I’ve spent considerable time over the last week bringing a new employee up to speed on a variety of topics. He’ll be performing many duties for us (such is the joy/curse of working for a smallish firm), and among those tasks will be consulting with prospective new clients about their current sites.
After I walked him through the analysis of several sites, he finally posed a question to me, “just what makes a website suck?”
That’s not an easy question to answer – at least not succinctly. The reality is that a website can fail in many ways, yet still be a success. The tricky thing is that most site owners truly don’t know if their site is failing or succeeding, simply because they’ve never established any kind of measurement standard. BUT…that’s not what we are talking about here; we’re speaking only of “first glance” evaluations of websites.
So with that in mind, here’s a list of things we look at when we evaluate the sucktitude of a website.
The first thing we consider is the overall look and feel of the site. For the most part, we’re trying to determine if the site looks like it was developed in the last year or two. Here’s the thing – the details that make your website look sparkly new are the very things that make it look dated quickly. Designers and programmers can sometimes get caught up in the most recent trends, which are fantastic if you plan to facelift the site every 18 months. Otherwise, they become the green shag carpet of the interwebs.
Another comment regarding design: it’s extremely subjective. The same site that makes me wince in pain elicits happy squeals from others. I get that, which is why this list stays away from criticism about color theory and other important (and more subjective) elements of design.
With that said, here are some obvious design failures:
- "Floating Island" syndrome
For many years, websites were developed to be viewed within a screen resolution of 800×600. Today that resolution accounts for less than 1% of all screens, and 85% of all visitors use a resolution greater than 1024×768 (stats courtesy of w3schools.com). Sites that were developed for smaller screens look like tiny islands floating on a massive background. Visitors feel pity for the poor, tiny, isolated website – and it’s doubtful that’s the feeling you were trying to evoke.
Most of these items have been discussed ad nauseam (and thankfully aren’t as common as they used to be), so I won’t bother to address why they make your site suck – just know that they do:
- Splash screens or entry pages. You know, those pages that cost a ton to build and then everyone clicks the "skip this" link.
- Sounds. Any sounds. Yes, even those "super cool" sound effects when you click links.
- Gratuitous Flash or rotating images. This decade’s version of animated GIFs (shudder).
- Funky navigation. Don’t make me figure out how your navigation works – I’ll simply leave.
- Reverse text, particularly black background with white text. Ugh.
- Outdated information. In this day and age of technology and access, there’s just no excuse.
- Left aligned or full width websites
Early websites were all left aligned or full width. Typically when you see this now, it’s on a neglected site, a government site, or a neglected government site. There are some very creative designers that can pull this off, but it’s rare.
- Cheesy stock imagery
There’s a reason that good professional photographers make the money they do. They can see things through a camera lens that the rest of us don’t. Want to know the single best upgrade you can do to your site? Replace all the images with professional photos that are specific to your organization. It’s well worth the investment.
Functional Failures These are a little harder to quantify, but site killers nonetheless. Obvious functional issues include things like broken navigation, sites that don’t work in all browsers, malware and missing pictures.
Additional failures include:
No one cares about you, or your website. There, I said it.
Your site visitors only care about whether or not something you have will benefit them. Answer that question FIRST, before you tell them "About Us" or about your awards or anything else. Take a look at your site’s navigation. What comes first – About Us, or information about your products and services? Most websites need to have their navigation reversed in order.
Quick tip: when writing copy for your website, spend 90% of your time on addressing what your prospects want or need, and 10% on info about your company. When people send us copy, it’s obvious they have done just the opposite.
- No Clear Message
Yes, the picture of the blossoming flower on your home page is evocative and inspiring. Here’s the thing – it does nothing to tell visitors who you are or what you do. Oh, and there’s this little company called Google that would also like to know what you’re about so they can help searchers find you. Much like people, the search engines will simply move on if it’s too difficult to figure out.
Visitors should be able to determine who you are and exactly what you do in 3 seconds or less.
- No Engagement
This is the area in which more than 90% of all websites fail. There should be clear cut call to action on the home page that encourages visitors to click and see more of your site. A call to action can be anything – a contest announcement, newsletter signup, a download, contact form, even simply driving visitors to current/updated information on your site.
- Poor Search Engine Visibility…or worse
So what’s worse than poor visibility? Violating the guidelines, which can get your site delisted and erase any possibility that a visitor could even stumble on it. Most site owners are oblivious to the fact that their site is breaking rules.
The last element to be considered is the most esoteric of all – the "feel" of a website. What is the" feel"?
It’s the connection users feel to the website, the emotions that are invoked when they visit. It’s the sense that the visual impact matches the image visitors have – or want to have – about the product or service they are after. It’s the difference between the About Us page for Wilson Sporting Goods and the About Us page for Franklin Sports.
It’s the final factor that turns site visitors into site ambassadors.
Scott Kasun is one of the geeks at ForeFront Web, a web design firm based in Dublin, Ohio. Follow him on Twitter @forefront.