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10 Things I Hate in a Web Site

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I wonder if some people create and publish Web sites for the sole purpose of tormenting their visitors.

Browsing various Web sites and navigating the Web can often be like trying to read on an airplane while a five-year-old kicks the back of your seat and the infant next to you alternates between screaming, crying, and drooling on you.

To be sure, there are some excellent Web sites out there. But there are a lot of dreadful ones, too. The latter are a bane, especially to those who use the Web regularly.

The Internet continues to grow in popularity and importance for consumers and businesses alike. Therefore, the quality of sites needs to keep pace. Creating—and maintaining—high-quality Web sites is more important now than ever, because higher quality equals more revenue.

A bad Web site neglects to consider the site visitor's experience in some fundamental ways. The following is a list of the top 10 ways that a Web site can fail.


1. Animation

Seven-year-olds like watching animated cartoons on Saturday morning. Business people, professionals and most other adults don't. Sites that include showy Flash animations as an introduction, animated gifs on every page, or words that fly around are really annoying. They take away from the content and distract the visitors from achieving their goals.

Unless your site is an entertainment site, try to avoid maddening motion. However, if your product or service can be better demonstrated using Flash, Quick Time or other multimedia, offer your visitors the chance to click a link to view it. But don't force them.

2. Too Much Scrolling

Once I scroll down a full screen's worth, my eyes start to blur, I feel slightly lost, my head spins and my interest wanes. Computer monitors really aren't the best medium for reading.

The Internet and many sites are so big that it's important to always provide a clear frame of reference for your visitors at all times while they're on your site. If a page requires two full screens of scrolling or more, simply split it up into multiple pages.

3. Long, Text-Heavy and Blocky Paragraphs of Unbroken Text

I really have to be into a topic or desperately need to glean information to trudge through big chunks of unbroken text online. If I'm just shopping around for a product or service, you've lost me if I have to endure this kind of torture.

Again, it is harder to read text on the Web than in other mediums. Also, Web users are notoriously impatient—so make your content easy to read and non-intimidating. Use titles, subtitles, small paragraphs, bullets and numbering.

4. No Obvious Ways to Contact the Company

If all you supply is an email address on your Web site, your legitimacy may be questioned. Why can't you answer the phone? Why hide behind an anonymous and cold email address? Make it easy for your existing and potential customers to talk with you.

5. Unchanging or Out-of-Date Content

If I start reading content on a site and soon discover that it was written three years ago, I split. Since there's so much information out there, my reasoning is, there's got to be comparable information online that's more current.

If you keep your content fresh, your site will attract repeat visitors. And repeat visitors are more likely to turn into customers.

6. Long Page Downloads

It's amazing that this is still a problem. When I click onto a site and have to sit there waiting for it to appear in my browser, I start tapping my toes and rolling my eyes, and I soon want to throw my computer through my office window. I'm obviously a little impatient. But, again, I know there are other sites with the same information that will download more quickly, so why wait? I'm gone.

7. 'Me, Me, Me!' Instead of 'You, You, You'

Generally speaking, no one cares about you, your company or your thoughts. What people do care about is what you can do for them. So sites that show pictures of the company building or tout their deep philosophy on the way business should be conducted really don't bode well for keeping the interest of site visitors.

On the other hand, sites that speak directly to potential customers about how they can solve their problems, make their lives easier, safer, richer or more comfortable have a much better chance of keeping the eyeballs glued.

8. Non-Explanatory Buttons or Links

Here are some examples of buttons that leave me dazed and confused: A wedding site with a button called "Blanks," a boating site with a button named "The Lighthouse" a book site with a button called "The Inside Story," or a Web design site with a button called "Tea Time." They sound like Jeopardy categories.

Imagine trying to find your way on a highway where its various signs read "Over Here," "Moon Beams," and "Lollypops." Button and link names need to tell the visitor where the link leads to. Make it as easy as possible for visitors to know where they're going before they click.

However, there are times when naming a link ambiguously may pique the curiosity of users and get them to click on it. But, as a general rule, keep your links and buttons as descriptive as possible.

9. Inconsistent Navigation

Imagine you sit down at a restaurant. The waiter comes over and hands you five different menus: one for the appetizers, one for the soups and salads, one for the entrees, one for the desserts and one for the drinks. Annoying.

Now imagine if each menu had a different format, layout and method for listing the items. Brutal.

I really don't want to work that hard at picking out my dinner; I'm hungry and I just want a meal. Don't make your visitors work hard by expecting them to relearn your navigation system each time they enter another section of your site. They too are hungry—for useful information. And they're even more impatient.

10. Inconsistent Look and Feel

When the look and feel completely changes from one page to another in a Web site, I think that I am visiting another site, another company, a partner or a subsidiary. I get very confused.

Such inconsistency screams poor planning and often results from tacking on new sections after the original site was built. That can lead to design-drift. It may be tempting to stray from the original design because you may have a better design now. But wait till you do a complete next-generation redesign of the entire site before introducing a new look and feel.

If you don't, lots of visitors will be scratching their heads with one hand and possibly clicking away with the other.

* * *

Finally, any site that uses several of these notorious features is particularly painful to experience. When I click to a Web site that has five different fonts and colors, scrolls down to the core of the Earth, incorporates words that flutter about and big fat blocks of text, lists no phone number and has content dated 1996, I scream and know deep down that pulling my fingernails out wouldn't be as torturous as having to remain there a minute longer.


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Jason OConnor is president of Oak Web Works (www.oakwebworks.com). Reach him at jason@oakWebworks.com.

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