The Worst Website Design Mistakes of 2008
Retailers spend millions of dollars making their shops welcoming and attractive. Magazine publishers put huge resources into getting the covers looking fantastic and the layout of their pages easy to read.
Why do they do this?
Simply because they know that design matters.
Get design and layout right and you will be on the way to having a successful website.
Get it wrong and your site will fail. Period.
Successful websites are pleasant on the eye, easy to read, intuitive to navigate and give you all the information you need when you need it. Sounds simple? It should be but there are still thousands, probably millions, of truly awful sites on the internet.
Here are the top 15 mistakes that website owners make and how you can avoid them.
I’ll then make the coveted announcement for the worst website design of 2008.
Mistake #1 – Difficult to Read
You would intuitively think that the number one consideration when creating a new website is to make it easy for the visitor to read. But even after 10 years of the commercial internet, it amazes me how many websites are unreadable. Why, oh why do people do it?!
The three biggest sins are:
Text that is too small and does not re-size when the page is enlarged
Blocks of coloured text on a dark background ... or worse still, on patterned backgrounds
Using a font style that is difficult to read from a screen
Take a look at Gamequarium as a shocking example of unreadable webs design.
Getting it right: It is very easy to correct these elementary mistakes.
Ensure that the font size is big enough (Size 3, 12 points). Also make sure that the text can be enlarged when the page enlarges.
Ensure big blocks of text are black or dark grey on a white background so there is maximum contrast between text and background.
Go for a sans-serif font, such as Verdana or Arial, rather than a serif font such as Times Roman.
Mistake #2 – Pages are Too Cluttered, There Isn't Enough White Space
Space is cheap on the internet, but it still doesn’t stop people trying to cram huge amounts of information onto a single page. They feel that they have to fill every bit of available space.
White space is good!
Take a look at the Restaurant Guide Atlanta as a shocking example of cluttered, unreadable website design
Getting it Right: Leave lots of white space and use links to enable people to find what they are looking for and navigate through the site. Yahoo.com is the home page leading to several million of other pages. It looks simple and uncluttered. If they can do it, then you certainly can.
Mistake #3 – Having a Meaningless Flash Animation as a Home Page
I hate them!
There is nothing that annoys me more (and most other internet users) than arriving at a Home Page and having to sit through a series of dull animated images before arriving at any useful information.
If you visit the top 100 sites in the world, not one of them has a flash animation intro.
If they don’t, you shouldn’t!
Time is valuable to internet users, don’t squander it and annoy them with designer garbage.
Take a look at International Home Fashions website to see a pointless and irritating flash intro.
Getting it Right: The Home Page of your site should allow people who are arriving there for the first time to immediately understand what you do and how they can get more information.
At the same time, regular visitors should feel that the Home Page is useful and quickly leads them to the information they need. They should not see it as a wasted page and a waste of their time on the way to finding the useful stuff.
Take a look at Credit Today to see a very successful site whose home page balances the needs of new visitors and regular members.
Mistake #4 – Links are Not Clear When Inserted Into Blocks of Text
One of the greatest strengths of the internet is being able to link from one article to another by inserting hyperlinks within sentences. This makes it easy for a reader to pursue their specific area of interest across a website.
Over the last ten years, a standard has emerged for the way that links are displayed within an article. It’s not rocket science ... but so many sites get it wrong.
Take a look at The Kentucky Centre for Reproductive Medicine for an awful visitor experience.
Getting it Right: Pick a contrasting colour to the main text and underline it.
A standard colour scheme black body text is to make the un-clicked links blue and the clicked links burgundy.
Mistake #5 – Reinventing Navigation
There is only one reason for having a menu of links on a site and that is to make it easy for the visitor to find their way around. The key word being easy!
Don’t try to reinvent navigation by having clever drop down menus, flash bars, or anything fancy. Just list the different parts of the site in the left hand navigation column. This is where people intuitively look, so let them find what they’re looking for.
The worst offence by far is hiding navigation in images so that it is only when you pass the cursor over the link that you become aware that it even exists. Don’t do it. It’s not big and it’s not clever!
Take a look at Capstone Publishing’s website for an example of appalling navigation and unusable design.
And also the German Academic Exchange Site is another shocking example. Just look at those vertical menus!
Getting it Right: The menu should be a simple list of categories preferably on the left hand side of the page. In some instances it is acceptable to have the navigation at the top pof the page below the masthead. Take a look at the BBC website to see what I good navigation looks like the BBC.
Mistake #6 – Don’t Change the Look and Feel of Every Page
Different designs on every page of a website doesn’t happen so much these days. Thankfully!
It used to be a common practise to have different colours, fonts and designs in different parts of the site. This tends to confuse the reader and make navigation difficult. New design techniques, such as CSS, have reduced this problem, but it’s still out there!
Take a look at Seekonk Police Department for an example of a very poor website with lots of different pages.
Getting it Right: Keep a common design throughout the site. It is quite alright to make tweaks to colours or images to define different areas, but the overall look and feel should be constant across all the pages. Keep the logo in the masthead (which when clicked should go back to the Home Page. Take a look at Amazon . They alter the colours to show which shopping area you are in BUT the look and feel across the site is constant and consistent.
Mistake #7 – Creating a Graphics Scrapbook
Never confuse eye-candy with content. Many site owners integrate as many graphics and images as they can on a page ... because they can. They argue that images capture their visitor’s attention. That is true, but they can also distract visitors from what you really want them to focus on: the value of your product.
You will be hard pressed to find a worse website than FreeMap.com. To add insult to injury they have added a line of text that follows your mouse around the screen. It’s unbearable!
Getting it right: Graphics should only ever be used to support the main purpose of your website. That is to get people to sign up to become a member, but a product, illustrate articles, provide maps and further information. Every graphic you are considering for the site should come under scrutiny. You must ask yourself; “Does this graphic help the reader understand my site or is it an unnecessary distraction?”
Mistake #8 – Slow Loading Pages
This is the one problem listed here that is actually getting worse, rather than better.
By building huge, graphic-rich pages, you increase the time it takes to load up on the user's screen. Research has shown that the time visitors tolerate slow loading home pages has fallen from 12 seconds in 1999 to just 4 seconds in 2004. This is the time they are prepared to wait for a page to load so they can read it. Every second longer than 4 seconds, you start to rapidly lose visitors.
Why has it gotten worse?
Because designers build sites on very fast networks and expect all their clients to have fast internet access. This is not the case. Many people are still on dial-up, or have congested broadband connections. Also, many people now access sites via wireless connections, which can be slow.
You would think that Microsoft would know better, but try going to the Xbox site at a business time of day.
Getting it right: Reduce the number of files per page. Reduce the size and quality of images (72 dpi – dots per inch - is fine for the web) You don’t need high resolution images on a screen. Test all your pages on a dial-up network before they are launched.
Mistake #9 – Horizontal Scrolling
Luckily, this mistake has become quite rare today.
Horizontal scrolling is when a user has to move the page to the right to see all the content on it. Some horizontal scrolling pages can have four or five pages worth of content to the right of the first page. Users hate this, so never let your designer convince you it’s a good idea.
It saddens me to see there is a website dedicated to sites which have horizontal scrolling. Take a look at The Horizontal Way to see some shocking, unusable designs.
Getting it right! There is no reason to have horizontal scrolling, so make it clear to your web designer that you don’t want it. A good designer will not only know this, they will also code your site in a way that ensures it fits most screen sizes without the need for a viewer to ever scroll side ways.
Mistake #10 – Burying Essential Information Too Deep
Web surfers are impatient people!
They don’t want to spend a lot of time trying to find what they’re looking for on your site. According to Gartner Group, 50% of all sales are lost because users can’t find what they are looking for.
If you’ve buried information too deep or have not made the sign up process clear, you could be losing half of your potential members.
As we’ve already discussed, a website should be like a newspaper story. All the really important information should be the first thing that a visitor sees. That’s the best way to capture their attention and get them to read more.
Remember, you only have four seconds to keep them on your site.
Getting it Right! Don’t make your customers waste their time scrolling down pages or clicking to go to new pages to find what they are looking for. Get it upfront. Hit them between the eyes with your best stuff.
Mistake #11 – Not Making it Clear What Your Website is About
Similar to Mistake #10, not making it clear what your website is about or what your company does will ensure you unnecessarily lose visitors. Within seconds of someone arriving on any page on your website they should know what you do and how they can benefit from staying to read more.
To see a dreadful example, a real contender for the award for worst website design in 2008 take a look at Bow Wow Books .
And even some of the biggest companies in the world don’t get this right. If you didn’t know who Microsoft were, you would leave the Microsoft home page pretty quickly. It’s terrible.
Getting it right! You must get into the heads of your visitors. If you were coming to your site for the first time what would you want to know? Does your website provide that information? Is it really, really clear what you do? Is it really, really clear how your customers benefit from your service?
Remember that 80% of traffic to most websites arrives on pages other than the home page, so make sure the description about the site is on every page, preferably in the masthead.
Mistake #12 – Flashing, Pulsating, Distracting Animation
You will have been to pages that flash, spin, throb and change colour. How long do you usually stay? A few seconds? That’s longer than me. Some website designers should be locked up and their computers sent to the crusher.
Even organisations like NASA come up with truly awful sites.
Getting it right! There is no excuse having flashing menus, images and text. Just don’t do it. And if your website designer insists you should have this rubbish, sack him.
Mistake #13 – Boring Design!
It is better to have a boring design which is easy to read and navigate than making all the other mistakes listed above. However there is NO reason why a website shouldn’t avoid all the mistakes in the list AND still look great.
An example of an awful looking site with good content is UseIt.com run by one of the world leading experts on web usability Jakob Nielsen. The site is DULL. It would take very little effort to add a design that makes it much more attractive.
Getting it right! Create a detailed design brief which is ensures that all the important elements including navigation, background colours, white space, font etc are clearly specified. Give this to a good designer and they should be able to build a great looking site which is easy to read and use. Never let a designer have free reign over your site’s design. There is a good chance you will end up with a great looking site that is hard to read and use.
Mistake #14 – Don’t Use Music!
If people want music whilst they browse they’ll put a CD on or stick their iPod headphones in. One of the fastest ways to get visitors to leave your website is to put a soundtrack on the homepage. If you haven’t understood what I’m saying I’ll spell it out. NO MUSIC ON ANY WEBPAGE!
Please do click here to listen to how bad music on a website can get!
Getting it Right! Never put a music on a web page which starts when the page opens. Never, never, never.
Mistake #15 – Never Write Your Website for Search Engines. Write it for Humans
This is a phenomenon that has taken the web by storm over the last five years as people have become obsessed with Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and keyword density. Website owners try to pack all the keyword phrases they can think of into one article or paragraph often on their home page. Don’t do it. It doesn’t work for either the search engines or your human visitors.
Take a look at Lanyard Supply for a shocking example of a meaningless, impossible to read opening paragraph.
Remember the best money-making sites in the world do not try to dazzle their users with the latest flash images and innovative navigation. They focus on clarity, easy-of-use and intuitive navigation. Just take a look at Amazon (www.amazon.com) and eBay (www.ebay.com).
So NEVER let creative design triumph over commercial practicality and usability.
Copy sites that work and think about everything you do from the point of view of your website visitor.
And now to my choice of the worst website on the internet in 2008…..
……………….. drum roll ………..
……………….it’s a hard award to give, because there are so many contenders….
………………..but the winner is ………………
Manducatis Italian restaurant
Take a look at www.manducatis.com
The first challenge is to find your way into the website (not that it’s worth it when you get there!). This site has just about every mistake packed into a few appalling pages. What an achievement!
I hope you have enjoyed reading this article. If you have any examples of shocking websites please let us know in the comments below. We look forward to hearing from you.