Articles for Webmasters     Your web site stinks

by Richard McSwain

Your web site stinks. That may sound harsh, but may indeed be accurate, since estimates are that about 60 to 70% of all web sites, even sites belonging to giant corporations, suffer from serious design flaws.

  • One of the worst offences is content. Your content should be logically divided into sections, like chapters in a book. Don't spread content across multiple pages for the sake of page count, and don't try to cram all of your content into one or two pages. Your content should also be consistent. A visitor to your site should know what your site is about, no matter which page he entered on, and should be able to access any page from whatever page he may currently be viewing, which brings us to navigation.
  • Navigation should be consistent across the site. Don't have horizontal tabs with drop downs on the home page and then switch to vertical tabs or text only links on other pages. This is confusing and can give visitors the feeling that they have left your site and stumbled onto another one.
  • A site that loads slowly discourage visitors. Giant graphics, videos, and flash animations all use bandwidth and take time to transfer from the web server to the visitor's browser. Not everyone has high speed internet and broadband access. If you feel it is imperative to use these things, make sure your text loads first, or give the visitor an option to bypass the fancy stuff and get to the meat of your website.
  • Error 404 or "Page Not Found" is a web site killer. Check your links, both internal and external, often. There are many link validation programs available as well as free online validation services. You just enter the URL of your site, and it generates a report of any dead links. Broken links and other server errors cause your visitors to question the validity of your site, and makes the most professional of sites look amateurish.
  • Do not force visitor to scroll down. "Above the fold" is an old print media term that describes content on the top half of a newspaper page, so that it is visible even when the paper is folded. This is important for web sites as well. You should have meaningful content "Above the Scroll", meaning that if a visitor was forced to scroll down to get past large header images, intro videos, etc. before finding anything interesting, he is probably already bored and considering looking for another site with similar information.
  • Unrelated advertising is not only distracting but offensive to many. If your site is about knitting, don't allow some link exchange or pay per click company serve advertisements about football to your visitors. An occasional related advertisement for related products or services may be acceptable, but respect those who do not want to be subjected to it, and allow them the option to block pop up. Avoid the new Vibrant Media popup ads that cannot be blocked like the plague.

    If you must advertise on your web site to generate revenue, allocate some space on your pages, and serve the ads there, as if they were part of your content.

  • Colors can make or break a web site. A black background with bright text might look good for a teenager's Myspace profile, but is annoying and difficult to read. A white or pastel background with dark text may sound boring, but it is easier on the eyes and your visitors will appreciate it.

Take a lesson from Google. Why do they get about 80% of all Internet search traffic? Because they provide a clean, fast loading page with no advertising, annoying popups, animations, movies, or other distractions. You should do the same for your visitors. Make your home or landing page clean and get right to the point. If a visitor sees that your site provides the content they are looking for, they will look deeper into your site. Display your advertising and entertainment media within the site's other pages. This way, if a visitor decides to leave a page, they are more likely to click the back button and remain on your site, rather than return to the link that brought them there.

In web design, just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. Most people would rather drive a sleek fast sports car than a large slow clunker loaded with junk. Keep your site clean and lean, and your visitors will reward you.


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