Top 17 Website Design Mistakes

Top 17 Website Design Mistakes - Colling Media

Following web design best practices doesn’t mean that you aren’t also making some mistakes. Website design is complex: there are a lot of potential missteps out there and the best practices change from year to year. Here’s what you need to know about developing a website your users will love—by avoiding things that your users will hate. 

1. Not Focusing on the Mobile Experience

With the majority of browsing being done on phones and tablets, the mobile experience is more important than ever before. Yet while many people understand that websites need to be mobile-friendly, many aren’t optimizing their mobile experience. Optimizing the mobile experience means:

  • Making sure that text, images, and other content are easily visible even on smaller screens.
  • Fine-tuning links and menus to make sure that users can easily find the content they need.
  • Reducing the file sizes of image, video, and audio content to increase speed on cellular data.

Some websites may want to consider the development of a native app rather than a solely browser-based online experience. 

2. Slow Loading Times and Poor Scalability

Slow loading times are still a problem. 47% of users expect a website to load within a couple of seconds. And while most web designers know about this, they don’t put as much thought into their scalability as they should. Your hosting service may be able to handle moderate traffic exceptionally well—but what happens if your content goes viral?

Many marketing campaigns are centered around the idea of burstability: the idea that very suddenly the site could become popular. If the site isn’t prepared for this, you won’t be able to claim any of that traffic. Cloud-based hosting services with easily deployed resources are often the answer.

3. Too Much or Too Little Information

It’s difficult for many to find a balance with their content. If a website is too light on content, it won’t rank highly in terms of SEO. It also won’t have the critical information that users need. At the same time, throwing a lot of information at a user all at once can be overwhelming. The solution is often to use white space and formatting to make long-form content more readable.

When displaying information:

  • Break information into short paragraphs.
  • Use H1 and H2 headers to separate information.
  • Keep content as concise as possible.
  • Use photos and videos to break up content.

By creating a more interactive multimedia experience, you can present a lot of information in a digestible format—while offering the user as much value as possible.

4. Opening Links in New Windows

In the old days of web design, it was often suggested that websites open entirely new windows for links off-site. This was intended to keep users on the site rather than off-boarding them. Unfortunately, this generally leads to a poor user experience and unhappy users. Opening links in new windows is now considered to be rude. 

As an alternative, make it clear when links are taking users off-site, track user exits, and make sure that your website and its content are memorable. Users today know how to control opening links in new tabs and new windows on their own: they don’t want a website to decide this for them.

5. Using Old-Fashioned SEO

Old-fashioned SEO strategies were built around the idea of developing a website for machines first and then tailoring the content for users later. Machine-first SEO includes awkward keywords (such as “realtors San Francisco”), keyword-stuffed pages, hidden keywords, and an over-abundance of unrelated content. 

These SEO strategies no longer work. Modern pages need to be designed around the user first. If the user finds the content relevant and stays on the website, the website will have a higher ranking on the search engine results page. And awkward keywords such as “realtors San Francisco” are pointless to modern algorithms: there’s no technical difference to “realtors in San Francisco” or even “San Francisco realtors.”

6. Ignoring Your Marketing Metrics

Even if you’re following all relevant best practices, you aren’t going to be able to truly succeed unless you’re following your marketing metrics. Marketing metrics are important because every audience is different. Some audiences may respond better to one strategy while other audiences will respond better to another—and there’s little way to predict this beyond testing.

Services such as Google Webmaster Tools make it easy to track your website’s traffic and determine whether it’s trending upward or downward. These week-over-week and month-over-month trends will form the basis of whether your strategy is successful or not. Your best marketing comparisons will be to yourself, over time.

7. Going With the Free Website Template

There are countless services today that offer free WYSIWYG (“What You See Is What You Get”) websites. The problem with these websites is that they look generic, don’t improve your branding, and often have poor UX because of it. A website template can’t be easily customized to meet your services and your content. Many of them are poorly optimized for SEO purposes. In marketing, a “one size fits all” solution seldom works. 

There’s a tremendous difference between free, default website templates and paid templates. Many paid templates can be customized in any way you desire, to suit your media and your focus. Free, default website templates will look bland and generic. When customized by a professional web design company, paid templates can look just as good as a custom-built site.

8. Not Investing in an SSL Certificate

An SSL certificate is what protects data being transmitted to and from your website. All websites should have SSL certificates, especially if you’re collecting any information from your customers. An SSL certificate tells a user that a website is safe. Many users won’t venture onto a website that doesn’t have the “HTTPS” designation.

Likewise, an expired SSL certificate can be even more alarming than not having one at all. Keeping an SSL certificate current is important—and it usually only costs a few dollars a month. 

9. Surprise, You Broke All Your Links

Every time a site undergoes a major overhaul, there’s the danger of breaking links. If links are broken on your website, both your user experience and your SEO will suffer. It’s easy to break permanent links when restructuring. It’s also easy to delete files without checking to see whether they are linked elsewhere on your site.

Crawling your website frequently for broken links is important. Google’s Webmaster tools makes it possible to do this periodically, so you can identify and resolve any issues before they start impacting the usability of your website. Many content management systems (such as WordPress) also come with link-checking plug-ins.

10. Adding Unnecessary Content

It isn’t about quantity, it is about quality. Many websites race to add content rather than thinking about what content will be truly meaningful. This type of website “spam” is not looked upon highly by today’s search engines. It’s better to have a site with well-meaning, unique, intentional content than it is to have a site that has large droves of content that can be found elsewhere. 

11. Using Too Many Ads

Ads are one of the fastest ways to turn most consumers off. Whether they’re ads for your own products or third-party banner ads, most customers would prefer an ad-free browsing environment. And while some ads may be necessary for the purposes of revenue generation, there are diminishing returns involved. The more ads there are, the less attention each individual ad will get.

Many customers are already using ad blockers, but these ad blockers are becoming easier to defeat. If a user has gone out of their way to block ads only to be served them regardless, they may resent your website. Ads that auto play sounds or video or pop up in entirely new windows are considered to be particularly insidious. 

12. Putting In Inescapable Modal Windows

Modal windows are alerts that pop up on a website and force the user to select an option before they progress. Often, they notify a user that they’re on a subscription site, or tell a user about a sale or promotion. Modal windows can be useful for site-wide alerts, but they have to be used sparingly. They also need to be used in a way that makes it easy and obvious to close them.

When modal windows appear to be “inescapable,” users are likely to back out of a website rather than trying to figure them out. A clear “X” button on one side (or a “don’t show me this” link) will build trust with your users and make it easier for them to get the experience they desire.

13. Ignoring Accessibility Standards

Web accessibility standards make it easier for a website to reach a broad audience. There are many hearing impaired or vision impaired individuals who are browsing the web. Meeting standards of accessibility compliance means that these individuals will be able to use your website. A few elements of compliance include:

  • Always using alt tags and captions so a user can tell what an image is.
  • Creating short, well-organized menus, so they can be read by a screen reader.
  • Never relying solely on audio signals or video cues.

Every country has different regulations regarding accessibility and compliance: make sure to check with your local laws and requirements.

14. Not Integrating Social Media Content

Arguably, social media content is just as important as a website today. By integrating social media content with website content, you can significantly expand your audience. More people are spending time on social media than just browsing the web, and social media can give you direct access to an audience similar to your core demographics. To properly integrate your social media with your website:

  • Create sharing buttons for website content to be shared easily on social media.
  • Add social media posts and tweets to your website content.
  • Share your website content frequently with your social media followers.

This type of integration will invariably increase the audience of both your website and your social media pages, ultimately leading to a more effective advertising campaign overall. 

15. Making It Hard to Find Information

Ideally, a user should be able to find the information they need on your website quickly. That means they shouldn’t need to click through multiple categories or pages, guess where a page may be, or conduct multiple searches to find what they want. Having an intuitive hierarchy and website structure makes information much easier to find. Take some time to properly categorize and tag your content—and use tools such as “suggested articles” where relevant.

16. Leaving Up Your Error Handling

Your error handling codes should never be visible to the public. Not only can this cast doubt on the trustworthiness of your website, but it can be a security risk as well. When users do stumble upon an error, the error should be reported to hidden log files and nothing else. Visible errors can be turned off in your server settings to avoid showing too much information. 

17. Being Lazy About Your Call-to-Action

An appropriate call-to-action should be visible on nearly every page of your website. A call-to-action doesn’t have to mean you’re selling something: it’s just the next thing that you want your user to do on your website. It could be as simple as following your social media accounts, bookmarking the page, or signing up for a newsletter. Regardless, to really get a user interested in building a relationship with you, you often need to tell them what the next step is.

A call-to-action that is too generic or that has nothing to do with the content the user is viewing is going to be ineffective. You can test multiple types of call-to-action on your website to figure out which resonates most strongly with your audience. 

Key Takeaways

What differentiates a good design from a bad design? It’s really all about the user experience. If your users are able to find what they want on your site and keep coming back, then your design is a good one—if they find your website muddled and confusing, it’s time to revise. If it’s time to give your website a refresh, contact the experts at Colling Media.

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David DeMar

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