, of course not. Unless you want to have single digit daily site traffic.

What you should strive for is a balance between image quality and image size. There is a happy medium where the image looks good and the file is small enough that it will download fairly quickly. Your graphics should enhance the presentation of your information, not overpower it.

There are several image compression utilities online; NetMechanic offers GIFBot, a free service which will display several compressed images and allow you to choose and save the one that best suits your needs.

Be sure and use the WIDTH and HEIGHT attributes of the IMG tag too!

WEB SITE SIN #2: Poor Choice of Background and Text Colors

There is nothing more frustrating than going to a site that you feel will be exactly what you’re looking for, only to find that the information is unreadable due to poor background and text color choices.

I would be hard pressed to ever use anything but black text on a white background for a business site. Black on white provides the easiest readability. Save the background GIF of the psychedelic kittens giving the "peace" sign for your personal page.

If you do choose to stray from black on white, make sure that there is enough contrast between your text and background colors so that your visitors will not have trouble reading your content. You also have to take into consideration that they must be able to read the links and visited links against the background color. You can always change the link colors, but I don’t particularly like to do that myself. People know what the default colors mean and if you introduce new ones, they have to figure out which color stands for what.

Keep in mind that if you have a dark background tile and you’ve specified a light color text, your content might not be readable for visitors who are surfing with image-loading OFF depending on their default browser background color. To get around this, specify a background color in addition to a background image, like so:

<BODY BGCOLOR="#800080" BACKGROUND="deeppurplesilk.gif" TEXT="#FFFFFF>

WEB SITE SIN #3: The Evil "BLINK!"

Oh, this is a big one. Please have some consideration for us and don’t use blinking text on your page! Believe me, people just don’t like it.

To me, there is nothing more distracting than trying to read and having that incessant blinking going on. It’s like standing beside the man in line at McDonald’s who is carrying on a heated debate with his imaginary parrot, Pepé – you don’t want to look, but your eyes keep getting drawn to the horrible spectacle.

I’ll also include those annoying little animated GIFs in this category. A few eons ago, they might have been new and fresh, but if I see one more of those little animated workers laboring inside an "Under Construction" sign, I think I’m going to yak (I used one of those at one time myself, sigh…).

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s OK to sprinkle a few good animations here and there throughout your site. You run into problems when you’ve got 20 or so animated Smurfs doing the Macarena on one page.

These have the same distracting effect as blinking text. Just when you start to concentrate and absorb the reading material, the dancing purple ferret can’t stand it anymore and has to bust a move. He stops, you regain your focus, and guess what? "Hey, check me out again" – "Whoa! you didn’t think I was through already, did ya?" – "Look at me!!! Love me!! WORSHIP ME!!!".

WEB SITE SIN #4: Frames

Ah yessss….my old nemesis. I detest frames. I think they are the bane of every web surfer’s existence.

Please don’t e-mail me and try to brainwash me into your twisted way of thinking. I don’t like frames. Let me rephrase that: in theory, they sound like a great tool; in practice, they are usually anything but. Yes, frames could provide a very convenient navigation system for a site, but most of the time they don’t.

Invariably, the dimensions are just a hair off and you are stuck with that dastardly horizontal scrollbar. Or you have a window approximately 5 pixels high to try to scroll. Sometimes your screen is so hacked up, if you didn’t know better, you might think a samurai had taken out his frustration on a lemon meringue pie.

Not to mention the fact that frames can cause a problem for some search engines in indexing your site.

WEB SITE SIN #5: The Endlessly Scrolling Page

You load a page, you watch in horror as the button on the scrollbar gets smaller and smaller – it would make a dust mite feel like a huge, lumbering, oaf. When the page is finally finished loading, you pull out your handy electron microscope and discover that, yes, the scrollbar is still there, all five nanometers of it. This is when it dawns on you: Brother, you’ve got a long way to go to get to the bottom of this page.

Have you ever stumbled upon a page that seemed to go on and on forever? It’s better to break your content up into short to medium length, linked pieces instead of one long page. Granted, it’s easier to put everything on one page, but it’s really a pain to have to scroll for days while reading.

One of my friends found a site that was filled with great information, but when she decided to print it out she discovered that it would have been several hundred pages long!

WEB SITE SIN #6: "This Site is Under Construction!"

It’s a real simple concept folks…if it isn’t finished, don’t list it.

I’m not talking about one section under development; that’s acceptable to me and I think to most other people. When you submit your site to all the search engines and haven’t completed anything but the home page, you’ve got a problem.

It irritates people; they won’t bookmark your site and return in a few weeks just because they liked the cool graphics you had.

A second cousin to "The Evil BLINK!" is the animated "Under Construction" sign. Do we really need this? Isn’t it kinda obvious when parts of a site are incomplete?

Most good sites are perpetually "under construction" anyway; it’s more or less an unspoken law.

WEB SITE SIN #7: Background Sound

In my book, another big no-no for professional sites.

Background sounds are more appropriate for a personal page, don’t you think? It’s important that you present a professional image for your business site.

The ol’ credibility meter starts veering towards "EMPTY" when you subject your visitors to the midi version of The Scroungehounds latest single.

If you feel absolutely compelled to make your visitors submit to this cruel and unusual punishment, please don’t make it LOOP indefinitely.

WEB SITE SIN #8: Inconsistent Design/Layout

I feel that on a business site, the design/layout/navigational items should be kept consistent throughout the site.

Have you ever visited a site and clicked a link and then wondered if you were still at the same site or if you had moved on to a different one?

I would recommend using the same background and navigational items (in the same location, too) on every page throughout the site.

It may sound boring, but it should make it much easier for your visitors to find their way around.

Making your visitors click on a flaming, green skull on one page to go "BACK" and on Rudolf’s red nose on another page to do the same thing won’t win you any popularity contests.

WEB SITE SIN #9: Designing for a Specific Browser/Color Setting/Screen Resolution

I’ve got an idea…I’m going to make my site totally inaccessible to 25% of my visitors!!

Sound crazy? It is. Unfortunately, that is exactly what many site designers do.

Oh, the percentage is completely arbitrary, but it’s commonplace to see a site is very difficult, if not impossible, for select groups to enjoy.

I’m a firm believer in not making sites browser specific. Not everyone downloads the latest, greatest version of MSIE or Netscape – why make your site only enjoyable for those who do?

I’m not saying you should design for browsers so old they can only read hieroglyphics, but don’t go to the opposite end of the spectrum and design only for people who upgrade their browsers every night before bed.

Along the same lines, don’t design for a specific color setting. While your images may look great at 16 or 32 bit color, at 256 color they might look as if they have been beat with an ugly stick.

Last, but not least, in this category is my personal pet peeve. Don’t design for a specific screen resolution.

Not all of us have a monitor that would dwarf a small barn. If you design for over 800×600, I would venture a guess that visitors have often fantasized about the untimely demise of your site.

In my experience, the large majority of people have their screen res at 800×600. That’s not from any poll or study, that is based on the visitors to my sites. But, again in my experience, there are a significant number of people who still run 640×480. I, myself, am among them. Sure, I could go higher, but with my bat-like vision I prefer to use that setting.

Do you know why you shouldn’t design specifically for the larger screen res settings? It creates a horizontal scrollbar for those of us who have the lower setting selected.

My friend, if you’ve never experienced a horizontal scrollbar, thank your lucky stars. There is nothing more infuriating than having to read, scroll a little to the right, read, scroll down, read, scroll a little to the right, read, scroll down….you get the picture, don’t you?

WEB SITE SIN #10: Spelling and HTML Mistakes

Few things will convey a more unprofessional image than spelling or HTML errors.

Building trust is an absolute must online. If your page is riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, what kind of message do you think that sends potential clients?

"There is no more qualified company to handle all you’re busines needs"…think again, kid.

HTML goofs are another way to quickly evaporate any faith the visitor might have had in your ability. This seems painfully obvious, but you should realize this is especially true if you are offering web site design services.

If you’ve left out your ending "/B" tag and 3/4 of your page is in BOLD text, it’s really looking bad for you from the get-go.

The strange thing is that these types of mistakes are relatively easy to avoid.

One obvious step to take would be to proofread your pages before uploading them. You should also perform spell checking on them or get a friend to proofread them if that’s not your specialty.

I hope this article has helped trigger some ideas for ways to improve your site. If you are a die hard advocate of some of these techniques, please don’t take offense; these are only my opinions.

Good luck with your site!

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