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12 Outdated Web Design Practices

The printing press was invented over 500 years ago. Television became common in homes about 50 years ago. Since their inception, each medium evolved toward a common expectation. When a person opens a book, they know what to expect – a title page, a table of contents, chapters to be read in order and, in some cases, an index.

When the World Wide Web first became a mass medium, it was a design free-for-all. There were no “rules” and every site was different. Today, however, there is more knowledge – backed by scientific research – on what does and doesn’t work on the Web. Just as important, Internet users expect certain conventions to be followed.

The average user decides to stay or leave a site in under nine seconds. If you make it harder for users, they’ll leave quickly and never come back.

The following are 15 characteristics of early Web site designs that now have a dramatic negative impact on Web site usage.

1. Lack of branding and visual design.

At the time most companies were building first-generation Web sites, slow Internet access speeds and limited Web design tools forced very simple visual designs.

Those days are over. With most companies on higher speed networks and over 25% of consumer households using broadband, businesses have to take their Internet brand image seriously. We all develop unstated perceptions of people and companies based on how they present themselves; if your Web site isn’t memorable and professional, that’s the perception site visitors will have of your business.

Global companies spend billions of dollars on their brand image – do you think CEOs would allow this level of expenditure if it was meaningless?

2. Attention-getting gimmicks.

Flashing text…lots of bold headlines…red and yellow text…and multiple headlines in colored boxes scattered about the page. Early Web efforts tried to do everything to grab a visitor’s attention – often all on the home page. Some of those designs are still around.

The purpose of visual design is to focus the eye on the most important element that you want visitors to read. If you have substance in your selling message, you don’t need gimmicks to attract attention.

3. Text over a background image or on a black background

An early Web design practice was to put a repeating background image underneath each page of text…and sometimes the designer decided to use a text color that was similar to the background. The result is lower response because site visitors must work too hard.

4. Replicating a corporate brochure

Your Web site should be consistent with other marketing and sales communications, but on a Web site, the cost of additional content is nominal. Early Web site efforts were typically nothing more than online brochures. Your Web site should have far more information.

5. Overloading content on a page

The great advantage of a Web site is that it can contain a lot of content. Early Web designs often put too much information on a single page, however – especially the home page. Poorly organized Web pages and sites overwhelm and confuse visitors; use the home page to draw visitors deeper into the site, but use fewer, shorter pages.

6. Floating navigation links

Early Web designs often didn’t organize page links; different links were placed around the page on the same background color as the text – and sometimes in the same font as the page text. Today, site visitors look for visual design cues to help them find navigational links.

7. Being different for the sake of being different

Some early Web sites were designed to be different in order to stand out. For example, navigation links may have been placed on the right, or pages scrolled left-to-right instead of up-to-down. If your Web site doesn’t conform to user expectations, they will simply go elsewhere.

8. Frames

A lot of early Web sites were developed with a technique called “frames.” You can still tell many framed sites by the thick gray dividers that appear within the browser window. Frames are difficult for site visitors – get rid of them.

9. Long paragraphs

Research shows that Web users will spend less time reading on a computer screen compared to the same information in print. You can provide users more information overall, but be concise.

10. Too many fields on forms

The interactivity of requesting information from users is part of the Internet’s power as a sales tool. Some early designs overdid this by asking users lots of questions. Keep it simple.

11. Centered text

How many books to you buy with the text centered on the pages? None. So why did people create Web sites with body text centered on the page? I’m not sure, but they did and some of those sites are still out there.

12. Too much scrolling

This characteristic was probably caused by Web designers that charged by the page – so companies created loonnnggggggg Web pages that forced users to scroll forever. Scrolling has been proven to cut down readership.

There are many other factors that affect site usability. A research study by Forrester Research evaluated nearly 20 factors; results showed that e-commerce sites with higher usability achieved as much as a 50% higher sales rate. Because study participants were provided the money to purchase items available on the evaluated sites, only the site design determined whether a study participant bought from one site or another.

These 12 characteristics are just some of the practices still seen on sites today that limit the effectiveness of business Web sites. I can help you transform your company’s Web site and eliminate these and other barriers to success.