Many of today's Web sites are finally conforming to well-known usability and design standards, but important techniques are still being overlooked. Here's my list of what to avoid on your Web site.
1. Content overload.
A great photo -not a great Web site-is worth a thousand words. The volume of content on today's site is overwhelming to visitors. Edit, edit, edit! If your subject matter requires a lot of content, divide it with subtitles. This gives the site a cleaner look and guides visitors directly to their areas of interest. If this becomes a challenge, hire an editor.
2. Flash wiz-bang.
The amount of useless animation I find on home pages gives me a visual hangover. Just because you can make a flamingo dance across the screen, doesn't mean you should.
3. Improper use of meta tags.
These are the little snippets of hidden code that tell search engines your site's title, purpose and the keywords you wish be to found under. Proper use of this technique helps drive traffic to your site. Most Web sites don't update their Meta Tags. Too often, site owners exhaust their resources trying to increase site traffic when the wrong mega tags have been working against them all along. A good Web designer keeps up with all the changes.
4. Outdated content.
How would you feel upon learning this article was written three years ago? Enough said.
5. No site map.
Visitors don't intuitively know where to look for information. Site maps or table of contents pages give a frustrated visitor relief; yet, for most Web site designers it remains an afterthought. Add a site map to your main navigation or footer; your visitors will appreciate you for it. Search engines will too since it makes it easier for them to index your site's content.
6. Hidden treasure.
Little by little, designers understand that content is king, even on the Web. No content should ever be more than three clicks away, and only one click away for critical information such as address and contact information. Unfortunately, the avalanche of new content is pushing key information further down the visitor's click path. You may sell scuba gear but your visitor doesn't want to go snorkeling around your Web cave looking for it. Bring the most critical information to the forefront by linking it from the home page or from multiple locations on your site.
7. No call to action.
Ever heard the phrase "strike while the iron is hot?" Imagine this: A visitor has found your site. They've discovered who you are, what you sell and want to do business with you. Now what? The answer that is often missing is a gentle nudge known as the Call to Action, Use a Buy Now button at the bottom of a product page or a sentence at the end of a page of copy such as "For more information on this subject, contact.." Capitalize on the moment. If the iron cools, so will the visitor's interest.
8. Lack of proper home page content.
The home page is the most important page on a Web site. Its sole responsibility is to capture visitors' attention before they go racing off, statistically in 10 seconds. Make sure you clearly state your purpose-the who, what, when, where, why and how. This intro copy is also one of the most important elements search engines will use in determining your ranking, so make sure to pepper it with keywords you want to be found under. Secondly, provide up-to-date content that changes frequently, such as press releases and events, so the visitor knows that your site and company are active. Become a source of news; search engines love new.
9. Let's play "find our phone number."
Visitors go to Web sites seeking contact information. Don't create barriers to a sale. Display your key contact information proudly at the top or bottom of every screen. If you feel it might intrude on the design, simply link to it.
10. Visitor priorities put to the bottom of the list.
The No.1 mistake made over and over in Web design lies in overlooking the most important stakeholder, the visitor. Begin with outlining your potential visitor types and their priorities. Put yourself in their shoes and make sure you are meeting their needs, not just as a buyer, but as a researcher and navigator.