Good website design is a critical part of building your online presence, whether that is for personal or commercial reasons. Engaging with visitors and providing content that they want to come back to time and time again is a great measure of success, and should be what all web designers aspire to.
Despite the importance of good design, many bad websites still exist. Search engines like Google are increasingly adjusting their algorithms to try and filter out sites that fall foul of various design principle. Bad websites are almost certainly doomed to fail, as they slide further and further down the search engine rankings and lose more and more visitors.
If you are sense checking your design, you should be looking to ensure that none of the following deadly sins apply to your website.
A design that ignores the customer’s purpose for visiting
People will be visiting your website for a reason. That might be because they want information or they want to buy something. They may want entertainment or tools to help them keep in touch with others. If your design does not exist to fulfill a purpose then it is doomed to fail. Too many sites are designed with the designer in mind, and not the visitor. Great graphics might make the designer feel proud, but if they fail to enable the visitor to get what they want, they will be completely wasted. Be sensitive to the increasing demands of customers. If your design is limited by a particular browser, for example, then you are already heading in the wrong direction.
Bad use of contrast
Contrast is the term used to a design element that dictates how easy it is to see one object on top of another. In web design terms, this is most commonly seen in terms of text. If your visitors cannot easily read the text on your site due to the use of contrasting colors, then you have committed design suicide. If your visitors cannot read the text, they cannot use your site. That means they won’t come back. Vincent Flanders clearly identifies examples of the issue of bad contrast on his self-explanatory website, Web Pages That Suck.
Bad/no search function
As Jakob Nielsen points out on Alertbox, “search is the user’s lifeline when navigation fails.” If you cannot provide a search function that allows users quick access to what they want, then you will rapidly lose visitors. Common mistakes include search engines that respond only to complicated or unfathomable search requests, or those that are unable to handle typing errors and special characters. Search functions need to empathize with web users of varying capabilities. Advanced capabilities can be useful in addition to a basic search tool, but not at the expense of a large proportion of your users.
Failing to measure results
It is only by observing how your visitors behave that you can learn what works, and what doesn’t. In order to establish whether your site is achieving its objectives, you need to implement mechanisms that help you track this. It’s easy to spot sites that aren’t looking at analytics and reporting, because they show little attention to detail and rarely change. As customer demands and requirements adapt, your site needs to work with them, and should be viewed as a fluid entity. As Robin Eldred says at Apis Design, “you need to act upon your results to improve them. This is an ongoing process. Forever.”
Visitors to your website can be exceptionally quick to form an opinion when it comes to the way in which content is presented. Spelling mistakes and typing errors give a much more negative impression than you would expect. Ensure that your pages are not cluttered and that there is plenty of free space, so that users are drawn to the content you want them to see. Break up text into paragraphs and blocks and use headings to attract readers to key points. Make sure the font is large enough to see and use images sparingly. Website users are more inclined to scan content than read it at length, as pointed out on the Mashable website, which is why it is important to “establish a strong visual content hierarchy so users can quickly scan your site and sift through relevant information.”
Good website design is a critical part of your online brand. Your website should be designed in a way that attracts and retains visitors and considers their needs before anything else. Remember that your website is not there as a vanity project for your designers. It is there for a purpose.