Web Site Design: Best Practices

‘Newbie’ web site designers have a hard job that is easy to get wrong. Creating an attractive and effective web site is like interior decorating or landscape design: It is not as easy as we think, and you can spot a beginner’s work a mile away.

Here are what expert web site designers would rank as the most frequently committed beginner mistakes:

Keep the welcome page clean, uncluttered, and viewable in its entirety without scrolling. (Horizontal scrolling should never be required. If vertical scrolling is absolutely necessary, be aware that content ‘below the fold’ will not be seen by the majority of visitors.)

Introductory music is almost never a good idea. The research is emphatic about this: A musical welcome intro turns off visitors like skunk spray. For every person that may like the music you choose, about ten will hate it. Go to iTunes.com and RollingStones.com and notice that even those sites do not have a musical intro….

Hit counters have been passé for many years and are almost never used by professional web site designers. (A challenge: Visit the web sites of the Fortune 100 or the Top 100 universities in the nation – I will give you a dollar for every visible hit counter you find on their welcome pages…)

Most web sites communicate information; they are not works of art. Again, the research is abundantly clear on this: Beginning web site designers spend a great deal of time adding graphics that are for the most part ignored or unnoticed by visitors. Most web sites exist primarily to convey textual information. Use graphics judiciously, and then only when the graphic serves a useful purpose. Graphics typically added for ‘decoration’ add clutter to pages and get in the way of what most visitors want.

Avoid publishing content on your landing page that requires plug-ins or players. Such multi-media content usually is slow to load, and first-time visitors are immediately and forever turned off by a welcome page that produces an error, a slow-loading video, or requires a download to be viewed… Publish video and other multimedia content elsewhere and link to it with a ‘click here to view video’ option…

Keep your design elements simple to avoid display issues. Web pages do not publish consistently and predictably. Visitors will be using various browsers on various operating systems on various computers with various monitors set to various resolutions that can make a jumbled mess out of a web page that displays perfectly on your computer. Keeping it simple avoids such display issues that you may never know about….

Avoid publishing ‘one-off’ content on your landing page. For example, after the first visit to a web site, return visitors do not need to see a ‘Mission Statement’ front-and-center on the welcome page. Provide a link to such content, but don’t consume valuable real estate on your welcome page with a general message or statement that will not be read (or needed) on future return visits…

The typical visitor to a web site is a person on a mission. Think of your attitude when you go to the supermarket for a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread. You know what you need, you know where it is, and you want to get in and out of there quickly. Most visitors to your web site will have the same priorities. They are not seeking entertainment – they want information quickly.

These ‘Best Practices’ are established industry standards. The most famous web site in the world perhaps best represents this philosophy of web site design: Google.com. No graphics (other than the corporate logo). No music. No hit counter. No frills. For another example, see the web site of the university that spawned Yahoo!, Google, SUN Microsystems, and other technology giants: Stanford.edu