With millions of sites just a click away, online visitors have little tolerance for mistakes in web site design, content and ease of use, such as slow loading pages, error messages and hard-to-find help buttons.
Yet, a small handful of mistakes are still common, even among veteran Web designers. It's one thing to put up a Web page, but building a functional, user-friendly site that meets your needs and achieves business goals is quite another.
There's only a smattering of web sites that simultaneously attract visitors, keep them interested on site, and build relationships that pull visitors back time and again.
Webmaster Cisco Folk of EZ Website Builders (http://www.EzWebsiteBuilders.com), whose company views hundreds of web sites each month, says that even the most interesting and informational sites are hindered by poor construction.
"We've found that while the content of many web sites is excellent, their design often makes them difficult to use".
One good general rule is to keep it simple. "If you want your web site to produce an income, there are many things you can do to help make it profitable. But, often it's the things you don't do that have even more impact," says Arizona-based Web Consultant Mike Pacheco of EZ Website Builders.
The key to creating a smart web site is mapping out a strategy well before creating a design. Ask yourself what the site's purpose is. Once that's been decided, it's on to good design, content, maintenance and smooth navigation.
"Developing, growing and maintaining a web site involves a great deal of effort," explains Cisco Folk, a Website Consultant in Phoenix/Glendale, AZ who operates his own site, called EZWebsiteBuilders.com. "However, by avoiding website design mistakes, the amount of effort expended will be significantly less."
Website Design Mistakes
Some design mistakes fall into the category of basic page layout problems, such as unreadable type, not enough white space, too much glitz (animated spinning images, midi files, drop shadows), lack of proofreading (misspellings, typos, bad grammar), poor use of color, and busy backgrounds.
Easy site navigation is crucial to success. If visitors are easily "lost" while browsing a site, they'll quickly click away and very often not return.
"If it's an ordeal to visit your page, people won't!" Cisco says. "Don't assume that users know as much about your site as you do. They need support in the form of a strong sense of structure and place." He recommends providing a good search feature.
Other design mistakes are specific to the technology behind the Web. One common problem comes when web site designers don't take browser compatibility issues into account.
"What you see is not always what you get," Cisco says. "All browsers are not created equal... and, because of the vast array of systems and browsers used, there's a likelihood that what one visitor sees on their screen will not be the same on another user's screen."
Another standard technical problem is poor use of frames. "Frames confuse and frustrate visitors and take longer to load… never mind that frame based sites are difficult to design and manage, and some older browsers don't support them".
Take note, that your graphic files aren't too large. "It doesn't matter how wonderful the 85K graphic you created looks when a visitor... bored while waiting for it to load, clicks away and moves on".
Don't use "Under Construction" signs, a sure sign of an amateurishly run Web business. Web sites are perpetually under construction. If the page is not ready, do not post it to the Web server. Putting up this type of sign is annoying to visitors.
And don't pounce on visitors with loud music. A sudden audio burst can be unsettling for a visitor. "If it is appropriate to provide music, then give your visitor the choice of whether or not they want to hear the music with a control that is clearly visible".
Content and maintenance
Poor design isn't the only potential pitfall inexperienced site managers face, of course. Another surefire way to failure is to put up a site with little or no good content.
"If it has no content, it has no value," says Cisco. "Creating good content is one thing, but the great challenge lies in continually updating and maintaining content, design and technology."
For one thing, be sure and provide contact information. It's amazing how often sites don't take this basic step. "You would think that providing information such as an e-mail address or phone number would be a given," Cisco says. "At a minimum, give users a way of retrieving contact information on every single Web page."
Also, make sure the content you provide is credible. "A Web site should be more than another unsubstantiated source of information. Designers should include their names and credentials on their web site, and provide the source materials and raw data to justify any conclusions they may make".
To keep it worth visiting, your site must always keep its links and infrastructure up to date. Keeping links current, removing outdated information and making sure the site is functioning properly are all critical to success. Many fledgling e-businesses post a bunch of material to their site and leave it there indefinitely, forgetting that links go stale and customer interests change.
"Maintaining your web site is an on-going process," Cisco says. "Not only should you continually update your listing with search engines but you should also make the appropriate revisions to your site which include design updates".
As you maintain your web site, bear in mind that you may need to re-do it. Solicit customer feedback in your site's text, and make a firm resolve to respond to that feedback. Responding to feedback helps build strong customer relationships and boosts sales, experts note.
Even when your site is "done" and you're confidant it's working well, it's not time to rest. There are always new designs and technologies to try, and new tools and browsers for the beginner to use effectively. Avoiding mistakes is a matter of continually learning, updating and improving your web site.