Five Web Design No-Nos to Avoid

Your Web site should make it easy for people to shop, not frustrating. Helen Bradley shows you the five most irritating design mistakes, and how to avoid making them.

Every Web designer starts out with plans to make an effective and enjoyable browsing experience for their site visitors. Unfortunately, the gap between intention and outcome often ends up a lot wider than intended. Simple mistakes can make your Web site an annoying experience for visitors when it should be anything but. Here are the five worst Web design no-nos to avoid at all costs.

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This site's frustrating design forces you to make a choice on one page and have to make it yet again on the next.
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1. Slow Loading

Despite the fact that more people have faster Web connections than ever, the problem of slow Web sites hasn't gone away. Many sites are so slow that people who aren't highly motivated to see your site simply give up and go elsewhere.

Typically the culprit is a slow-loading Flash movie or introduction where the designer offers no alternative to waiting for the movie to load. Showing a progress bar isn't enough, because most people simply aren't interested in waiting around for the site to appear. If you use a Flash introduction, make sure to offer an obvious way for visitors to bypass it and go straight to the site.

Test your Web site to see how long it takes before something useful appears on the screen. If it takes more than three to five seconds you run the risk of your visitor losing interest and leaving. This might seem like a short time but people are so accustomed to things happening quickly that even a few seconds waiting for a Web site to load feels like an eternity.

2. Too Much Information

Many people are cautious when it comes to providing personal information over the Internet. If you collect information from visitors, only ask for what you actually need, and don't collect it just for the sake of it.

Also be careful in areas where people may be reluctant to provide their financial or marital status and age. For example, if you need proof that a person is over 18 consider asking to confirm the age by checking a box rather than by asking for a birth date. If you don't have a very good reason to know your customer's marital or financial status, then don't ask.

Be aware that most visitors won’t want to provide a lot of information before they know something about the site. If they are asked to register for a site before they can enter it, many people won't bother. If you think it’s a valid requirement, make sure you explain why, and be sure to provide at least basic information about the site before sign up. If registering is not essential, give them a visible and easy way to bypass the signup form.

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This site doesn’t have a search page, but the site map helps and it's simple to find a way to contact the owners.
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The less information you require from people, the more likely they’ll be to sign up for things like e-mail newsletters and to buy from you. On the flip side, the more information you require and the more intrusive the information requests are, the less a visitor will be inclined to provide it.

Ask for information once, and if they make a mistake and have to go back and fix it, make sure the information is still there. That way, they won’t have to fill out the entire form all over again.

3. Nasty Navigation

Many sites are poorly designed and require people to click through a number of different pages before they get see any product. Worse still, when you finally get to the product pages some sites tell you that there are no products in that category!

If you have only a few products in a particular area of your site, consider aggregating similar products into one category to reduce the number of clicks that people have to make to find them. You should do everything you can to get your products in front of your potential buyers as quickly as possible even if this means showing them a wider range of products in fewer and more widely defined categories.

Check your site hierarchy. If it is deep rather than wide, then your visitors will have to click many times to navigate to the actual content. Consider flattening the structure so you get visitors to where they are going more quickly.

In addition to determining how quickly you get your visitors to your products, check how many times they have to click to finalize the sale. Your site should make it easy to add an item to the shopping cart, you should provide a Continue Shopping button so people can return to the product list easily after selecting an item, and your visitor should be able to go to the shopping cart from anywhere on the site at any time.

Check the steps to finalize the sale and do everything you can do to ensure your visitor's shopping cart converts to a sale. Don't risk losing them by making the process overly complex.

4. Disorganized Information

When you don't put information where people expect it or worse, when you omit it entirely, you annoy and frustrate your users. People expect to see a privacy notice that describes what you do with the information you have collected from them. They expect you to have a contact page where they can ask questions or make complaints. This page should include phone number, a form or an e-mail address. If you don't make the process for contacting you obvious, people will lose faith in your business.

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This annoying Flash introduction has singing that you can't turn off easily. The browser close button is easier to find than the Skip Intro option.
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Most people want a visible search tool on every page of a site. Search is a key way many people find information and forcing them to navigate using only menus will frustrate them.

Provide each of these features as links on every page of your site — either as an option in your main navigation system or as a text link at the foot of the page.

5. All Flash and No Substance

Some Web sites showcase leading edge Web technologies at the expense of usable content. While there is a place for Flash animations and 3D product renderings don’t provide them at the expense of information that answers basic questions about products.

In addition, these features should not require visitors to download large applications or movies to do something as simple as see the product and its specifications.

Always make sure that your site focuses primarily on providing easy access to the kind of information that visitors need most. Only when you have nailed the basics should you consider adding bells and whistles.

It's easy to think that interactive displays make a site more attractive and that this will attract customers. However, the opposite is true — people return to sites where information is easy to obtain and products easy to purchase. They will bypass difficult-to-use sites that lack basic product information, which is the key to making a buying decision.

None of these peeves are hard to fix or to avoid creating in the first place. However, both you and I know from our online browsing experiences that too many sites make these mistakes every day. The key is to make sure that your site isn’t one of them and that you focus on what your visitors most need when they visit your site. If you focus on this you give yourself the best chance of selling to your visitors and to have them return in future.

Helen Bradley is a respected international journalist writing regularly for small business and computer publications in the USA, Canada, South Africa, UK and Australia. You can learn more about her at her Web site, HelenBradley.com

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