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Top 7 website mistakes that hurt usability

We’ve all been to bad websites, but if you think you haven’t you might want to check out this website: Web Pages that Suck. It’s lovingly put together and updated by Vincent Flanders who is on a mission to save web designers from themselves. You see while some mistakes are glaring, some are subtle and can vex website owners trying to determine why they consistently fail to attract traffic.

We’re going to look at seven common mistakes, highlighted by Flanders and others, that affect your site’s usability and, ultimately, the success of your SEO.

In no particular order:

1) Camouflage

Camouflage is essential for troops on the ground in times of war, but if the purpose of your site is so well hidden that no one can tell what it is, even after two or three minutes of fruitless investigation, you’re in trouble.

Just because you managed to get people to land on your site doesn’t mean the job is done. You need to keep them there and if they can’t tell what it is you do after a few seconds they will leave, and they won’t be back. Don’t bury your purpose below the fold and don’t bury it several links away from your home page either.

2) Image addiction

Images are pretty and you need to use them to break up chunks of text and stop users’ attention from wandering, but like all things images are only good in moderation.

Search engines can’t read images; they can’t pull any information from them. So while your images may look self-explanatory search engines will glide over them without a second glance. This means you miss out on valuable keyword opportunities, which means you miss out on valuable search opportunities.

Every image has to be accompanied by alt tags and all alt tags need to contain descriptive keywords. This helps search engines measure your relevance and determine your status. It also helps people whose browsers aren’t image-friendly read what they can’t see.

3) Lacklustre links

Links are important, we say that a lot. But this has to do with your internal linking structure and not link building and incoming or backlinks.

Internal links help users navigate your site; they lead users to information that they might find relevant and helps them achieve their objectives and yours. So, you want your links to be clearly visible. Links are traditionally written in blue and underlined. We assumed that any blue underlined text will be a link. We are surprised when blue underlined text does not take us somewhere. And we are surprised when orange text in italics does. Try not to mess with users’ minds, they don’t like it.

Use appropriate anchor text. Anchor text comprises the words used in a link. It should be relevant to the page it goes to. So, if you want to direct people to your page on waterless kettles you need to use waterless kettles as your link anchor text and not blue sock puppets.

People like to know where they’ve been, so you should show them. Change the colour of links once they’ve been clicked – traditionally the blue turns to purple.

4) Flash is not so fantastic

Flash is visually stunning, but search engines can’t read it properly and it can take a long time to load. Users don’t have the patience to wait for several consecutive pages to load, especially if they’re browsing in a hurry. It’s an especially bad idea to have a flash intro because you’re making users wait from the start. If they hang around you had better deliver something sensational or they won’t think it worth the wait and will tootle off.

5) Miscellaneous music

Some sites (especially flash sites) kick off with a musical accompaniment, which can scare the pants off unsuspecting users. A variation on this is an audio clip of the CEO extolling the virtues of the company or something similar. If you are very attached to your music or audio, give users the option to switch it off and make the option very clear.

6) Poor contrast

This is one of Flanders’ big bugbears. You need to use colour carefully and cleverly. Your text needs to be clearly legible against the background. So do your images. If your text fades into the background and or your background overshadows your images, you’re not doing a good job.

Related to this is the quality of your text (not to be confused with the quality of your content). You need to use an easily readable font in an easily readable font size.

7) Web pages too big for the page

This sounds kind of dumb, I mean users are used to scrolling down to see full web pages. But they don’t like to scroll sideways. It’s jarring when images or text suddenly cuts off. Users don’t expect it and usually the last thing they think to do (after they’ve thought that you’re a right plonker) is to look at the scroll bar at the bottom.

The list goes on doesn’t just stop at seven, of course. If you have a yen to learn more about what not to do read Jakob Nielsen’s Top 10 Mistakes in Web Design, Vincent Flanders’ Biggest Mistakes in Web Design and Daniel Scocco’s 43 Web Design Mistakes You Should Avoid.

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