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Common Mistakes easily avoided in Website Design


When building a website there are a few mistakes which are commonly made, but by knowing about them in advance you can easily avoid them. Interestingly, these problems aren't solved by just spending a lot of money on a website. In fact, I have seen very expensive websites in which elementary mistakes have been made. So, here's a few common mistakes explained, and this should give some clues on how to avoid them:

* Not road-testing the website online out there in the world on an average computer on a normal phone-line. Many websites, especially those that have cost far to much, might look quite good offline in the webdesigner's office, but if you look at them on a computer actually ONLINE out there in the world, they're far too slow to load, and often have other problems. To get around this, go and find a computer that's never seen that website before (this is quite important to avoid it having cached the site), on a normal phone line (not a fast broadband link), and see what it looks like and how long it takes to load.

* Image not correctly dimensioned. This is such a common error that it needs mentioning this early in the list. Typically a photograph is presented on the website, and it looks ok, but the hidden truth is it's badly dimensioned. What this means is that instead of being the size it's seen on the screen it's actually stored as much bigger. This makes it needlessly slow to load. If you have this problem you may be entirely unaware of it! You can't see it directly on your own computer. However, everyone else can see it! To check you've not made this mistake, load the page in question on your browser, then save the page, then look in the directory of the page and load the image free of any dimensioning (height= / width=), and if it's HUGE then there's the problem! To cure it, use a graphic program to redimension the image. See, easy!

* Website not AnyBrowser compatible. You often see this, readily confessed to in humility on sites. For example in such statements as "This site is best viewed with Micro-Soft Thingy browser and with a 2000x1000 monitor". Obviously no website can be expected to look the same on all browsers and on all operating systems, but it's nice if some attempt at AnyBrowser compatibility is made. The key phrase is "graceful degradation". That is, making the site in such a way that if the visitor does not happen to have a this-that-and-the-other flashy feature on their machine, the website is still viewable as standard 640x480 monitor graphics, and if they've not got a colour monitor then it still displays as text, etc.

* Fixed Font. This is a passing fashion, having tiny text, but is very annoying to people who are hard of seeing, and this in itself sends a message of unfriendliness to everyone else. Using a fixed-font size which is far too small is a problem, for those whose eyesight and/or computer monitor size is not that of the website designer. Plus, there are people who claim it's illegal in some jurisdictions on account of being discrimination against those with a disability! Whether this is true or not, it's nice to be Everyone-Friendly and to show willing to make the site accessible to all.

* ActiveX Assumption and/or compulsory cookies. This is a not just bad manners, but an actual security risk. See ActiveX Problems, and the earlier point about AnyBrowser Compatibility.

* Unnecessary cookies. Quite common, and often the result of using a website building tool which makes every image have an associated cookie whether there's any good reason for it or not.

* Use of proprietary formats. The use of .PDF and .DOC are often inappropriate for the publishing of information online. Although .DOC has got problems of its own which are mainly a nuisance in e-mail, (see .DOC Problems), .PDF has also got far too much credibility by Google allowing it in searches! Similarly, active content is also a problem where it's not necessary. This makes it awkward to view pages offline, and there are other problems which I won't bore you with in this review! However, there's an interesting article about Why OPEN Matters at the Real Linux site.

* Poor choice of free hosting, thus allowing unnecessary advertising. There's nothing wrong with free hosting and there's nothing wrong with advertising if it's done properly. However, it's possible to have free hosting with NO ADVERTISEMENTS! See a few useful contacts for this at the ISPs page. As regards advertising, if you're going to have advertising on your website, make sure YOU get paid for it, not your ISP! The advertising on my site is of my choosing and I get paid for it. This is done by means of affiliate programs, and it's generally quite profitable. However, whether you have advertising or not, it's best to avoid the kind of naff advertising which is often splatted across a good website because the owners thought it was a requirement of free hosting. This is a problem at dot-TK, and the situation is even worse when you consider Geocities and the AOL Hometown problem. If you're not broke, it's generally better to go for a proper hosting such as Vivostar, where it costs about fifty dollars per year, but you become completely free of the naff advertising and also the bandwidth throttling problem.

* Screen size assumption. Presumably the creator of the website assumed everyone had a computer monitor of exactly the same size, and with the browser buttons turned off in a kind of "full screen" mode that's seldom used. However, the assumption generally leaves some people mystified why they can't reach the buttons that are below the end of their screen, and/or having to shift left/right all over the place to read lines across the screen through a kind of "keyhole".

* Attempts to stop the site being copied/saved. These don't work, as anyone with a bit of hacker knowhow can easily gain access to all of a website. The methods, things such as no-right-click, don't actually stop hackers, but just stop average folk from saving images etc because they don't know how to "save as". I've even seen websites that try to disable the browser buttons by doing a target="_first", which makes it awkward to save pages which you need to (for example to keep records for a link audit).

* The ".com" assumption. There's nothing particularly good or bad about being ".com" rather than ".net" or ".tv" or ".co.uk" etc, but it's important to avoid there being an assumption that all sites are ".com", the problem being that it encourages an elitist conformist attitude in the culture. It's better to avoid this. You can be ".net" for example, and link the ".com" to the ".net" rather than the other way around. Cybersquatters should not be allowed to monopolise the market, so don't assume ".com" is good! This problem is expressed in the page of how to choose your domain

* Poor interlinkedness. In a website, it's important for it to be possible to get from any page within the site to the front page, and to get from the front page to any other page. This minimum requirement for interlinkedness is not just a matter of good style, but important because visitors searching on search engines may arrive at ANY page within the site. If they can't get from there to the rest of your site without "trimming the url", then you are missing out on visitors exploring your site! Sites made using "frames" are the worst for making this mistake.

* No deep-link policy. A website should have a deep link policy. This is easy to do, and is just a matter of knowing that other sites can link to any page. To allow proper deep-linking, make sure that no page is deleted, but just replaced by a relink. So, pages that are obsolete do not end up being "dead" and result in a 404 error when linked-to, but instead have a friendly message or other sensible content to allow access to some kind of destination within the site.

* URL is dotted quad. This is where instead of being www.something.net it's http://255.255.255.255/index.htm , the problem being that if you ever move hosts, all links to you will cease to work. In contrast, an actual domain can be moved. The same problem was solved in the physical world by the invention of movable furniture which could be loaded into a furniture van, rather than having it all being bolted to the dwelling.

* Blandness. Making websites all the same as each other. Whilst it's tempting to suggest it's a problem of unoriginality, or even to be to do with avoidance of criticism (if you say nothing meaningful, no-one will disagree), it's to some extent the result of too much reliance on website creation tools, in the same sort of way in which MS Powerpoint presentations are often stylistically a near copy of each other because of the "default" problem!

* Annoying Sliders. You visit a website, and it appears, and just as you're examining the pictures on the front page, they are whisked away to the left and a new lot hauled in. Frightfully annoying! And worryingly commonplace in 2012. Now let's get this right: Sliders Are Annoying. They may look snazzy the other side of a showroom, but they are are bad on a website. So, don't do it.

Useful links: How to get a free website, Stuff about HTML, etc. Plus, a more upmarket version of How to Get a Website

Also see Good Hotel Guide and Good Affiliate Company Guide and Common Mistakes in Movies. Now there's a general category of Guides to Good Practice