10 Design Mistakes to Avoid

Avoid these top 10 annoyances and your visitors will thank you.

This could probably be called the top 100 mistakes--there arejust so many goofs site builders make--but let's narrow thefocus to the most disastrous 10. Avoid only these gaffes, and yoursite will be far better than much of the competition.

1. Not planning your site. Before you begin building yourwebsite, sit down and define your purposes and goals for your site.Then, map out the flow of your site, starting with your home pagethrough every page that follows, based on your goals. Yoursite's purpose--whether it's to gather leads for yourservice business or to sell your homemade confections--should drivethe design of the pages and the site. If you start building withouta firm idea of what the end product should do and be, it'll bevery apparent to your users who'll see a hodgepodge of linksand information without a unified message.

2. Failing to put contact information in a plainly seenlocation. If you're selling, you have to offer visitorsmultiple ways to connect to you. The smartest route is to put a"Contact Us" button that leads to complete info--phonenumber, fax number, mailing address. Even if nobody ever calls you,the very presence of this information will comfort some visitors.And always put an e-mail at the bottom of every page.

3. Broken links. Bad links--hyperlinks that do nothingwhen clicked--are the bane of any surfer. Test your site--and do itweekly, to ensure that all links work as promised.

4. Outdated information. Again, there's no excuse butit's stunning how many site builders lazily leave up pages thatlong ago ceased to be accurate. When information changes, updatethe appropriate pages immediately--and this means every bit ofinformation, every fact, even tiny ones. As a small business, youcannot afford the loss of credibility that can come from havingeven a single factual goof.

5. Too many font styles and colors. Pages ought topresent a unified, consistent look, but novice sitebuilders--entranced by having hundreds of fonts at their fingertipsplus dozens of colors frequently turn their pages into a garishmishmash. Use two, maybe three fonts and colors per page, maximum.The idea is to reassure viewers of your solidarity and stability,not to convince them you are wildly artistic.

6. Orphan pages. Memorize this: Every page in your siteneeds a readily seen link back to the start page. Why? Sometimesusers will forward a URL to friends, who may visit and may wantmore information. But if the page they get is a dead-end, forgetit. Always put a link to "Home" on every page, and thatquickly solves this problem.

7. Disabling the back button. Evil site authors long agofigured out how to break a browser's back button so that when auser pushes it, several undesirable things happen: There's animmediate redirect to an unwanted location, the browser stays putbecause the back button has been deactivated, or a new window popsup and takes over the screen. Porno site authors are masters ofthis--their code is often so malicious that frequently the only wayto break the cycle is to restart the computer--but this trick hasgained currency with other kinds of site builders. My advice: Neverdo it. All that's accomplished is viewers get annoyed.

8. Opening new windows. Once upon a time, using multiplenew frames to display content as a user clicked through a site wascool--a new, new thing in Web design. Now it only annoys viewersbecause it ties up system resources, slows computer response andgenerally complicates a surfer's experience. Sure, it'seasy to use this tool. But don't.

9. Slow loading times. For personal and hobby sites, slowserver times are the norm, and since much of this Web space isfree, there's really no complaining. But slow server and pageloading times are inexcusable with professional sites. It's aninvitation to the visitor to click away. If your server is theculprit, find another host. If your Web pages are to blame, makesure you haven't packed them with too many images andapplets.

10. Using leading-edge technology. Isn't that whatthe Web's all about? Nope, not when you are guaranteed to losemost of your viewers whenever your site requires a download of newsoftware to be properly viewed. Flash is way cool, no questionabout it, but if nobody actually looks at them, they are just somuch waste. Never use bells and whistles that force viewers to goto a third-party site to download a viewing program. Your pagesneed to be readable with a standard, plain-Jane browser, preferablylast year's or earlier. State-of-the-art is cool for techwizards but death for entrepreneurs.

Source:How to Dotcom by Robert McGarvey.

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