43 Web Design Mistakes You Should Avoid

by Daniel in 476 Comments — Updated Reading Time: 7 minutes

There are several lists of web design mistakes around the Internet. Most of them, however, are the “Most common” or “Top 10 mistakes.” Every time I crossed one of those lists I would think to myself: “Come on, there must be more than 10 mistakes…”. Then I decided to write down all the web design mistakes that would come into my head; within half an hour I had over thirty of them listed. Afterwards I did some research around the web and the list grew to 43 points.

The next step was to write a short description for each one, and the result is the collection of mistakes that you will find below. Some of the points are common sense, others are quite polemic. Most of them apply to any website though, whether we talk about a business entity or a blog. Enjoy!

1. The user must know what the site is about in seconds: attention is one the most valuable currencies on the Internet. If a visitor can not figure what your site is about in a couple of seconds, he will probably just go somewhere else. Your site must communicate why I should spend my time there, and FAST!

2. Make the content scannable: this is the Internet, not a book, so forget large blocks of text. Probably I will be visiting your site while I work on other stuff so make sure that I can scan through the entire content. Bullet points, headers, subheaders, lists. Anything that will help the reader filter what he is looking for.

3. Do not use fancy fonts that are unreadable: sure there are some fonts that will give a sophisticated look to your website. But are they readable? If your main objective is to deliver a message and get the visitors reading your stuff, then you should make the process comfortable for them.

4. Do not use tiny fonts: the previous point applies here, you want to make sure that readers are comfortable reading your content. My Firefox does have a zooming feature, but if I need to use on your website it will probably be the last time I visit it.

5. Do not open new browser windows: I used to do that on my first websites. The logic was simple, if I open new browser windows for external links the user will never leave my site. WRONG! Let the user control where he wants the links to open. There is a reason why browsers have a huge “Back” button. Do not worry about sending the visitor to another website, he will get back if he wants to (even porn sites are starting to get conscious regarding this point lately…).

6. Do not resize the user’s browser windows: the user should be in control of his browser. If you resize it you will risk to mess things up on his side, and what is worse you might lose your credibility in front of him.

7. Do not require a registration unless it is necessary: lets put this straight, when I browse around the Internet I want to get information, not the other way around. Do not force me to register up and leave my email address and other details unless it is absolutely necessary (i.e. unless what you offer is so good that I will bear with the registration).

8. Never subscribe the visitor for something without his consent: do not automatically subscribe a visitor to newsletters when he registers up on your site. Sending unsolicited emails around is not the best way to make friends.

9. Do not overuse Flash: apart from increasing the load time of your website, excessive usage of Flash might also annoy the visitors. Use it only if you must offer features that are not supported by static pages.

10. Do not play music: on the early years of the Internet web developers always tried to successfully integrate music into websites. Guess what, they failed miserably. Do not use music, period.

11. If you MUST play an audio file let the user start it: some situations might require an audio file. You might need to deliver a speech to the user or your guided tour might have an audio component. That is fine. Just make sure that the user is in control, let him push the “Play” button as opposed to jamming the music on his face right after he enters the website.

12. Do not clutter your website with badges: first of all, badges of networks and communities make a site look very unprofessional. Even if we are talking about awards and recognition badges you should place them on the “About Us” page.

13. Do not use a homepage that just launches the “real” website: the smaller the number of steps required for the user to access your content, the better.

14. Make sure to include contact details: there is nothing worse than a website that has no contact details. This is not bad only for the visitors, but also for yourself. You might lose important feedback along the way.

15. Do not break the “Back” button: this is a very basic principle of usability. Do not break the “Back” button under any circumstance. Opening new browser windows will break it, for instance, and some Javascript links might also break them.

16. Do not use blinking text: unless your visitors are coming straight from 1996, that is.

17. Avoid complex URL structures: a simple, keyword-based URL structure will not only improve your search engine rankings, but it will also make it easier for the reader to identify the content of your pages before visiting them.

18. Use CSS over HTML tables: HTML tables were used to create page layouts. With the advent of CSS, however, there is no reason to stick to them. CSS is faster, more reliable and it offers many more features.

19. Make sure users can search the whole website: there is a reason why search engines revolutionized the Internet. You probably guessed it, because they make it very easy to find the information we are looking for. Do not neglect this on your site.

20. Avoid “drop down” menus: the user should be able to see all the navigation options straight way. Using “drop down” menus might confuse things and hide the information the reader was actually looking for.

21. Use text navigation: text navigation is not only faster but it is also more reliable. Some users, for instance, browse the Internet with images turned off.

22. If you are linking to PDF files disclose it: ever clicked on a link only to see your browser freezing while Acrobat Reader launches to open that (unrequested) PDF file? That is pretty annoying so make sure to explicit links pointing to PDF files so that users can handle them properly.

23. Do not confuse the visitor with many versions: avoid confusing the visitor with too many versions of your website. What bandwidth do I prefer? 56Kbps? 128Kbps? Flash or HTML? Man, just give me the content!

24. Do not blend advertising inside the content: blending advertising like Adsense units inside your content might increase your click-through rate on the short term. Over the long run, however, this will reduce your readership base. An annoyed visitor is a lost visitor.

25. Use a simple navigation structure: sometimes less is more. This rule usually applies to people and choices. Make sure that your website has a single, clear navigation structure. The last thing you want is to confuse the reader regarding where he should go to find the information he is looking for.

26. Avoid “intros”: do not force the user to watch or read something before he can access to the real content. This is plain annoying, and he will stay only if what you have to offer is really unique.

27. Do not use FrontPage: this point extends to other cheap HTML editors. While they appear to make web design easier, the output will be a poorly crafted code, incompatible with different browsers and with several bugs.

28. Make sure your website is cross-browser compatible: not all browsers are created equal, and not all of them interpret CSS and other languages on the same way. Like it or not, you will need to make your website compatible with the most used browsers on the market, else you will lose readers over the long term.

29. Make sure to include anchor text on links: I confess I used to do that mistake until some time ago. It is easier to tell people to “click here”. But this is not efficient. Make sure to include a relevant anchor text on your links. It will ensure that the reader knows where he is going to if he clicks the link, and it will also create SEO benefits for the external site where the link is pointing.

30. Do not cloak links: apart from having a clear anchor text, the user must also be able to see where the link is pointing on the status bar of his browser. If you cloak your links (either because they are affiliate ones or due to other reasons) your site will lose credibility.

31. Make links visible: the visitor should be able to recognize what is clickable and what is not, easily. Make sure that your links have a contrasting color (the standard blue color is the optimal most of the times). Possibly also make them underlined.

32. Do not underline or color normal text: do not underline normal text unless absolutely necessary. Just as users need to recognize links easily, they should not get the idea that something is clickable when in reality it is not.

33. Make clicked links change color: this point is very important for the usability of your website. Clicked links that change color help the user to locate himself more easily around your site, making sure that he will not end up visiting the same pages unintentionally.

34. Do not use animated GIFs: unless you have advertising banners that require animation, avoid animated GIFs. They make a site look unprofessional and detract the attention from the content.

35. Make sure to use the ALT and TITLE attributes for images: apart from having SEO benefits the ALT and TITLE attributes for images will play an important role for blind users.

36. Do not use harsh colors: if the user is getting a headache after visiting your site for 10 consecutive minutes, you probably should pick a better color scheme. Design the color palette around your objectives (i.e. deliver a mood, let the user focus on the content, etc.).

37. Do not use pop ups: this point refers to pop ups of any kind. Even user requested pop ups are a bad idea given the increasing amount of pop blockers out there.

38. Avoid JavaScript links: those links execute a small JavaScript when the user clicks on them. Stay away from them since they often create problems for the user.

39. Include functional links on your footer: people are used to scrolling down to the footer of a website if they are not finding a specific information. At the very least you want to include a link to the Homepage and possibly a link to the “Contact Us” page.

40. Avoid long pages: guess what, if the user needs to scroll down forever in order to read your content he will probably just skip it altogether. If that is the case with your website make it shorter and improve the navigation structure.

41. No horizontal scrolling: while some vertical scrolling is tolerable, the same can not be said about horizontal scrolling. The most used screen resolution nowadays is 1024 x 768 pixels, so make sure that your website fits inside it.

42. No spelling or grammatical mistakes: this is not a web design mistake, but it is one of the most important factors affecting the overall quality of a website. Make sure that your links and texts do not contain spelling or grammatical mistakes.

43. If you use CAPTCHA make sure the letters are readable: several sites use CAPTCHA filters as a method of reducing spam on comments or on registration forms. There is just one problem with it, most of the times the user needs to call his whole family to decipher the letters.

44. Incorrect use of background images. For example:

  • Poor contrast with text.
  • Overwhelming visuals that distract from the main content.
  • Non-responsive images that don’t adapt to different devices.
  • Low-quality or pixelated images.
  • Slow loading times due to large or unoptimized images.
  • Clashing background with foreground content.
  • Lack of accessibility with no alt text for screen readers.
  • Conflicting colors with the overall design.
  • Poor placement of content over busy areas.
  • Inconsistent with the website’s branding.
  • Excessively long scroll length due to lengthy background images.

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476 thoughts on “43 Web Design Mistakes You Should Avoid”

  1. great list, it is rare to find such a large amount of subjective content all in 1 place that I agree completely with!

  2. Matt said:
    B.) A commenter mentioned standards and XML (Im sure s/he mean XHTML) and how [XHTML] has some SEO benefits. guess what people: MYTH. There is not a single browser on the market today that is capable of rendering xhtml correctly. (Shush people its true.) All browsers take XHTML and convert it to HTML for display so pleeeeeease start giving the browser HTML again XHTML is a side project of the W3C, not intended for actual use.

  3. Good stuff. Two points I will debate, however. Whereas before I didn’t like new browser windows opening for external links – now I love it. Especially with Firefox and tabbed browsers. In fact, if a new window doesn’t open with an external link, I am outright miffed. And completely lost.

  4. Corrected. I did proof read three times, but it slipped off hehe, I am glad it was 1 mistake out of 1500 words.

  5. Great list, while I agree with most of them, I tend to disagree or slightly disagree with some of your points and also the points that were made in the comments section.

  6. Great ideas there. My site currently has a few of those items listed but they were thing that I was wondering about anyway!

  7. Don’t hate Flash, hate the developers who misuse it. I think it is a great way to build websites.

  8. Hm, all are good tips, but I’d hoped that by now anyone who’s making a website should have the web sense, or at least the common sense, to know that blink text and popups are not the way to go. But many fancy commercial sites promoting new products and such do still resize browser windows and use only flash, so I guess they still have stuff to learn.

  9. Matt, thanks for commenting. I agree that HTML tables were created for tables and not for design layout, but many people used to employ them that way.

  10. good points but you should reread this one
    “40. Avoid long pages: guess what, if the user needs to scroll down forever in order to read your content he will probably just skip it altogether. If that is the case with your website make it shorter and improve the navigation structure.”

  11. Music on pages is one reason why I detest myspace – I hate clicking on someone’s page and having music start.

  12. wrong on number 40. Getting users to click through next page, then next page and so on is a good way to lose users.

  13. Here’s another one: don’t use visitor counters. Instead, use an invisible tracking system like Google Analytics. People couldn’t care less that they are visitor number 8541371!

  14. ta, the one you mentioned is true. Additionally bear in mind that almost 12% of the Internet users (as of 2006) do not have Java compatiblity on their browsers.

  15. Adam, it is always a good idea to get back to the basics. If you have “mordern” web design mistakes feel free to share them :).

  16. Certainly a nice list, I think i have used and recomended them to my web production clients but not listed them so well before.

  17. Tim, yeah sometimes it is difficult to mention that rule. I could break the post into smaller parts, but this would also annoy the readers.

  18. Is statement in point 41. “while some vertical scrolling is tolerable” meant to be ironic? This page with its’ included comments is quite possibly the longest in internet history (over exaggeration).

  19. Excellent list. I can’t believe that people still put flash, music etc on their sites. It annoyed me years ago and still annoys me today. And, thanks to the additions from the other readers. Keep up the good work.

  20. Great post. I especially like the points about “no music” and making captcha readable. I don’t know how many times I’ve entered the wrong captcha word just because I couldn’t read it. And music on a site…let’s just say it’s a sure sign of an amateur: “Hey! Look what I learned how to do!”

  21. 55. When possible use ’em’ instead of ‘px’ or % as a measure in your CSS. It grows (or shrinks) proportionally if your user increases (or decreases) his browser’s font sizes. That’s because em’s size is relative to the font size of parent elements while pixels and percentages are relative to screen’s size.

  22. hey, i agree with you.
    Since we should not annoy reader it is better to place it at top (with left alignment) the best and wroked for me for my wordpress blog.
    here are some suggestion from my side:


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