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10 mistakes to avoid when designing a website

This post could have easily been called the 100 most common mistakes in website design–there are so many annoying mistakes website developers make on a regular basis–but let’s narrow the focus to an even 10.

Avoid these gaffes, and your website will be better than most of the competition.

1. Disabling the back button.

A long time ago, some evil site authors figured out how to break a browser’s back button so that when a user pushes it, one of several undesired things happen: There’s an immediate redirect to an unwanted location, the browser stays put because the “back” button has been deactivated, or a new window pops up and overtakes the screen.

Stop doing this. Do you like when this happens to you? And you put it on your website? All that’s actually accomplished is that viewers get annoyed and do not return to your site.

2. Opening new windows.

Once upon a time, using multiple new windows to display content as a user clicked through a site was cool–a new thing in web design. Now it only annoys viewers because it ties up system resources, slows computer response times and generally complicates a visitor’s experience.

If you’re directing a user to an external link, this is fine. If the link points to something on the same site, a subdomain or subdirectory of the same site, opening the page in the same window is best. With tabbed browsing common in browsers like Firefox and Chrome, users who wish to open links in new tabs can do so if they wish.

3. Failing to put a phone number, address or contact form in easy-to-find locations.

If you’re selling something, you need to offer viewers multiple ways to contact you. The smartest route is to put up a “Contact Us” link that leads to complete info–mailing address, phone and email address. That link should be on each and every page of your website. How about the footer?

Even if nobody ever calls, the very presence of this information adds real-world legitimacy and transparency to your site and comforts some users.

4. Broken links.

Bad links–hyperlinks that do nothing when clicked or lead to “404” error pages–are the bane of web users. Test your site–and do it at least on a weekly basis–to ensure that all links work as promised. Include a “Contact Us” link in your site’s footer so users can quickly (and easily) let you know if they find a broken link or other mistake on your site. And when someone reaches out about a problem on your site–fix those errors immediately.

5. Slow server and page load times.

Slow page load times are inexcusable with professional websites–in a best case scenario, it’s an invitation to the visitor to click away.

What’s slow? A recent study by Akamai Technologies, commissioned through Jupiter Research, showed that online shoppers, on average, will wait only four seconds for a site to load before clicking away. If your site is loading significantly slower than this, put it on a diet–images may be too large or ancillary scripts and plugins, like a Flash introduction (you don’t have one of these, right?), may be slowing things down.

6. Outdated information.

Again, there’s no excuse, but it’s amazing how many sites include old, obsolete content. Make sure to keep your site fresh and updated daily for best results. You can’t afford the loss of credibility that can come from having dated content. Also, make sure your content is accurate, and if you find an error, fix it immediately.

7. Poor navigation.

The internet promises speed of useful information. If surfers can’t figure out where to go next quickly and get there easily, they’ll simply surf on to the next website (your competitor’s site).

It’s very frustrating to be forced to go back two or three pages to get to other areas of a website. It’s also a waste of time. There should be a navigation bar on every page that guides visitors to other areas of the site. Position the bar along the top of the page or in your site’s sidebar so it’s always visible regardless of screen resolution. Add an easy-to-find sitemap in your main navigation bar and/or footer to provide visitors with an at-a-glance view of every page on your site.

8. Too many font styles and colors.

Pages need to present a unified, consistent look, but novice site designers–entranced by having hundreds of fonts at their fingertips, plus dozens of colors–frequently turn their pages into a mishmash.

Fonts, colors and styles are all extensions of your company or personal brand. Use two or three fonts and colors per page, maximum. The idea is to reassure viewers of your solidity and stability, not to convince them you’re wildly artistic. Also remember to make sure your font and colors look good on all possible devices from desktops to tablets to iPhones, etc.

9. Orphan pages.

Memorize this: Every page within your site needs a readily seen link back to the home page. Why? Sometimes users will forward a URL to friends, who may visit and want more information. But if the page they get is a dead end, forget it.

Always put a link to “Home” on every page, and make sure your site logo (usually found near the top left side of any screen) links back to your home page–that will quickly solve this problem.

10. Failing to link with your social network sites.

Most businesses have their own Facebook pages, others use Pinterest with boards full of photos, while some broadcast their latest activities on Twitter. Maybe you do all of these things.

The point is that social media is here to stay and businesses are benefitting from having a presence in it. Forgetting to link to your social media platforms is a no-no.

People should be able to go from one to the other effortlessly. Using social media to market your business and drive customers to your website will only work if you make it easy for users to move from one to the other. If done right, you can drive a lot more traffic to your site by doing this.