These are the things that tend to inspire folks to hit the “back button,” & leave your site. Fortunately, they’re all pretty easy to fix.
Lack of Knowledge & Proper Tools
not doing your homework
These days, it’s easy to make a homegrown website, but should you? Will it be an effective website, accomplishing what you need it to? (Get found in a Google search, bring visitors to your site, build your fan base, make sales, portray you in a favorable light…?)
If you’re doing it yourself, it’s critical to understand every aspect of website design and how to make the most of it. If you don’t have the time to do this, your site will be less successful than it should be and may actually give your visitors (and the search engines) a negative impression.
It’s a little like replacing the brakes on your car or cutting your own hair. If you have a great deal of experience in doing these things, why not do it yourself? But, as with website design, if you are unsure of your abilities, or don’t have the time to learn how to do it right, it’s best to leave it to a professional, who has experience in creating websites that work well & can accomplish your goals.
Professional web designers have spent years learning and practicing web design principles that work. By hiring a professional to do the job, you avoid the trial-and-error, frustration, poor results, and time away from what you do best (running your business, or creating).
Listed below are some of the common mistakes made by do-it-yourselfers. Some are minor, others are downright deadly.
You will find much more information about how to (and how not to!) build an effective website in our webdesign articles & tips section. There’s even an article about the pros & cons of free/homemade vs. professionally-designed websites.
Problems with Text
too many fonts & sizes
Choose 1 font for your text (perhaps a second for headings). They should be chosen to work well together visually.
Use only one font size for text (excepting headings & subheadings). Following these rules will create a much cleaner & more readable website.
Stay away from ALL-CAPS. On the web it’s interpreted as “shouting” and is hard to read, too. (An exception would be brief headings or titles.) Instead, use bold text for emphasis.
Centered text is difficult to read and, again, tends to look amateurish. (Take a look at your favorite major website and notice that you won’t find centered next there.) Similarly, it’s not a good idea to center a headline over left-aligned text.
Don’t underline text; find another way to emphasize your point. Since links often appear underlined, your visitors will expect that anything that’s underlined is a link.
hard to read
For readability, text should be of sufficient size, and formatted in a way that’s easy to read. Don’t make text too small. There should be high contrast between the color of the font and the background.
Text is harder to read on a computer screen than in a book, so every effort should be made when designing a webpage to make the text as readable as possible.
Italicized text is harder to read – so use it ery sparingly. Long passages of italicized text try the patience of your readers.
lines of text too long
Open any book you happen to have on hand. Now, count the words in one line (from one margin to the other). You’ll probably find about 12-14 words, which, as book designers know, is about the maximum the human eye can read comfortably per line. Any more than that and it’s easy to lose the thread of what you’re reading.
The web has similar demands. Keep your text to about 14 words per line, and use more paragraphs than you would for text. Keeping lines & paragraphs short will make it easier for your visitors to read what you’ve written.
For more hints along these lines, see my article Writing for the Web.
Graphics & Music Problems
busy backgrounds & graphics
Most people find text written over a patterned background, flashing graphics or scrolling text annoying and hard on the eyes. Be kind to your visitors. You don’t need these things to make your site interesting.
a dazzling array of colors
Pick 2-3 major colors and an accent for your color scheme. One shoud be white or a very light neutral. Always use the colors in a consistent way. Following these rules will help prevent visual confusion.
long download times & huge graphics
Folks are impatient. Even small units of time seem big.
(If you don’t believe it, right now, count out 15 seconds. Did you do it? Why not?)
On the web, the expectation is that pages will load in just a few seconds. If yours don’t, people will get frustrated & leave.
If a page is loads slowly, it’s occasionally because there’s a huge amount of text. But most likely it’s because you have very large images. They might not appear so – but the file size is probably enormous. Try to keep the total size of your webpage under about 10KB.
Images for the web should be 72dpi or 96; computer monitors can’t display more than that. Your 300dpi photo will print nicely, but on the web, it’s overkill. If the image is from your digital camera, it’s probably not at 72dpi.
Just about every photo or graphics editing software can optimize your graphics for the web. If you don’t own any, try IrfanView. It’s freeware and can easily compress your photos so they load fast and still look good.
Play around with the compression settings on your software until you find one that makes your file size much smaller without sacrificing image quality too much. (Usually 40-70% compression works well.)
Nothing makes folks hit the “back” button faster than music that plays automatically. Yep, you might have the coolest midi file around, or have written the best song in the world – but it doesn’t matter. Leave the choice to your visitors.
Research has shown that the a large percentage of visitors will leave your site without visiting any further pages if they encounter automatically-playing music. These days, internet surfers assume that sites won’t have automatically-playing sounds. So, when they find a site that does, they may quickly hit the back button. And you may have lost them forever.
So, in order to avoid handicapping yourself, and to retain as many visitors as possible, you’ll want to deep-six the background music. Better to keep them on the site, where they can find out more about you, listen to your music when they choose to, and – hopefully – buy your CD!
You’ll also notice that most professionally-designed websites seldom have background music. Your site will represent you more professionally, and give you more credibility without the automatic sounds.
Still tempted to do it? Consider your visitors:
- They may be visiting your site from work where noisy websites will either blow their cover or annoy others.
- They may be in a public place where music is not welcome (many folks use their laptops in public areas!).
- They may be surfing at night, while others are sleeping.
- They may be using a laptop in a public place.
- They (or others in the room) may be listening to something else already (music, tv, radio).
- They may be trying to hold a conversation.
- Download time may be long & it may slow their computer (not everyone has a high-bandwidth connection or fast machine).
- They may want to turn off the sound, but can’t figure out how or do it quickly enough. So they leave or shut the browser window instead.
- Or, they just may prefer to surf in silence.
Your visitors should be able to make their own decisions about what to view & what to listen to. It’s respectful to leave this decision in their hands.
Music can be integrated into a website in much more effective ways than having it automatically play. Options include embedded players (which the listener controls), streaming mp3s & direct downloads. Just email me for more information.
Site Structure & Design Problems
splash screens & Flash intros
You’ve seen ’em. They’re those pages with a big image, a link (or links), and no text. Occasionally there’s more than one image or link. And, sometimes instead of an image, it’s a Flash presentation. But regardless of these variations, search engines don’t like them, and neither do most people.
Imagine you’re hungry and head over to your favorite cafí You try to go in the front door, but are stopped by the owner, who insists that before coming in, you must stop and take a long look at the beautifully-painted sign with their logo on it that’s posted on the door first. Wouldn’t you be annoyed?
Web usability guru Vincent Flanders, in the article “Don’t Confuse Web Design with Sex!,” says, in a nutshell, that your visitors don’t need any foreplay; they are already at your site & ready to dive in. Don’t make them wait.
Another problem is that splash screens don’t give search engines much to work with. Analyzing the words on the page is one of the primary ways that search engines use to figure out what your site is about – and so, what search terms to return it for.
So, if there’s no text on the page (and that’s how splash pages are, by definition), the search engines are going to have a difficult time. It’s going to be much harder for your site to be found in a search. Since your goal is probably to get visitors to your website, and since about 90% of them will find your site via search engines, that’s a problem.
I will confess – I have a splash screen on my personal website. But there’s just some personal stuff there, of interest to few except me & my family, so I don’t care if that site is easily findable by the search engines. If I did care, I wouldn’t have a splash screen.
I’ve occasionally designed splash screens for my webdesign clients, when they’ve insisted upon it. There are certainly worse evils. But if you want to build a successful website, it’s best to put some content on your homepage that search engines can work with, and that will be more welcoming to your visitors.
Find out more about splash screens & Flash intros and why they present a problem.
website not optimized for the search engines
and/or no links to it
This is a biggie. Many people ignore this step in website design. If the search engine robots can’t understand (or find!) your site, they won’t list you in the search results. And that’s a problem. Since 90% of people find new sites via search engines, your site won’t be found. It’s that simple.
The search engines also consider sites with few quality links to them to be of little importance. So, you need a bunch of good ones.
Search engine optimization (SEO) isn’t terribly difficult. You can either do it yourself, or hire a professional to do it for you (recommended). Learn more about search engine optimization.
These tend to be a feature of free websites, so they tend to look amateurish.
Professional designers never use them. And there’s no need to – because your site’s webhost will provide you with not only a count of your visitors, but much more: reports about how they found you, what they were looking for, what they looked at and listened to, and even what countries they live in.
You can access those statistics any time you like; they’re updated daily, and they’re absolutely free.
The design on each page should be consistent. Having various pages designed differently is unprofessional and confusing to your visitors.
Don’t put up webpages that are “under construction,” it conveys an unprofessional image. (If you must put up an unfinished page, at least include some minimal content with the promise of more soon.) But it’s best to just finish the page.
If you update your site frequently, both human visitors & search engines will be more likely to return. Outdated websites offer little value. If you can’t update it yourself, find someone who can – a webdesigner or a web-savvy friend.
dead links & little red Xs
When adding a link, double-check that it works. Check your links – both internal & external – often, and fix or delete dead links. W3’s link checker makes it easy.
Similarly, make sure all your graphics are showing up. Nothing says “this site isn’t working” like missing images.
Good luck with your site! Please let me know if you need a new or redesigned website, internet promotion services, or if you have any questions! I’d be glad to hear from you.