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. These are like the 10 commandments handed to Moses! Gonna bookmark this page to show all that need a lesson… Thanks!

  2. Ok first of all, the amount of downloads a FF extension gets, does not mean how many people use it. It may sound good at the time, you install it, you find out its crap, you uninstall it.

  3. Ok first of all, the amount of downloads a FF extension gets, does not mean how many people use it. It may sound good at the time, you install it, you find out its crap, you uninstall it.

  4. You need to embrace the future Neon John. Fork out a little more for a proper internet connection. And enable flash too, I cant stand people who think flash is the devil. It has come a long way in the last 2-3 years. You need to climb out of your hole and join the party.

  5. If I avoid these ‘mistakes’ my site will be really sucky. Perhaps you mean ‘…tips to follow’. Who knows, eh?

  6. I agree with most of these points. Also, canned CMS systems like Joomla! really respect many of these things. Another rule is to allow the user to contribute and add news and/or articles (without moderation would be even better).

  7. Have to disagree (as some other have too) on number 40.
    Pagination is so incredibly annoying and a sure way to lose visitors. Much better to have more text on each page (less is more…in this case, less pages)

  8. Great article – good tips. I also really dislike websites with pages that are still under construction. If the site must go up then don’t put a live link to a page that is not complete.
    Also agree with an above comment about animated .gifs. They are annoying and make it difficult to concentrate on reading. I usually don’t stay.
    Thanks everyone for great tips and comments!

  9. Loved the tips – will be referring to them a few times. Noticed something in the comments: “Do not design a website based on your personal preferences, design it for who will be reading it.”

  10. 34. Do not use animated GIFs:.
    Should we make an exception with the honourable Yahoo’s web-site…the rest is excellent

  11. First impressions are important, but ultimately the quality or price of the product or service is the decider. If you don’t make a good first impression, then they (potential clients) will never take that second step and discover that your product/service is what they need. The analogy of a house comes to mind: a house may look like a wreck on the outside, but may in fact on the inside be exactly what the potential buyer is looking for – but a shoddy exterior and therefore a bad first impression and they’ll never know what they missed.

  12. Matt, the first impression is really important, but once you captured the attention of the reader you need to make sure that he will like what he sees, converting him into a loyal visitor.

  13. Most people make a first impression within five seconds time. If you don’t have a site that captures the initial interest, nothing else matters.

  14. Glad it helped Kris. Actually it is funny how many clients ask designers to include music and other crap stuff on their website…

  15. Just thought the author would like to know that there are, in fact, several grammatical/spelling errors on this very page…perhaps, a way to mitigate this is to find your closest grammar nazi and ask him/her whether he/she would be kind enough to proofread new pages. Spell check alone is simply not enough. You have to actually read the text to ensure that it is coherent.

  16. As usual some great tips. However, I beg to differ with your point re the use of tables. There is nothing wrong with using HTML tales for tabular data – that’s what they are intended for. However, CSS should be used to style those tables.
    ps: this site’s a real treasure trve of info and tips.

  17. Another item I’ve seen that would be great on this list is Javascript used for page layout. I browse with Javascript disabled, and if your page displays horribly I just leave.

  18. @Strange Duck – In regards to your net usage, the experienced user most of the time surfs like you mentioned but the ‘common’ user does not surf and use the net like that.

  19. it looks like you broke your own rule. i thought your list of responders would go on forever before i would get to your reply area. i have a simple rule based ironically on my lack of knowledge of all the things possible which (can be done): i take a direct approach and simply type what i want to say. i (KEEP IT SIMPLE) DOUG
    I DIDN’T “already say what i said above as your error message indicates. what’s wrong with (your) perception (???)


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