Hey There Stranger!
This post was written in 2007, and contains some advice that may no longer apply. This is my post popular article ever and has been viewed by more than a quarter of a million people. Please stick around and visit the home page
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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.
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 2advanced.net
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?”.
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 Oomny.com 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, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Every other customer can bite meÃ¯Â¿Â½?. 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 SI.com, Time.com 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.
*UPDATE* 3:47 PM EST
cartooncorpse and jcs on Reddit.com 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.