As much as great design alone cannot make your website great — it generally also takes valuable content and proper marketing — really bad web design can absolutely make users hate your site and sink your business’ chances of success faster than you can say “animated GIF.”
Sure, there are times when a less-than-stellar-looking site provides such compelling content or such an amazing product, that it pulls you in regardless of its looks. But the vast majority of the time, delivering a quality site means having both a well-designed, easy-to-ready layout AND providing great value to your users.
Last week, I published an post on the best-designed websites in Myrtle Beach giving nods to some of the sites in our area that are both great looking and very usable. In the process of putting together this article I also came across some not-so-great design, and more than a few sites that were just plain horrible.
It’s with these outdated, unusable and just plain ugly sites in mind that I’ve come up with a few of my biggest pet peeves and web design no-no’s.
My hopes are that if just one person who reads this decides not to make their business page a Wix-hosted, Flash-fueled steaming pile of internet dog poo, I’ll have made the world a better place — at least for us designers.
Here’s a look at 5 things you should absolutely never do in designing your website. Unless, of course, your goal is to make people hate your business:
1. Stretch some really tiny images.
Now that nearly everyone you know has a smartphone with a 12 megapixel camera in their pocket at all times, there’s simply no excuse for running a tiny, blurry 200 pixel wide photo — especially if it’s blown up to 300% on your homepage and pixelated to the point where you can’t barely tell if it’s a cat or a horse.
Using low-quality photos is one of the most noticeable red flags of a non-professional design. Having pixelated images, having no images or having WAY too many tiny images packed onto one page are all major design no-no’s.
There’s no exact formula to how many photos you should use or how large they should be, but just remember the point of nice photography is to draw a user in and show them what your site is all about.
Putting high quality photos and smiling people on websites has been proven to increase reader engagement and conversions, but keep in mind not to get cheesy or overdo it as users know what’s real and what’s been bought off of a stock image site.
Check out spots like Creative Commons, Flickr and morgueFile for images and make sure you give credit to the photographer when you can. And if all else fails, spend a few bucks for a real photographer (the quality is often worth it) or hire an intern with a DLSR or a find family friend with a photo hobby and ask them to help.
2. Highlight important information with colored text on a colored background.
This is a common problem that most non-designers have a tough time understanding.
“But my logo is blue and red. Why wouldn’t I want blue type on a red background?”
Simply put, it’s hard to read.
Anything that makes your site harder for your users to read is a major problem. Gradients, textures, screened out boxes…these are all effective design tools when used properly and VERY dangerous ways to spell disaster when used by Joe Businessowner.
If you don’t know what you’re doing it’s best to avoid these design tricks — along with animated graphics and exotic display fonts — altogether.
Great design is all about using images, fonts and colors to direct readers/users to the most important information on the page.
The more colors and textures you use the more likely that you’re convoluting your messgae and driving folks away from what you’re offering.
When in doubt, just keep it simple. Only use a few colors and keep it high contrast when it comes to text. Black text on a white background reads great, you know.
3. Make finding your contact form like a scavenger hunt.
Making your site usable means presenting a clear path to tell users what you want them to do, whether it’s reading an article, buying a product or contacting you for more information about your services.
The worst thing you can do is make an awesome-looking site with tons of engaging content that gets users super-excited about what you have to offer and then make it impossible for them to find your phone number, shopping cart page or your contact form.
Any site worth its weight needs a distinct hierarchy to its homepage — usually driven by the use of a large image of prominent headline — and should provide a clear call to action. If it takes 2 or 3 or 4 clicks to get to the page you want them to go to you’re doing it wrong.
Oh, and while we’re at it try to make it as simple as possible for potential customers to give you their info. Yes, I know it’d be nice if you had their address, date of birth AND social security number, but please keep your form fields to a minimum.
4. Throw in pop-ups at random times.
This one won’t go over well with marketing professionals who swear by modal pop-up windows as a conversion mechanism, but as far as user experience goes, these in-site pop-ups still feel like more of an annoyance than they are worth.
There is plenty of data to suggest that these can work very well for sites when used properly — check out how Listrak uses them to collect e-mails — but there’s something about interrupting the flow of a good page design with an unsolicited call-to-action that bothers me as a designer and as a user.
I know it’s not right, but when I read I’m just as likely to click away from the page when I see a pop-up as I am to find the “X” button and close it down and get back to reading the site I sought out to read in the first place.
If you are going to decide to use a pop-up, whether to collect data, give an offer or offer customer service, make sure that you’re doing so for a reason and that you can’t simply achieve the same goal with a prominent call-to-action on the homepage.
As long as the message it short and make them easy to “X” out, most users will tolerate — and maybe even utilize — the pop-up window, but for God’s sake keep them to a minimum.
5. If all else fails, autoplay some loud ass music.
With the possible exception of a band website — and I tend to think even that’s a stretch nowadays — there’s no reason to “treat” your users with an autoplaying version of your favorite tune.
Even if you think “These Boots Are Made For Walking” is right for your shoe store or “I Love This Bar” is perfect for your sports saloon, there’s a good chance your users will simply see the extra click to pause the music as horribly annoying.
Also, its pretty likely that a big portion of your traffic will come from professionals browsing the web during work hours. And nothing drives an office-dweller to click away from your site faster than loud music blasting out from their cubicle while the boss lurks nearby.
Just in case you need a reminder check out “Sounds of the Internet” for some of the best (i.e. worst) autoplay sites on the web.
A few more ways to piss people off…
In no particular order, here’s a couple more major design no-no’s to avoid:
• Having 5 calls-to-action on your homepage. One is enough.
• Telling people to follow you on Facebook or Twitter and having a broken link or inactive profile.
• Using Flash animation of any kind. Especially in the navigation.
• Excessively bolding words. Yes, that means you too old school SEOs.
• Having too many Google ads. You’re not going to get rich off the 15 visits per week to your plumbing blog. Just stop it.
• Using entire paragraphs of ALL CAPS in body copy.
• Using the same stock WordPress theme that’s been kicking around since 2005. Something like this.