Here are some avoidable mistakes that can trip people up on the web. Make sure your site doesn’t make these same mistakes, and you will keep your customers coming back for more.
Stopping search engines from helping you
You want customers to find your website. One of the main ways customers do that is with search engines. You need to make sure that the search engines are able to send people to your site.
Many search engines work by a process called “crawling”. They follow links on the internet and try to load a copy into memory. Then that copy is searched when a search engine user types in a query. If search engines can’t load your web pages, your site won’t show up on their search engine.
Sometimes CGI-generated or frames-based websites can break search engine crawlers. Make sure your site hasn’t done this. You can test your site by running searches on engines such as Google.com.
Links are the fundamental fabric of the web. People bookmark pages they like. They email links to co-workers. Search engines can send people deep into your web site. If that link is broken because your
web site changed you missed a chance to help a customer. You missed a chance to make money. Don’t move web pages once they are up. If you absolutely have to make changes, use redirects to make sure old links
still take the user to the new location, or at least a related page. You can find broken links into your website by looking for “404 Not Found” errors in your server logs. You can find broken links going out from your website by using link checking software.
Pages that take forever to load
Most home users still use modems over phone lines. Cable modems can slow to a crawl around 7:00 pm. You are also paying for all that bandwidth. By minimizing graphics and using careful design you can keep download times short, bandwidth bills small, and your customers happy.
Attempting to “wow” users with flashy multimedia
Unless you actually run an entertainment site, users aren’t coming to your site to be razzle dazzled. They’re coming for information. The easier you make it to get to that information the more successful your website will be.
The eye is attracted to movement. If you have things moving on your page, the user can’t concentrate on the content. If you really need animation to “jazz up” your site, make sure it finishes quickly and then stops after loading the page.
Your website also shouldn’t startle your customer or annoy their office mates with unexpected sounds or music. It’s a good way to convince the customer to hit the “Back” button quickly.
Wasted screen space
Some web designers make the mistake of designing for one particular screen width, usually 640 or 800 pixels. The result is a page that wastes screen space at larger screen sizes. With smart design it’s possible to create a layout that scales with the screen size. This makes browsing your website easier and faster for all your customers.
If you can’t create a scalable design, you should usually design for the commonly accepted minimum of an 800 x 600 screen.
Missing or lousy page titles
Page titles are important, but not just because the title is displayed at the top of the window. The page title determines the bookmark title, and is used by some search engines in their ranking methodology.
Make sure that every page on your site contains both the name of your site and a description of the page. An example would be “Acme Hardware: Stainless Steel Cap Screws”. This way, your customers bookmarks make sense.
Broken browser features
Users depend on certain features of their browser. The back button is the most commonly used browser control. Many users have learned how to use the “Open Link in New Window” feature. Those of us with poor eyesight have also found that using the browser menu to increase text size can be very handy.
It’s possible to break any of these features if you are careless.
A sloppy use of Macromedia Flash will break the back button. Using Java to open up a link in a new window can cause an error when the user tries to open a new window on their own. Using absolute font sizes rather than relative ones breaks the ability of some browsers to resize the font.
Booting the customer with unnecessary timeouts
Some dynamically generated sites have time out features that make it needlessly hard to use a website. A customer can spend 15 minutes browsing your online catalog, and then go on a one-hour lunch break. If they come back to their desk and press the “buy” button they should never get a message like “Your session has timed out. Please go to our homepage to restart your search”.
Misusing advertising techniques to promote parts of your own site
Pop-up windows are annoying, and usually contain advertising. Users learn to close them before the content loads. People have gotten used to banner advertisements and have learned to ignore them. It’s a scientifically proven behavior called “banner blindness”.
Almost all advertisements have a click through rate of less than one percent. Why would you use such a poor method to promote your own agenda on your own site? If you really want people to see something, put it on your web page in a prominent position.
Unreadable, unchangeable fonts
If users can’t read your text they will give up and leave. Tiny, light gray text on a white background is simply too hard to read. As a test, take a look at your site on an older monitor that has started to go blurry and see if you can still read it.
Also, make sure that the user can resize the font if needed.
Broken breadcrumb trails
In the good old days, unvisited links were always blue and underlined. When they had visited a page, links to that page turned purple. Users could use this to tell where they had been.
Today, many major sites use graphic menus where the links don’t change when they have been visited. This isn’t a huge problem for top level menus where there are only a few options. But if they’re searching for something in a large list of links, like a catalog or site map, they can use the visual hints to make sure they checked all the possibilities and aren’t duplicating their efforts.
If you don’t want to use purple for your visited link color, just make sure that the visited link color is duller and less prominent than the unvisited link color.
Fixing these problems doesn’t take time or effort, it takes focus
This is not rocket science. It just takes a conscience decision to focus on the customer. It takes a belief that users will come back to you not because of flashy design, but because they can get what they want at your site, quickly and easily. This list can be used as an evaluation checklist, but most of these problems never arise when you focus your effort on the customer.