For this topic, CCI enlisted the help of our web partner, Scott Kasun with ForeFront Web (a Dublin, Ohio-based firm that offers website design and development, mobile apps and sites, eCommerce and SEO) to provide some simple tips on improving your website.
Believe it or not, recognizing that a website is awful can be tricky. The reality is that a website can fail in many ways, yet still be a success. The tricky thing is that most site owners truly don’t know if their site is failing or succeeding, simply because they’ve never established any kind of measurement standard. So with that in mind, here’s a list of things we (as web designers/developers) look at when we evaluate a website.
The first thing we consider is the overall look and feel of the site. For the most part, we’re trying to determine if the site looks like it was developed in the last year or two. The details that make your website look sparkly new are the very things that make it look dated quickly. Designers often get caught up in the most recent trends, which is fantastic if you plan to facelift the site every 18 months.
Another comment regarding design: it’s extremely subjective. The same site that makes me wince in pain elicits happy squeals from others. I get that, which is why this list stays away from criticism about color theory and other important (and more subjective) elements of design.
With that said, here are some obvious design failures:
- “Floating Island” syndrome – For many years, websites were developed to be viewed within a screen resolution of 800×600. Today that resolution accounts for less than 1% of all screens, and 85% of all visitors use a resolution greater than 1024×768 (stats courtesy of w3schools.com). Sites that were developed for smaller screens look like tiny islands floating on a massive background. Visitors feel pity for the poor, tiny, isolated website – and it’s doubtful that’s the feeling you were trying to evoke.
- Annoyances – Most of these items have been discussed ad nauseam (and thankfully aren’t as common as they used to be), so I won’t bother to address why they make sites awful – just know that they do:
- Splash screens or entry pages. You know, those pages that cost a ton to build and then everyone clicks the “skip this” link.
- Sounds. Any sounds. Yes, even those "super cool" sound effects when you click links.
- Gratuitous Flash or rotating images. This decade’s version of animated GIFs (shudder).
- Funky navigation. Don’t make me figure out how your navigation works – I’ll simply leave.
- Reverse text, particularly black background with white text. It’s hard on the eyes and easily overlooked.
- Outdated information. In this day and age of technology and access, there’s just no excuse.
- Left aligned or full width websites – Early websites were all left aligned or full width. Typically when you see this now, it’s on a neglected site, a government site, or a neglected government site. There are some very creative designers that can pull this off, but it’s rare.
- Cheesy stock imagery – There’s a reason that good professional photographers make the money they do. They can see things through a camera lens that the rest of us don’t. Quick tip: want to know the single best upgrade you can do to your site? Replace all the images with professional photos that are specific to your organization. It’s well worth the investment.
These are a little harder to quantify, but site killers nonetheless. Obvious functional issues include things like broken navigation, sites that don’t work in all browsers, malware and missing pictures.
Additional failures include:
- Narcissism – No one cares about you, or your website. There, I said it.Your site visitors only care about whether or not something you have will benefit them. Answer that question FIRST, before you tell them "About Us" or about your awards or anything else. Take a look at your site’s navigation. What comes first – About Us, or information about your products and services? Most websites need to have their navigation reversed in order. Quick tip: when writing copy for your website, spend 90% of your time on addressing what your prospects want or need, and 10% on info about your company. When people send us copy, it’s obvious they have done just the opposite.
- No Clear Message – Yes, the picture of the blossoming flower on your home page is evocative and inspiring. Here’s the thing – it does nothing to tell visitors who you are or what you do. Oh, and there’s this little company called Google that also would like to know what you’re about so they can help searchers find you. Much like people, the search engines will simply move on if it’s too difficult to figure out. Visitors should be able to determine who you are and exactly what you do in 3 seconds or less.
- No Engagement – This is the area in which more than 90% of all websites fail. There should be clear cut call to action on the home page that encourages visitors to click and see more of your site. A call to action can be anything – a contest announcement, newsletter signup, a download, contact form, even simply driving visitors to current/updated information on your site.
- Poor Search Engine Visibility…or worse – Some sites are built strictly for credibility’s sake; the site owner simply wants their clientele and prospects to see that they have a presence. There isn’t a need to spend extra time and money to optimize the site for the engines. But for the majority of websites, SEO is an important consideration. It’s very easy to determine what sites have had optimization done and the level of competency.
So what’s worse than poor visibility? Violating the guidelines, which can get your site delisted and erases any possibility that a visitor could even stumble on your site. Most site owners are oblivious to the fact that their site is breaking rules.
The last element to be considered is the most esoteric of all – the “feel” of a website. What is the “feel”?
It’s the connection users feel to the website, the emotions that are invoked when they visit. It’s the sense that the visual impact matches the image visitors have – or want to have – about the product or service they are after. It’s the difference between the About Us page for Wilson Sporting Goods and the About Us page for Franklin Sports.
It’s the final factor that turns site visitors into site ambassadors.
About The Author
For this issue, we enlisted the help of our partner Scott Kasun with ForeFront Web (a firm that specializes in website design, search engine optimization (SEO) and mobile applications/sites) to provide some simple tips on SEO. Follow him on Twitter @forefront. For more information on ForeFront Web, visit their website at www.forefrontweb.com.