In the digital age a website is no longer a nice optional extra, it’s an essential and multi-faceted marketing tool. It can attract people to your brand, provide them with information about your products and services, help you to capture their details for further marketing and even allow them to make a purchase directly.
Getting a website right requires a lot of thought and planning. The devil really is in the detail so you’ll want to avoid all 5 of the following website design fails.
1. Not making usability your top priority
Whatever it is you want users to do when they reach your website – whether it’s signing up for a newsletter, buying a product or just reading an article – you have to make it as easy for them as possible.
Placing obstacles in their way like unnecessary navigation steps, forms hidden below the fold (visible part of screen on loading), dead ends, unreadable text and annoying pop-ups just makes it all the more likely that they’ll abandon their visit before they’ve done what you want them to.
Get people (who are like your users but who aren’t involved in designing the site) to test your website thoroughly for usability and fix whatever it is that’s turning them off.
2. Being invisible (or as good as invisible) to search engines
When people search for the products, services or information you offer you want to appear in the first few results. The reason being that the number of click-throughs you can expect from a search result decreases exponentially as that result drops down the list.
Making your website search engine friendly begins at the design phase: you need good site architecture so that search engines can find all your pages, the ability to update and edit content so that Google et al knows that your information is up to date and templates that don’t push your unique content below a bunch of ads (a real turn off for search engine spiders).
One of the worst errors you can make is to design your site completely in Flash or to use a Flash intro: the search engines can’t read Flash at all.
3. Sloooow paaaage looooad tiiiiimes
If your website’s bounce rate (the percentages of visitors who land on your website then immediately leave) is really high then one of your prime suspects should be page load times. If your pages aren’t loading for users within 5 seconds or sothen they’re getting bored of waiting and leaving to find your competitors.
Bad website designs put loads of unnecessary scripts (i.e. programming routines) in page templates. These scripts have to be run, in sequence, by the user’s browser before the page is fully loaded.
Get rid of all unnecessary scripting. If you’re providing a complicated site and absolutely have to include heaps of code then compress it as much as possible and put it at the bottom of the page so that the content appears for users as soon as possible.
4. Serving up SPAM in place of quality content
At the other end of the spectrum from not paying enough attention to search engines is trying to game them. Google and the other search engines are getting better every day at spotting content that’s been designed purely to get pages to rank for search terms rather than providing the user with high quality content.
An example of this would be designing a website which auto-generates pages that insert relevant keywords in page titles, headings and boilerplate chunks of text. Such a site may still be getting away with this practice but won’t be for much longer – a penalty from Google could see rankings and revenue wiped out overnight.
Make sure all your content is unique to a single page on your site where possible, is authored by a human being and offers the user something that they can’t get elsewhere on the web.
5. Ignoring mobile devices
According to the latest research global mobile internet usage accounts for around 10% of people accessing the web. In North America that figure is much higher, with some estimating that it exceeds 50%. Building a website that doesn’t work properly or looks terrible on mobile phones and tablets is therefore a serious web design crime that could put off a huge number of potential users.
Website owners currently have three choices for making their website mobile friendly: making an app; redirecting users to a version of their website specifically designed for mobile devices; or, designing their website in such a way that it is responsive to the device being used to view it.
The last option is the cleanest since it doesn’t require any downloading or redirecting. There are currently few websites that are utilising this technology well so getting there early could help you gain competitive advantage.
Is your website failing? Don’t wait for disaster
If your website is guilty of any of the above errors then now is the time to take remedial action. The pace at which online technology is developing means that users won’t forgive your shortcomings for long. You could end up trailing in the wake of your more forward thinking competitors.