Web Design

19 Things NOT To Do When Building a Website

I’ve compiled a small list (or rant) of some very basic and fundamental rules that all webmasters must learn and respect when developing a website that needs to make actual money. This list can also be used by companies looking to hire a web development firm or to evaluate an already deployed website project.

I’ll start off slow and easy…

1. DO NOT resize the user’s browser window, EVER. I know you can, I know you feel really cool when you put that little Javacrap on your page and like a little miracle the browser window resizes to your wishes, but NO. You see this atrocious web technique mostly with spam sites and when “designers” design websites. That is, someone in the photo/video/art industry who “also makes websites” (see #6 for more on that), but in reality has no idea how to make a successful ecommerce website.

Virgin Galactic's Website Sucks
2. If your website requires the visitor to load your home page, and then “launch” your real website in a pop up, YOU LOSE. Pack it up, send it home, start over. If your website doesn’t load immediately on your home page and deliver your message within a couple of seconds it’s pretty damn hard to keep people along for the show (not matter how cool and Flashtacular it is). I see this technique mostly with Flash web developers, who for some reason think all flash websites must load in a pop up window (assuming it can get past pop up blockers), and have 30 second loading sequences and look curiously like

3. If your website asks the user which version they’d like, high bandwidth or low, HTML or Flash, you ALSO LOSE. See above for the explanation on this one as they’re related. It’s like asking your customer if they’d like to enter your crappy store or your better store (but the ‘better’ store requires special glasses and a little 30 second wait…um NO THANKS), what you’re really asking them is “do you want to leave and buy from my competitor because I’ve put up a crappy roadblock before you even know what I sell?”. - Bad bad bad
4. If your website is ALL Flash, FIRE your web development company, and if you made it, add it to your portfolio under “Useless web projects I’ve done” and start over. Flash it just a tool, a wonderful powerful tool for delivering animation, video, interfaces, shopping carts, functionality etc. the list goes on, it kicks ass. This DOES NOT MEAN you need to create your entire website in Flash, and if you do you will be at a severe disadvantage to your wiser competitors. Look at it this way, even Macromedia/Adobe, the maker of Flash doesn’t have an all Flash website, do you think there’s a reason why? Oh yeah, they want to make actual money and don’t listen to ‘designers’.

5. DO NOT try to reinvent the website navigation. Put it on the top, the left, hell even the right will work but do not try to reinvent the way people interact with digital interfaces while trying to actually sell your product or service. People will get confused, then annoyed, then pissed, then gone.

6. This one is going to get me in trouble. If you are a print designer, and “do websites on the side”, STOP DOING websites and providing “advice” to your print clients about web design. Print design to web design is like designing an ad for a race car, and actually building and racing that race car. Don’t get me wrong, print is great and all, you make pretty pictures and wonderful messages crafted with great copy, but when it comes down to it, it’s still just a picture. People cannot buy the product with a print ad (yet), they can’t communicate with your business through a print ad. I can already hear the grumbling coming from the print world, and look, it’s not that I don’t see a purpose for print advertising, just stick to print and don’t nose you’re way into a medium which you do not know and wouldn’t understand (same goes for general “geeks” who do websites ‘on the side’)

7. If you do not have sufficient copy, or any REAL TEXT on your home page (not in an image), and to a lesser extent your whole site, hire a copywriter and fire your webmaster NOW. Content is King, repeat after me CONTENT IS KING. Search engines don’t index fancy graphics and Flash, they index text. Good ol’ reliable text. If you don’t know how much text, or how to write good text, hire somebody who does (it’s essential to your ranking and to selling your product or service).

8. If your website does not work in Firefox, welcome to 2007 DUMBASS. Yes in most markets Firefox only commands at most a 10-15% market share, but for some sites it’s much higher (my other site has 80% Firefox users). Furthermore, if the morons you hired didn’t make your site and functionality compatible with Firefox they obviously have no idea what they’re doing, and aren’t up on their game. I have no idea why you would need a website, or functionality system that is so dependent on IE that it simply can’t work in Firefox, and frankly it doesn’t matter because there is no good reason. The lack of Firefox knowledge by a webmaster shows they aren’t of the Internet culture, and that’s a bad sign if you’re a business owner.

9. Commandment 9 is a collection of small issues that have been beaten to death other places, and are quote common principles, but bear repeating. No blinking text, no Frontpage, no pop-ups (even requested), no scrolling text, no font downloads, and no Flash intros. If your product or service needs a flash intro to sell, it probably sucks.

10. If you use music on your site make sure the user can stop it, and it BETTER NOT start on page load without the user requesting it. Same goes for video with audio (*cough ESPN *cough), many web users surf from work and don’t enjoy their speakers lighting up with your horrible and intrusive taste in music while their boss roams the halls looking for some ass to bust.

11. Text navigations are better than images, this isn’t a big deal but it’s better to use text for your nav with some clever CSS, than to export a large and bloated mouseover image navigation. I know Dreamweaver makes it so super simple, but you’ll benefit in a lot of other ways without it. Images wisely used, just like Flash are excellent, but don’t rely always on mouseover graphics to deliver your image, design is more about content than designing the interface (do you know any of your friends that raves about the iPods elegant interface? No, and that’s the point, it just works)

12. A well thought out site map with logical sub sections is better than using “drop downs”. Simply put, drops downs never work quite right, and only a few of the ones I have seen actually are usable. Furthermore, the use of drop downs usually means that the person organizing the content did a piss poor job of it. If you have the mother of all sites and need people to access hundreds of pages, you’re probably Microsoft or CNET and you’re ignoring me anyways.

13. If your site needs a search engine for users to find information, it’s time to start over and fire the guy who came up with the site map (and those slick drop downs on your nav). Search engines are wonderful, and play a great role on some great sites, but if you lean on it for users to find content you’re pissing 50%+ of your customers off. Some people like to browse, they also like to search if they NEED to. Give them a logical browse option and they won’t need to search, but leave search there for the advanced users really digging into your vast amount of content (and you do have LOTS of content to be indexed right? If not see #7)

14. Load time is still a factor for over 50% of American web surfers. Even though you live in the wonderful world of Cable and DSL, half of America does not and hates you for it. If you design your site for only broadband users you’re sending a message, “Every other customer can bite me�?. Bloat is simply NOT ALLOWED on the home page, but it can be used deeper in when users request it specifically.

15. This one seems obvious but isn’t to some people *cough Designers *cough. Do not HIDE your message, and don’t OBSCURE what you want the user to do. Home page design is like a billboard, hit them with a message and a desired path (buy now) in 1-2 seconds, but provide information for people who want to dig deeper and research.

16. If you lead the user through a pre-determined path in order to deliver a message or demo, it’s time to get an ANT farm and take your controlling wills out on some species that will actually like it. The web is about modular content, it’s not an “experience” or a “wonder tour of magical enchantment”. If you have to have a slideshow, put thumbnails there too so people can get the content they want when they want it. If you’re demo has 20 pages, give them a table of contents or at least some next/previous buttons so they can fast forward (they’d be wathcing broadcast TV if they wanted content shoved down their throats at a pace decided by the man). Pushing people through a demo, no matter how complex 1 step at a time is a mistake and will lead to the inevitable; annoyance. And if you’re purpose of reloading the page to deliver the next slide in a slide show is to increase your ad impressions, you should DIE (see, and CNN)

17. If you’re delivering video, it better not ask the user which bandwidth or version of video they’d like. Real Player, 100K, Windows Media Player, Quicktime, WMV, 300K, AVI, Cable, DSL, Dial-Up? NO THANK YOU. Deliver your video in an embedded player in Flash. I’m sorry, Flash won this battle a long time ago (see YouTube), it has the install base, the lean interface and isn’t trying to get you to join “their world” of media player fantasy where they place system tray icons and launch helpers and pop up every time you pop in a CD or DVD. Flash is cross platform and cross browser compatible, something none of the other providers can say.

18. This is a small one, but if the user has to mouse over your graphic or small image to know what it is, or where it will take them if its a link, quit your job and be a magician or a blackjack dealer, making web interfaces is not for you.

19. This final commandment is related to many of the above ideas, and is a good guiding principle for web geeks that are excited about new tech and want to use it. Just because a technology is new, or you just discovered it does not make it suitable to put on a business website, JUST BECAUSE you can. This happened with Flash, Java, and is now happening with AJAX. Yes new technology is cool, but only integrate it on a business site if it improves the customers experience or sells more product/service. Technology for the sake of technology is silly and only belongs on your personal show-off site, or your own computer where not one will be exposed to its horrid creativity except you.

One might say that if you followed all of my commandments, the web would be a boring, dry and conformist web of sites only engineered for 1 thing; selling. And you’re right, but thankfully the world is full of plenty so called “creative” people and they keep it interesting for the rest of us.


cartooncorpse and jcs on suggested 4 more:

1. Don’t link to PDF content without disclosing the link.
2. Don’t employ any scripts to prevent the user from “Backing” out of the site with the browser’s back button. Ever try locking someone in your store? do they usually buy something?
3. if your website says “you’re” where it should say “your”, you should fire the person that wrote it.
4. If your website has LOTS of random words in all capital LETTERS because the author was TRYING to emphasize words without the or tags that were created for exactly this purpose, he should be fired.
5. It goes without saying but Taladar suggests; No pop ups and no javascript links (breaks open in new tab).

23 replies on “19 Things NOT To Do When Building a Website”

This guy thinks he is the shit and don’t agree with everything he says. Sure he’s got some good points. But not all of them are valid. Look at Nike’s sites. They are done in flash with a great back-end tech. They look good and perform great.

Sure having and HTML or Flash index page can be a lil 90’s if you will. But there are those people that can not download flash players at work due to upper management issues. What do you do with those clients? are you saying that all sites have to have all web platforms in them? NOT!!! Maybe josh needs to get off the high horse…

Search engines are great. Yes good point, did you know that they can crawl into the first frames of a swf? Who cares about search engines now days… this ain’t 1999. People are very aware of how to navigate the web now days. It ain’t such a big issue now.

I’m sorry but I don’t agree with everything you say. Maybe you should go to places such as and find out how real sites can move you.

How about this, pal.

Rule #20: If multiple pages worth of content on your web site, such as your blog, fits in a space of, oh, say, 400 to 500 pixels in width, you should either fire your designer or buy a 21st century monitor (or both).

Serious, dude, I’m looking at this blog on a tiny 6″ wide section of my 20″ monitor. This is rediculous. I for one prefer auto-growing text; it’s not harder to read, it’s easier. Sure, a bit harder to find the next line break, but WAY less of them!!

I agree with most rules, but here’s one more for you:

Rule #21: If you HAVE to use advertising on your site, use blocks of text ads. Like Google’s AdSense. Never use image ads, they annoy the hell out of people. And by all means avoid using those extremely annoying context ads that spew links all over your page’s content, like ContentLink. As if you’d want to know more about ‘web developers’ while you’re in the middle of reading an article!

I’ve written several niche articles on the subject on the how to’s and how not to’s of building a web site. I think you may have missed some very important rules. It’s not just about copy, it’s about the quality of the copy. If you have crappy copy, then you might as well have no copy. And put copy close to the top of your page if you want Google’s little web bots to get a hold of it and actually make use of it that can help you. I build web sites for smaller clients and like to put a nice intro to what they can do for you as the customer near the top of the page so it gets grabbed by the Google bots every time they come around. It’s worked wonders. Colors are important too. For heaven’s sake…no yellow on purple or some other disgusting combo that hurts the eyes and makes people want to hurl. Aren’t there really enough rules about web design to write a novel or really a special handbook that’s called something like “Now that you’ve read HOW to BUILD a web site, let’s talk about how to really build a web site.”?

I like your article but it’s mostly just common sense that any sensible designer would realize after building websites for awhile. You have to understand that some clients want crap too and there is not much you can do but please them.

I have to say though, that the way you see all the replies on the blog is terrible with the: […] bla bla […]. Where the hell do I click to see the whole reply?!?

3. if your website says “you’re” where it should say “your”, you should fire the person that wrote it.

**if your website says “you should fire the person that wrote it” where it should say “you should fire the person who wrote it,” you should fire the person who wrote it – not only for bad grammar but for incorrect punctuation.

A great article, agree completly with #1… websites should be designed to meet the needs of users preferences (even if they do still have 800×600 monitors!), not the other way around – user preferences should not be changed to meet the needs of a website.

well!! i agree with you its a good article, Must have taken a while for you to compile. But you forgot to mention a few rules that needs to be followed and you yourself have committed to those mistakes on this page is what I see.

Rule #20: never post Google ads in between your contents. Which you have placed already.

Rule #21: Don’t ask the reader to unnecessarily register on your website if your not offering anything special . In this case i had to register twice on your website to post this comment.

Rule #23: Do not use harsh language on your post or contents. In this case I am a designer and a web developer. On some of your post’s you have used some words that are really pricking to ones profession. You have lost a possible frequent visitor to your website. In this case you have lost me as your reader. Hope ya add these basic rules to your list.

Rule # 24: Always give a user a navigation to unsubscribe his membership from your site. In this case.. HOW THE HELL DO I UNSUBSCRIBE FROM YOUR WEBSITE, which I used to post this comment just to point some basic mistakes you have committed???


Here’s a rant coming… But please take it as advise and stuff to add on the list (if it is on the list, see point #1).

1) No ‘print this page’ function, which is fine, but then maybe offer a wider content area. I didn’t bother reading this long narrow page.

2) Couldn’t (can’t) find your contact page (or e-mail address) anywhere, so eventually I had to register to comment 🙁 I rarely register anywhere

Hope you take this in good faith 🙂

Oh and…

3) Those Google advertisements at the top O_o I use to have credibility issues with that, but since Google has grown so much, I reckon it’s ok, but right at the top between the content, no go for me

Rule #1 – install a filter? Am I supposed to be responsible for your spam?

You confuse selling items over a medium called internet and ‘building a website’. If you could sort these 2 things out into 2 different categories you’d probably get less cheer-mail from other people that are pissed off about their lack of focus.

1. I agree. There’s really no reason you need to resize a browser window.

2. Also a good point.

3. This is not worth mentioning. Any website built after 2001 should detect bandwidth automatically.

4. There’s nothing wrong with an all flash site as long as you provide alternate content for users without flash, or users on a mobile platform.

5. This is wrong. Re-invention of traditional practices should be encouraged–as long as usability is not compromised. A good designer can do something totally unconventional and still usable.

6. Any good designer should be able to work in multiple mediums.

7. This is just stupid. Alt attributes are indexed just as text would be if you didn’t have an image. And you should be using CSS background replacement or sIFR for headlines that aren’t browser-supported fonts anyway.

8. When you’re building a site, you should design your code to work with standards-compliant browsers. Then you can add IE stylesheets and other modifications for crappy browsers on top of your good code.

9. The fact that you’re even stating this shows that you’re still working in 1998. Live in the now man.

10. Any modern website has the option to turn off sound. This is also not worth mentioning to anyone who’s been developing websites for a significant period of time.

11. Anyone who uses the built-in rollovers that come with dreamweaver shouldn’t be developing websites in the first place. In fact, I should expand that to include anyone who uses dreamweaver at all. If you’re using dreamweaver, stop now and read some books about how to write your own code, imbecile.

12. If your site would benefit from dropdowns, you should use them. If you can’t make working dropdowns, you’re fucking dipshit. If you launch a site with dropdowns that only kind of work, quit your job and find a new profession, asshat. There’s no reason that this UI convention cannot be totally effective. And every site you build should have logical, well thought out information architecture (or “site map”, for you 1998 developers).

13. Search functionality is not a substitute for bad IA. I would go to a better site for the same information before even trying to find it on shitty site.

14. Well structured code always loads fast. Tables don’t load fast. Use CSS for layout, you fucking ass clowns. It’s 2008, I shouldn’t have to tell you that. And if you were really a “webmaster” you’d use character encodings instead of copy > pasting text from MICROSOFT WORD. Do you even know what character encodings are?

15. Apparently you only work with really bad designers. Any designer that hides their message is not a designer, that’s someone posing as a designer that you should mock while kicking him/her in the ass repeatedly as they are shamed out of your office.

16. This is wrong. Sometimes a site is about an experience. With good designers and IA people, you can create an experiential site and still offer the user modular content.

17. Don’t use flash just because they “won the battle,” use it because it’s the best tool for the job. If it’s not the best tool for the job, use something else. Apple uses Quicktime on their site, partially because they invented it, mostly because the quality is way better. (Although we’ve been able to stream HD quality video in a flash player at my company.)

18. Um, how else are you going to know where a link is going? I check the location of every unknown link in the status bar when I mouse over it. And no matter what size it is, if people don’t know what your image is they’re either stupid, or you had a shitty balance between quality and compression when you exported it in a web format.

19. Any new technology is fair game on any website you’re building, as long as it’s relevant, appropriate, and advantageous to use it. It goes without saying that every piece of code you write for a site should be thoroughly tested for bugs.

I am a front-end web developer. Not some namby pamby “webmaster” using the terms and technology of 1998. I write software and design applications. And I use these terms to describe that process because they’re more accurate than saying “I’m a webmaster and I make websites.” That’s fucking lame and anyone who hires a “webmaster” deserves to have a shitty site.

Your other site sucks ass. It’s written with tables. Tables weren’t designed for laying out entire sites. Your categories list is too long and not wide enough to accommodate the text in side it. It’s ugly. There’s more, but I’m bored and I’m sure by now you already know that your a shitty “webmaster”.

Ah, if only every web designers/developers would follow these rules the web would have been so much better. I absolutely hate full sites in flash and if a website resize my browser, I close it right away and for sure I will never visit the website again. (I guess most of these websites are losing thousands/millions of potential clients)

Put a $20 bill on your desk. Now look at your website. Do you see any reason to part with that $20?

If you have a sales pitch, don’t try to cover it up: get to it. That might be why I came to your website … and, if I -didn’t- come here to buy, it’s okay if I don’t hang around. Even if I don’t buy today, I now know where to get ‘left-handed alloy widgets’ if ever I am in the market for a few.

… and still relevant to this day.

I vote you dust off the commandments, run ’em through a spelling and grammar checker (noticed a few typographical errors which wouldn’t be appropriate for distribution to the masses), and start a campaign of e-mailing two-bit “design” firms who are still charging $50/hr+ to crank out worthless Flash-based eCommerce sites (or at least the suckers who paid for their “help”) the sad, ugly truth…

I`m in total agreement with you on these points – there a lot of things you can do anyway why clutter your site with java and so on. Drop downs are ugly and a good clear self made index is better , this way you can link straight to any paragraph on your site.
Search bars will just hurt you unless you can direct all responses effectively , when some search bars you use on your site do not index it properly and send people to the wrong place or or to a pop up your customer needs to click his mouse again and that will lose you customers.
Make a Great Site map and index it`s better than a search bar.
Keep up these great posts and have a great day.