Ian Hoar – Passion for Technology – Geeking Out - Technology, Web, Toys, Games, Design, Entertainment, Gadgets, & Geeking Out

12 bad website practices to avoid

12 bad website practices to avoidThere are many things that web designers do (or are forced to do) that are just plain wrong or annoying and should be avoided if possible. Some items listed here are subjective and will of course depend on your demographic, but over all if these practices are avoided it will make your website better. If you disagree feel free to post in the comments section. Top sites like Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Twitter etc, tend to avoid most of these practices.

1. Breaking back button functionality

I wrote about this awhile back in “Stop breaking my back button!“. Yes sometimes there are cases where you might legitimately want to stop users from hitting the back button in the middle, like in the middle of a complex form, but I see it being broken in many situations where it just shouldn’t be broken. Complex sites should be no excuse either; look at Gmail, the back button always seems to work just fine here. Even a pop-up message warning you that you may lose your data is better than just breaking the button all together.

2. Underlining links that are not links

Changing the way people are used to seeing and using the web is almost always a bad idea. Example; most of the research I have read says an underlined link will probably be clicked more than a link with no underline. A great piece of insight proving that we perceive an underline on the web as a call to action. Underlined text that is not actually a link is jarring and annoying. Users will click on this and be confused when nothing happens. Anything underline on your web page  should be a link.

3. Disabling middle or right click

This is usually done in some futile attempt to protect copyrighted material. Usually a power user like myself middle clicks or right clicks links all the time in order to open them in new tabs, and instead of getting expected behaviour we are insulted with a messaged telling us not to steal the images or that they are copyrighted. Yes, thank you for assuming the worst, and if I want your images I can get them by viewing your source or just dragging them to a new window. Don’t annoy your visitors by breaking things they expect to work in a certain way.

4. Supporting only 1 browser

If you owned a store, this would be akin to punching every 4th customer in the face as they walked through the front door and then telling them they cannot enter your store because of the colour of their jacket, don’t do it. There is absolutely no reason to support only one browser in this day and age. There are several fantastic browsers out there and some users are very passionate about their browser choice and will not change for it for the pleasure of entering your site. Also be careful with browser detection, on several occasions I’ve seen sites denying  access to browsers that are fully capable of displaying the site.

5. No date on articles

Sometimes I will be reading an article that is time sensitive but it will have no date on it. Even if it is not time sensitive, it should still have a date. Is this article up to date? How long has this been an issue? Should I comment? I briefly wrote about this awhile back in “Usability — the date is very important“.

6. Click here and full URLs – use contextual links instead

I’ve talked about “Click Here” in the past. It’s bad usability, and it’s bad for SEO;  it’s also a personal peeve of mine. First, if you have an underlined link or something that looks like a button there is no reason to explain to the user that they need to click in that spot for something to happen, we aren’t idiots. Secondly, that space would be far better spent telling me what I am clicking, especially with text links. If a visitor is scanning a page or article, they may not be reading every word. Underlined links pop out and when I stumble across “Click Here” it means absolutely nothing. Every link should have context, like “View our privacy policy”, or “download the tutorial in PDF format”. The funny thing is making a link contextual is usually as easy as just removing the click here part and linking the text around it. “Click here to download the 2008 financial report” can now be “Download the 2008 financial report”. Similar to “Click here”, full URLs usually provide no context and are hard to read anyway, put it into context or just name the article or site you are linking. These contextual links will also help with SEO. Google has just as much trouble with “Click Here” as we humans do.

7. 100% flash site

Okay, this one may be a touchy subject, and I recently covered my reasons for this in “Why Flash sites usually suck“. Flash has it’s place and it works well as a modular addon to standard XHTML, but when a site is all Flash it easily breaks a lot of expected functionality. With great JavaScript frameworks like jQuery, MooTools and Prototype it’s easy to add a lot of the effects Flash does without sacrificing web standards, usability and SEO.

8. Enter pages

This one is almost dead, but it still crops up it’s ugly head sometimes. I will even admit back in the day I had an enter page, but back then everyone had one, and it was cool, or a least we all thought it was. Today the web is about speed and snagging a visitors short attention span for longer than 10 seconds. I’m sure the average mind set of an Internet user is “Give me what I want now and fast”. Ever been searching the web and clicked on a link, only to instantly click the back button to Google and find the next best match. There’s a million people serving the same thing you are, your job is to do it better and without annoying your users. Don’t waste your visitors time telling them they are about to enter your site.

9. Opening a new browser windows for every link

This is one that a lot of sites do, even the good ones. It’s one of those things that we web designers are usually forced to do. Visitors can and will open links in new windows if they want, or they will use back buttons to return to your site. Don’t try to hold them to your site, but I doubt any amount of ranting I do will change this particular behaviour.

10. Link depth and pointless clicking

Try to make your information accessible to visitors in as few clicks as possible. With information overload most visitors will quickly tire of clicking around your site if they cannot find what they are looking for. Make it easy, make it fast, and do it with expected behaviour. I’m looking at you Government of Canada.

11. Contact information

Usually you want a way for users to contact you. There are cases like this blog where I want it to be hard for you to contact me (although I probably should have a contact form), because I want to avoid spam and I have a comment system in place for you to communicate with me. Most business websites should however have a very obvious call to action for contact information. I can’t believe how many times I’ve seen sites selling things where the contact call to action is not obvious, better yet, put your contact info in the header,  sidebar, or footer so it’s always visible.

12. Today’s date is (drum roll)

The other extreme of not dating your articles, is to let everyone coming to your site know what the date is today. This is completely pointless, but I’ve actually had this debate with someone who still has today’s date on their site. I’m pretty sure everyone coming to your site already has a clock and date on their computer which may even be displaying today’s date. The date will only serve to confuse people and make them wonder if the content is from today. Don’t waste your valuable web real estate telling visitors something as silly as what the current day or time is.

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