Your website is your window front to the world. When people hear your company’s name, if they want to know anything else about you, the first thing they will do is go to Google and try to find your website. In the short time they spend on that website they’ll have decided whether or you’re a company worth spending their time on.
The secret of making a website that will make people throw their money at you is closely guarded by the ancient order of web designer monks who live on a mountain in Tibet. They have an excellent broadband connection, but only communicate using the buzzing beeping sound made by a dial-up modem.
When it comes to ways to instantly turn your audience off your site, however, there are a few mistakes that will completely screw up the experience of your site visitors, while being spectacularly easy to avoid.
Bad Search Design
If your site is over a certain size, particularly if it aims to be an information resource, you need to make sure it was a working, useful search function. This problem is so widespread that I’ve pretty much foresworn all website’s own search engines, instead simply putting the website address and my search times into the address bar of Chrome and letting Google do the work.
It’s relatively straight forward to giving your website a Google search bar, but if you insist on creating your own in-house website search it had better be good. If it’s overly literal, and not able to cope with typos and misspelling, it’s going to frustrate more than it’s going to inform. People don’t use frustrating websites.
PDFs for Reading Online
PDFs are useful for distributing read-only text documents that are intended to be printed out (or, sometimes, read on an e-reader such as a Kindle or Nook). In pretty much every other context a PDF is a pain in the neck. They’re harder to read, the text can’t be scaled up or down the same way a website can, it will often force you into another piece of software and even, worst of all, create yet another opportunity for Adobe to flash up a window asking if you want to update it.
Stop it. Stop it now.
Don’t Change the Colour of Visiting Links
Like I said, getting around large websites can be a pain sometimes. The least you can do as the web designer is let the user create a trail of breadcrumbs so that they aren’t constantly going round in circles. If you can see where you’ve been it’s easier to work out where to go next. It’s as simple as that.
Use Massive Walls of Text
Writing for the web is different from writing in a book or even a newspaper. Look at this article. It’s about 600 words in length. The paragraphs are no more than 5 or 6 lines each. And each point is held within a clearly labelled subheading.
If you want to take the time to read the whole article, you can. If you just want to get the gist of it you can scan the whole piece and walk away with a pretty good idea of what I was talking about. This is how text should be laid out on your site. Regardless of how much time someone has, they ought to be able to come to your page, glance it over and find the information they need without having to sit down with a cup of coffee and slog through pages of irrelevant text first.
Fixed Font Size
This is simple. Some people have better eyesight than others. If someone doesn’t have great eyesight they won’t appreciate that you’ve restricted them to reading your site in 9 point Arial. If changing the font size screws up the look of your website, you need to do a better design job on it.
Opening New Browser Windows
Look if you really, really don’t like the idea of people leaving your site, then maybe open a link in a new tab. OCCASIONALLY. People tend to end up with cluttered desk tops at the best of times anyway. Making this problem worse is going to win you exactly no friends.