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Does your website make these mistakes? – The ultimate website checklist

How They Hurt Your Site And What To Do About Them

Designing a site that meets only your needs / wants

It is perfectly understandable that you’re excited about your new site and all that you want it to do. However, the users of your site (i.e. your customers) are the people who will be spending their time there. It’s important to address their needs.

Is the purpose of your site instantly clear?

Any visitor, no matter how computer literate they may, or may not be, needs to be able to understand what the site is about, and what your business does within a few seconds of arriving at your website.

What is your sites focal point?

Every site should have a focal point. One thing that your visitors should see. This could be a request to sign-up for a free trial, the benefits of your service etc.

The site doesn’t look professional

A clean, contemporary design, free of errors (and one which takes note of the items in this list) will help your site look professional, and help instill a sense of trust in your visitors.

The web pages take too long to load

People expect to be able to access the information that they’re looking for quickly. The load time of your pages can make your visitors give up waiting and head elsewhere. A number of factors will affect loading time – the server it’s hosted on, large images, poor website coding, and plugins, amongst other things.

Having too much content on the home page / the home page is too long

Consider the homepage as a portal to the rest of the site. It should provide people with some key information, and make it easy to find what they’re looking for. Ideally, the home page shouldn’t be more than around two screen heights. Obviously this depends on the screen resolution of your visitor, so aim for the lowest common denominator.

Scan-reading the page doesn’t provide the visitor with the content they’re after, or tell them what the page is about

People are used to quickly scanning a web page, trying to find the information they’re after, or checking that the page will be of use to them. Arrange your content appropriately by using headings and lists.

Does disabling images or CSS styling render your site unusable?

This is especially important to visitors with disabilities such as blindness, where they may access the web with a screen reader. Not only that, a website which works without CSS and images is likely to be very search engine-friendly and properly coded.

Does disabling JavaScript break the site?

JavaScript should give added functionality and not be required in order to view a site. Some people choose to browse with it disabled.

Put things where people expect them

As the web has developed, there are certain things that people expect, such as the company logo will be at the top-left and clicking it will take you back to the home page, menu items will be at the top or on the left, and so on. Following conventions will mean that users can easily navigate your site.

Only use items which are necessary

Think carefully about everything that you add to your pages. If they’re not conveying an important message, or providing something useful, have a think if you could live without it.

Does your site use a lot of Flash?

Flash is now well and truly on its way out. It will continue to hang around for some time, as online games and similar, but when it comes to building websites out of Flash, it’s over. Flash is not very user-friendly, search engines don’t like it, and neither do mobile devices.

Don’t use splash pages

Splash pages are also a really bad idea. Like Flash, they’re bad for usability and search engines. They tend to drive your visitors away.

Sites should be tested on numerous devices, web browsers, screen sizes and mobile devices

Different devices will display your website differently. It’s a fact which drives designers and developers mad. What works on one, may not work on another. The trick is to create something which works across the board without the use of hacks (code which isn’t compliant, but tells the different devices or browsers to display something a little differently. Fortunately, it’s not important to have every device display your website exactly the same. Responsive design, where the site automatically adjusts to fit the screen is the way forward.

Is the site fixed-width or completely fluid?

This also ties in with the point about responsive design above. With the wide array of screen resolution that your site will be subject to, fixed-width (where the width of your site will not change no matter what), or fully fluid (where the site will always take up the entire width of the browser) can cause display and usability issues for your visitors.

Sounds or video plays automatically when the page loads

The intrusion can really irk your customers. You may be able to get away with it if you’re a musician or film-maker so that you can showcase your work, but even then I’d strongly advise against it. Some people (myself included) will open up numerous pages one after another so that I can then go and flick through them at leisure. If a video starts playing in one of the open tabs, it’s an annoyance trying to find the right one and close it.

iFrames should be avoided where possible

This comes back to usability, but it also causes display issues where your site will resize responsively, but the iFrames won’t. There are some instances where it can’t really be helped though.

Pop-ups should only be used in very special circumstances

Pop-ups will annoy your visitors no end. In fact, I can’t think of an instance where a pop-up would provide something which couldn’t be better done another way. Nothing should interrupt the visitor without an exceptional reason, and I’m sorry to say, asking them if they’re sure they want to leave your site, or asking them to hand over their email address before they’ve even had a chance to view the page, isn’t going to win you friends.

Has right-click been disabled?

People right-click for a number of reasons, opening pages in new tabs, copying a URL and similar. If someone is determined to copy an image you don’t want them to, there’s not much that can be done. They’ll always find a way. Better to keep your site user-friendly.

Keep links consistent

Keeping your styling consistent helps aid navigation as users can quickly and easily identify what’s a link, and what isn’t.

Too much, or too little white-space

Good use of white-space makes your site easy to read. Your calls-to-action will stand out, and users will be able to find what they’re looking for.

Too much text, or too little

People tend to skim-read web pages, so any copy you have should be relevant and necessary.

Only links should be underlined

Underlined text on a webpage has become synonymous with links, so it should only be used if something is a link. Inline advertisements should be double-underlined.

Check for broken links and missing pages

Coming across dead links is frustrating. Not an issue if it happens once, but can grate on you if you find many. Exacerbated by an unhelpful 404 page.

Your logo, images and other content should be professionally made

Well produced elements make your site look more credible.

Your logo should link back to the homepage

It’s expected and is quite often the first method people will use to navigate to the homepage even if there is a ‘home’ link.

Links should be short and descriptive

People like to know where they’re being taken so that there’s no nasty surprises.

Images should be optimised

Images can often have large file sizes. Compressing them suitably can mean that they will load quickly, yet the quality will still be high. Of course, you sometimes want to provide high-quality images.

Graphics shouldn’t be used for text

Not using images to display text means that your site is accessible to those with screen readers and similar. Also, search engines can’t read images.

Animated GIFs are distracting

They also have a tendency to look very cheap and put added strain on your server and visitors bandwidth.

Visitors should always know where they are within your site

Not much of an issue for very small sites, but as it grows, it can become rather confusing. Mystery Meat Navigation should also be avoided (MMN is navigation which uses obscure text or abstract images to identify links.)

Does your content entice people to return?

You want people to keep coming back to your site, time and time again. The key is to provide great content, making it engaging, useful, readable and adding fresh content frequently. Copy that was written for print will need to be edited for the web.

Ensure that lines of text are not too long, or too short

Lines which are too long long or short quickly become tiresome to read. Ideally you’re aiming for between 7 and 13.

You should have dark text on a light background

The reverse can be quite hard on the eyes after a while, and a low contrast can also be bothersome.

Use external CSS style sheets

CSS is now the recognised way to style a website, and using it an an external page, not inline. It makes it easier to maintain the site, not to mention doing your visitors a few favours, such as reducing load time.

Do you have a search feature?

Extremely helpful for visitors to be able to search your site for what they’re looking for

Check to see that your website code is valid

Adhering to W3C standards will have a number of benefits. Users are less likely to encounter errors, and your site stands a better chance of displaying the same across all platforms (With the exception of Internet Explorer, but I have high hopes that IE10 will finally fall in line and render sites in the same manner as the other major browsers).

Do you use tracking code?

Inserting tracking code, most probably Google’s, will give you invaluable feedback about how people use your site. Analysing it will provide incredible insight and flag up potential issues. No need to stop with Google though, ClickHeat will actually show you where people are clicking on your site.

Ensure the date is on time-sensitive articles

Some people don’t like doing this as they don’t want people to know that they haven’t added any new content in a while, however, it can be frustrating to read something only to discover that it’s out of date. Update articles if the content isn’t timeless. For events and such like, give the full date with day of the week. It lets people mentally check if they’re able to make it.

Check to see that your website code is valid

Adhering to W3C standards will have a number of benefits. Users are less likely to encounter errors, and your site stands a better chance of displaying the same across all platforms (With the exception of Internet Explorer, but I have high hopes that IE10 will finally fall in line and render sites in the same manner as the other major browsers).

Is the language suitable for your audience?

Language style should be for the readability of a teenager, though that isn’t all that useful as I’ve know some that are highly articulate, while others are borderline illiterate. And there’s no mention of where on the teenage scale you should be aiming. However, make it easy to read, avoid jargon and acronyms, unless you’re sure that your audience is specialised and will be fully aware of the meanings. You should still ensure that each acronym is explained the first time it is introduced into an article. Or you could use a tooltip.

Special characters should be encoded

Although browsers are now much better at handling ampersands and other special characters, they can still display incorrectly for some users.i.e. use ‘&‘ instead of ‘&’ in your code to display the ampersand.

Don’t use hit counters

People consider them to be very 1990’s, however, there could be special instance where it would be useful to know, or an involved part of your overall website strategy, such as fund-raising.

Provide your contact information

…and make sure it’s clear and easy to find. This will help instill trust. Give people different options too. Physical address, landline number, contact form and email address. To stop spammers, it may be reasonable to not display your email, instead relying on a contact form, or maybe displaying it as an image. Though you’ll still need a way for people who cannot see your images to email you.

Avoid the long con

I’m referring to those sites which have a tall sales-pitch style of homepage, or those that make you click through a number of pages in order. It makes you product appear to be snake oil.

Ensure the correct file format has been used for the right purpose

JPEGs for photos, or PNGs. GIF for small images which don’t require transparency. Yes, GIFs do offer transparency, but the transparent parts can only be on or off, giving jagged edges.

Avoid table-based layouts

DIVs are the way to layout your future-ready website. Easy to control, and much easier to maintain.

So is that all?

Not by a mile. There’s always things which can be improved, and it seems that there’s no such thing as the perfect site. They’re all flawed in some way. All you can do it strive to make it better, and I guarantee that it’ll be worth it in the long-run. I hope that you’ve found it useful, and if you have any tips, please share them.

Have an ecommerce website? Then maybe you should check out (geddit?) how to increase conversions.

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