Developing a website for your business has become a virtual necessity these days. Even the cupcake shop down the street has a website. My accountant has a website. So does the dog groomer I use. It is your 24/7 marketing tool. People will look up your website to get information before meetings, interviews or even before they shop. Traveling businessmen/women will look at your site at night before they meet with you to prepare. Insomniacs will want to see your products in the middle of the night. Friends will share information. By my estimation, about 90% of people who use computers and “surf the net”, look up stores, restaurants, businesses, and the like BEFORE calling or utilizing the business’ service. If you have no internet presence, then you’re behind the 8-ball.
So, let’s get started: You know what you WANT or NEED a new website, but what we don’t always know is what NOT to do. Here’s a list of my favorite things of what NOT to do:
1. Automatically resize browser window
This is one of those instances where I say “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”. There is a reason they are called “personal computers”. People like to have things sized the way they want, how they want, when they want it. You don’t know what the viewer is also working on. You don’t know what size his/her monitor is. When I am browsing the internet, I have my window sized to a specific resolution for a reason. I like to be able to see the other things on my desktop or other application windows.
What is the point of forcing the browser to window to full screen, anyway? It’s one say of saying “Look at me and only me! I’m the most important and special thing that you should be focusing on right now.” It’s invasive and actually causes me to leave the site never to return. That’s a missed opportunity.
2. Create a landing page with nothing but an “Enter” button
Okay. We need to come to the realization that we have a split second to make that first impression on a visitor. There are thousands of other companies’ websites that are competing in the same industry. There is really no purpose to have a landing page that has no content.
An index (or home) page that has no content other than an “Enter Here” button, is not optimized for search engines and will most likely not be indexed. The result is lower traffic (or no traffic). Search engines will almost always index your home page searching for relevant content so it knows how to properly place your page in the search results. If the reason you do not have relevant content on your home page is because you are not a great writer or don’t know that much about SEO text, then do your business a favor and hire a copywriter who is experienced in this area. You will be much more pleased with the results and feel your time and money has been much better spent.
3. Version choices for viewing the site
This usually applies to people who offer Flash vs. Static HTML websites. The first question is “Why would you even have a Flash version of your website unless you are a Flash animator promoting your Flash skills and portfolio?”. When a visitor lands on your site they want to see what’s going on, straight away. They do not want to have to think. They do not want to have to make a choice on the version with which to view your website. Keep it Simple!
4. Create a site built entirely in Flash
You may already know my feelings of disdain for Flash and Flash-based websites. Flash isn’t always bad. It can produce some pretty cool results. However, there are many ways to be “cool” when you create a new website. More often, a simple site can be considered just as cool as a busy looking site. There are several reasons NOT to have a Flash based site:
• Flash sites are most often NOT SEO friendly. This means that the search engines that scrub your site looking for relevant content may just skip over your site, and you will not appear in the results. This is, again, a missed opportunity. As stated above, unless your business truly relies on the animation feature of Flash, then there is no real functional purpose for having a Flash-based site.
• Flash sites are not accessible from pretty much all mobile devices and tablets. Sure, there are a few new methods out there that allow for Flash to be viewed as if it’s a regular HTML page, but this is not yet the “standard” (standard meaning not all browsers recognize the code and/or CSS that styles a site in this way). This means that until is IS the standard, it is not a guaranty that the site will be viewable. Every day, more and more people are searching the internet from their mobile devices and tablets while on-the-go. Some people even use these devices when at home or at work. It’s always best to cater to the broadest audience. This will make for a more consistent viewing experience for your visitors. If you’re site can’t even be viewed… yep, you guessed it: Another missed opportunity.
• Flash sites and/or ad banners hog bandwidth. The more complicated or sizable the Flash file, the longer it takes to load which means you may experience a slower browsing experience. Keep in mind: If it takes too long to load, you may lose the visitor before he has even had the chance to see what your site offers.
• Flash sites are typically far more expensive to develop and even more expensive to edit later on.
• If any of the above is experienced, you risk losing a visitor… forever.
Today, there are many other NON-Flash scripts that produce gallery and transition effects that are very “Flash-like”. If your web designer uses these methods, you can still appear to have a “flashy” site without the hassle of expense, slow-loading pages or NON-loading pages. Consider the alternatives.
5. Introduce a new navigation process
This is a good one. Some folks like to be “different”. “I’d like to put the navigation on the bottom. Let’s make people look for it. That way they will see everything else first.”
As fun and clever as this may seem, it is a guaranteed missed opportunity. If your navigation is not at the top or down the left side (which is intuitively where people will look), I will scratch my head and wonder how to view the rest of the site. It’s always best to make things easy for people. Don’t assume that EVERYONE who visits your site is internet or web savvy. If you design for the novice, then you’re more likely to win over the visitor.
6. Use Old non-compatible / non-compliant code
What most people don’t realize is that although there are many different web browsers out there, they are not all treated alike and they most definitely do not all behave the same way. Some browsers allow for certain things while others do not comply and will not display things the way you want or expect. Specifically, there are some new CSS methods that don’t always work on all browsers (e’hem: Internet Explorer is the worst offender!). The most common browsers today are Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer (shivers) and Chrome. Yes, I know. There are others, but for the sake of this discussion, let’s just stick with these 4.
One of the most common issues I face are how to make sites look the same across all browsers. I may use Firefox or Safari but my client uses Internet Explorer. This is where the fun begins. Internet Explorer is the LEAST compliant with current standards. It’s the least forgiving. This means that what looks great on other mainstream browsers, will not only look different on IE, but it may not even work on IE. Extra hours are usually required in order to implement “workarounds” in order to make certain features function and appear properly in Internet Explorer. This may add additional costs to your overall site development costs.
Sites that are still using tables (or new sites being coded using tables) are the first candidates that will most likely experience functionality problems. Some of you may be shaking your head saying “Well, my site uses tables and it looks just fine to me.” You may be right. Your site may look okay. It’s not a rock solid theory, but every time I land on a site that appears to be “broken” as we say (ie; alignment is off, functionality is not up to par or load time is slow, it’s usually the result of table-based websites). The way to go is to use CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) to style and code your site. Most of the browsers will respond well to a majority of the standard CSS code and stylings. Sure there are a few “workarounds” that may need to be done, but (dare I say it), it usually is because Internet Explorer isn’t playing well in the sandbox.
When a site is coded cleanly and well using the most up-to-date web-standards, there should be minimal (if any) performance issues.
7. Use a bunch of visual/noisy effects
Right off the bat, let’s “Just Say No!” No blinking text, no Frontpage (do people still use this? Eeek!), no pop-ups (even if requested), no scrolling text, no flashing text, no multi-colored text, no font downloads, and no Flash intros.
It’s probably not even worth breaking down this list into specifics about WHY these visual effects are bad.
Websites are not clubs. They are not flea-markets. A website is the medium with which to light the disco globe, crank up the tunes and do everything you can to get attention. Actually, if you got the visitor to your site in the first place, you’re already ahead of the game. If you’re going to spend the time and money to develop a site, then make it look professional and classy and clean. Those traits actually grab attention much better than the effects I list above. If you use all those effects, your site ends up looking tacky or cheesy and unprofessional.
8. Auto-play music and/or video
Have you ever been browsing the internet (at work or at home) and you land on a page that makes you feel as though you just entered a carnival? Or a concert? Maybe you are listening to your own music and BAM! The page loads and find yourself wildly searching for the volume or “music off” button. If after a second or two, the volume can’t be adjusted… well, let’s just say: You lost another visitor: Me.
I can appreciate your taste in music, but, let’s admit it… music a personal choice. It’s kind of like getting into someone else’s car (they are driving) and you just immediately take over the radio station. That person was peacefully enjoying his/her choice of music and you come in and do a little “switch-a-roo”. Not only is it annoying, it’s kind of rude.
Even softer background ambient music is seen as annoying. It is most likely not even relevant to your site’s content (unless you are a band or orchestra) and has no place on the site. If you insist on having music on your site, then CLEARLY give the visitor the option to turn it ON, if they so choose.
Bottom line: Just don’t do it.
9. High resolution image galleries
Ah. The “resolution revolution”. Unless you are a web designer, this is a common conversation I have with clients. There is a big difference between the big beautiful photos you took with your digital camera and those same images that are sized and optimized to behave nicely in the internet sandbox. In order for images to load quickly and be viewed well, they should be sized for the median screen resolution (these days, this is 1024x768px). This means, the images should be reduced to 72 dpi (low/screen resolution) as opposed to 240 or 300 dpi (high resolution). If you put even one large high-resolution image on your site, I promise, your site will load slower than you care to imagine. Instead, make sure all your images are the proper resolution and you should be good-to-go!
Watch for an article called “Resolution Revolution”, coming soon.
10. Cleverly hidden content
If there is one thing I say over and over: Less Is More. When you are designing your website, always keep things simple, clean and easy to find the content. Similar to what I have stated in #9, printed pieces are not the same as websites. You can repurpose your printed collateral for use on a website, but it is best not to expect it to be displayed exactly the same way. It’s what I like to call “consistency with variation”. You can tell the brand is the same and there is a congruency between the elements, but each are designed appropriately so they are visually and functionally perfect for their medium.
Make sure your website is easy to navigate. The information should be easy to locate as well as read. It may not be such a bad idea to enlist the help of a copywriter well versed in website content. He/she will know how to write copy that is as concise as possible, including the appropriate keywords to make your site SEO friendly, and the visitor will not become bored with what he is reading on a screen. Remember, most of us spend a lot of time on our computers. The light, glare and flicker is enough to cause a headache in a heartbeat. Making your information easy to find is going to benefit your business much more, in the long run, than trying to make your visitor jump through complicated hoops just to find it.
That’s it for now. If you have any items to add, please… by all means, feel free to share your thoughts. Who knows, there may even be a “Part Deux” to this article.