Do you remember those weird early days of the internet? I sure do. One of the first websites I made was way back in the early 90s with the help of GeoCities website builder and it featured lots of gifs, a little background music, and—if I remember correctly—a flashy splash page where you had to click “enter” before you could see my content. (If you want a fun little blast from the past, check out this collection of Angelfire pages that are still somehow on the internet.)
We’ve certainly come a long way in web design since the 90s and I’m sure most folks have adopted a strict no background music policy by this point (if you haven’t…let’s talk). But in the age of DIY web design, we’re still seeing outdated practices, non-user friendly content, and questionable design and usability.
So, in penance for all of those horrible websites I created long ago, I thought I’d create a little “what not to do” checklist and why each of these aren’t the best idea for your modern website.
Technical Not To-Dos
Buying the cheapest hosting: it can be very tempting to choose the $3.99/month GoDaddy budget hosting plan, but please don’t do that if you have a WordPress website. You’ll find that things can get painfully slow on a cheap shared hosting plan and many times the support folks are less than helpful and are just out to upsell you on a bunch of expensive add-ons (which will sadly cost far more than a good, reputable hosting plan in the long run). If you have or plan on having a WordPress site, I’d recommend Dreamhost’s DreamPress*, which is their managed WordPress hosting plan.
Using too many plugins: on WordPress, plugins can be a great way to extend the functionality of your website. However, too much of a good thing can end up working against you, leading to a bloated site that’s slow to load for your visitors. If you tinkered around with installing a bunch of different plugins when you were first setting things up, go through and delete anything you know you’re not using. If you still find yourself with 15+ plugins, it’s a good time to evaluate what functionality each adds to your site, and then making the decision to cut some less than necessary things out.
Not having an SSL certificate: do you have a contact form on your website? Or are you collecting any kind of information from your visitors (through comments, email signups, etc.)? If so, then you should certainly have an SSL certificate—not only will this ensure a secure transmission of information from a user’s browser back to your web server, it will also be factored into your Google search ranking. On most web hosts, SSL certificates are simple to install and, on some, are even free to add to your site.
Design Not To-Dos
Having an enter or splash page: you may think your splash page with beautiful image or neat animation is great, but it can be perceived as a waste of time for your visitors. Users are coming to your site for a specific reason and it’s not to see flashy visuals. Instead, showcase your visual style on your homepage and in other pages through hero images or optimized background videos. This accomplishes the same purposes, without providing extra steps or additional barriers to entry.
Using small fonts or a crazy mix of fonts: small fonts (less than 15px) can be difficult for users to scan or read, and using a mixed bag of different fonts can be visually distracting. For body copy, I like to stick around a 16px font size. For headlines, I’d recommend using a size hierarchy with H1s being the largest and H6 being the smallest. As for the number of fonts to use, try to stick with no more than two complementary fonts on a single website—this helps keep the design polished and professional.
Using generic stock photos: you want to make sure the imagery on your website feels as authentic as possible, so if you’re featuring this generic high-five “business” shot, it might be time to revamp your photo selections. Imagery can have an immediate effect on your visitors (in both good and bad ways depending on your choices), so I encourage you to spend some time thinking through what makes the most sense for your website. Here’s an article I put together with some tips on choosing the best photos for your site.
Content Not To-Dos
Using non-website text for important content: hiding valuable content in a video on your site, or linking to important information in the form of a PDF is a huge miss for SEO and, more importantly, it’s bad for accessibility. You want to ensure that any user with any ability can access your website, so make sure that essential content isn’t hidden in a video, image, or PDF.
Having grammatical and spelling errors: grammatical and spelling errors on your professional website are an easy way to appear, well, unprofessional. Always proofread, and then do it again! Better yet, have someone else take a look over your website to see if they notice anything you may have missed.
Using vague headlines: when someone is scanning your website, they should be able to find what they’re looking for without much effort, otherwise you run the risk of them losing interest and leaving. Having vague headlines (or worse: jargon-y headlines) make it tough for people scanning. Instead, strive for headlines that are descriptive of the content in the section below.
Need help revamping your website or want to talk through any of these points? Contact me here or leave a comment below to connect!