How to make a great website and avoid common mistakes

webdesign-wrenchLeaving SEO aside (it deserves a whole article to itself), a good website should be easy to find, simple to use by everyone, easy to navigate, load fast, and works with most browsers. That sounds simple but unfortunately majority of the websites on the internet today are anything but that.

The most important thing in having a successful website is to have a great domain name. The domain name is your address, your name and your identity. Choose a domain name that suits your need not the one that just sounds cool. Don’t use hard to spell names or the ones that are close to famous web-pages. Also try not to use dashes or numbers in the name; they look cheap and impossible to remember. If you are making a website for a business, get the domain that has the business name in it. If you are just starting your business, don’t be hell-bent on the name you already have chosen for it. Search for a domain name that matches it and if you can’t find any, consider changing the business name. To register your domain I recommend using Namesilo. This is the registrar that I use on daily basis and they always have the cheapest prices on domains and they have great website with absolutely no advertising and garbage add-ons. Domain privacy is always free with Namesilo as well. Use the coupon code (NEWNAMESILO) to get a discount. Stay away from Godaddy at all costs.

The Host

If the domain is like your house, the host server is like your neighborhood. You wouldn’t live in a bad neighborhood because it was $10 cheaper a year, so why would you reside your website on a bad server? A web-host can make or break your website. So pick the best.

What does constitute a good web-host? Its up-time, its application support, its speed, its location, its customer service and its reliability. Let’s face it, there are thousands of junk web-hosts out there for $3 a month, and though they might seem to be good enough, you’ll spend more in a long run waiting on hold trying to reach their customer service in India, and buying Rogaine for your hair as you pull every hair out of your skull when your site crashes every other day. I’ve been there and done that. Now I exclusively host my sites on Inmotion Hosting, and I never worry about anything anymore. I can call their customer service 24/7 and they pick up the phone every time with no waiting. My sites are up 99.9% of the time and they have two data centers one on the West Coast and one on East Coast which serve my audience with fastest possible speed. The price? $7 a month. Cheaper than a half-pound burger and a coke at Hardee’s. And I can host 6 sites on one account or upgrade to $13 a month to host 25 sites on the same account. Bandwidth and everything else? Unlimited.

Be a psychologist

The colors of your page should reflect the content, and the amount of content should be relative to the mood. For example, if you have an organization that fights Breast Cancer, your website colors should reflect the socially-accepted associated colors of the cause (i.e. Pink). On the other hand, if your website is for a Spa and relaxation salon, it shouldn’t have vibrant harsh colors or a million pictures that shout discomfort and mayhem.

Be simple but elegant

As we speak there are over 280 million websites out there, and chances are that about a thousand of them have the same message as your website. So do the calculation and tell me why you expect the visitors to put up with your frustrating site? They won’t. A website should be simple to navigate, easy to understand and above all; tell the message right off the bat. On average, a user will only spend two minutes on a given website. So you have two minutes to sell yourself, and sell it well. Don’t distract your users with pop-ups and useless animations. Say the core message in two sentences on every page. People want to know what you have to offer so don’t make them chase your subject. Put your navigation menu right on top in simple “readable” texts. Stay away from drop down menus, they frustrate the most and the sub-pages are not visible at the first glance. If you have so many pages on the menu (which you shouldn’t , use a side menu instead in child pages. Your contact page should be visible at all time not buried in the footer. And please don’t ask people to give surveys, it’s just irritating. The same goes for popup feedback forms.

A few words on advertising banners

A lot of people think that they are going to get rich by displaying a few advertising ads on their sites. It’s not true. Unless you have 5,000+ visitors to your site every week and you use relevant targeted advertising, you are only driving people away. CNN website can afford to place ads for Budweiser because they have the appropriate visitor count, but advertising for a company that has nothing to do with your message only takes away from your credibility. If you want to make money on your website, you have to make a robust, high-visitor page first then the money will follow.

Auto starting music and video

Refrain from adding music to your website. Music or video that starts when the pages load only drives people away. Chances are that someone is accessing your site after hours when everyone is sleeping, and your techno soundtrack wakes the hell out of everybody. You just lost a visitor for no reason. And it’s not guaranteed that the visitor agree with your taste in music either. Now why would you want to make enemies when you don’t have to? If you must have music on your page, give the user the choice to start the piece if they want to.

Size matters

Studies have shown that most people find full width websites less appealing than centered width sites. The reason is that your eyes can see the contents better as a whole when it’s centered rather than scanning side to side. It also gives the visitor a room to breathe by not cluttering the whole screen with your agenda. Same goes for busy backgrounds compared to simple colors.

Selling on the site

If you are selling something on your website, let the buyer know right away how much it is. Don’t blabber on for three pages about why they should buy your double ended, authentic, classic, deluxe, custom-designer, luxury, prestige, high-quality, premium-select, gourmet, fully automatic “Dildo” in a genuine imitation leather-style carrying case with authentic vinyl trim. Just say a Dildo for sale – $2.99 with $45 shipping. Get to the point.

And please don’t force your customers to place your products in the cart to see the price. They are there to buy things, not to play hide and seek. And NO, it doesn’t make them buy your junk because it’s already in the cart. They will close that cart the same way they opened it.

The design of the site

The design alone will not bring more visitors to your site, your content will. The design is an important factor but more importantly it should complement the content. Just imagine watching a movie made by your favorite director and actors that happens to have a mindless and boring script. No matter what they do to visually entertain you, the movie is going to suck, and you won’t watch it again. The same goes for the web. A good content in a crappy site will attract more visitors than a crapy content in a visually great site.

Keep your content consistent

If you are a political writer, don’t write articles about Salsa dancing, unless you’re talking about George Bush making out with Liza Minnelli at a Salsa dance festival in Cuba. People come to your political site to read about politics so don’t confuse your audience. And I don’t care how much you love fluffy, but if the content doesn’t have anything to do with your precious cat, you shouldn’t put her picture there either. (Please stop making personal web-pages for your pets. Animals can’t read, and other people don’t really care about your pets. That’s why fluffy was at the pound for free to begin with.)

Blog, Blog, Blog

Blogging has become one of the most important activities on the web. It’s a great way to reach out and tell the world whatever you want. Blogging should be used for every site, regardless of the content. People like to know everything and blogging can increase your audience dramatically if done right.

Most “experts” advise on publishing “something” regularly to keep your audience coming back. I disagree with that. That is true if you have something interesting to say. But if you don’t, it’s better not to post anything. At least your subscribers will wonder what the hell happened to you and when you do post something, they will read it more eagerly. If you just publish nonsense day after day to fill the void, you lose your audience much more quickly, and they will never come back.

Think of your blog as a restaurant. Most decent restaurants will make you wait at the door before you get your table, even though you can clearly see a table open. The reason for that is that they are either backed-up in the kitchen with orders or don’t have the adequate staff to attend to you. Most restaurant owners will tell you that it’s better to lose a customer at the door for waiting too long than to lose a customer unhappy at the table. Those who don’t get to eat will come back another time, but those who get bad food or bad service never will.

To flash or not to flash

I admit that Flash is a fantastic tool and no other tool is going to do its job as well. I write flash slideshow albums all the time. They are great looking, easy to load and are compatible with almost all the browsers with no effort. Another great use of flash is for videos. The sizes are small, the quality is acceptable and they just work better than anything else. Flash also works magic for site headers, advertising banners and ads.

But everything has a place and it should be used to moderation. For some odd reason many people think that animated Flash Intros add professionalism to the website. That is 100 percent false and then some. Flash Intros only frustrate the users and waste precious time and bandwidth. Nobody is going to love you more because you showed them a clever cartoon. More likely they’ll close your page before your masterpiece of codes has even finished loading. Not even mentioning how many frustrated visitors you will repel that don’t have fast internet connection. So unless you own Disneyland, or the Flash Intro enhances your content dramatically stay away from it.

Another thing is building a whole flash based website. Flash can do an awful lot, but it has some serious drawbacks. Flash sites are mostly image based and images are heavy to download and unreadable by search engines and screen readers. Search engine crawlers look for HTML links and Flash site have very few if any. Almost all links are in Flash and spiders don’t understand that. Serious web developers have to try their damn hardest to get a good search engine rank out of a flash based site, and the only certain cure to it is to have two versions of the same site; one in flash and one in HTML. Now you just doubled your work and cost because you wanted to look cool.

Flash only runs if the plug-in is installed and although most browsers already come with that, the fact is that many people who browse internet don’t allow installation of “things” they are not familiar with. So there goes another group of audience you just lost. So take the advice and don’t be sorry later. Use flash only if you have to and when your application asks for it. It’s no secret that most people who are hardcore Flash supporters are the people who never touch a PC and sleep with their Apple computers; the alternatives, the cool-wanna-be’s and those who have more money than brain. Don’t use flash to show-off or to be different. Because you will be different; the kind that no one wants to see. (Cheap shot to Mac lovers? Nah, I like Macs. I don’t sleep with one though.)

Go Open Source

When you buy a piece of software, you have no ownership over it. You are given a limited non-exclusive, non-transferable, non-sub-licensable, and perpetual license with more limitation and fine-prints than the IRS. It’s like buying a house and not being able to add a garage to it or join two rooms together. My opinion is that if you pay for it, you should have unlimited rights to do whatever you like with it.

And that brings me to the Open Source web publishing platforms. There are multitudes of open source publishing platforms available and majorities are free. But they all have one thing in common: you have the right to modify the source code. WordPress is such a platform. WordPress started as an open source project and it has evolved to become the most respected open source publishing tool for professionals and armatures. And you can modify the hell out of anything you want without a guy in a black suite knocking at your door. In fact some of the most prestigious sites in the world run on WordPress including The NY Times Blogging system. They believe in what I believe:

  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose.
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish.
  • The freedom to redistribute.
  • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others.

So next time you need a webpage, give WordPress or the other open source providers a try. And if you have no idea how to build a website or you want it professionally done, ask your developer to build it on an open source platform. They can do it and they will be happy to do it. You vote by your use and your vote counts. Sharing promotes creativity, money-mongering kills creativity.

I’m sure I missed a lot of things in this article so add them to the comments as you see fit. Share your knowledge.

5 Responses to How to make a great website and avoid common mistakes

  1. Avatar for Colin Williams Colin Williams says:

    Great article, it confirmed my ideas on website design. I am a photographer with no formal training in website design but enjoyed the challenge of creating my own

  2. Avatar for Sean Sean says:

    Im loving your article writing and tips, very handy for the newcomers and ‘old hands’ alike. Your quirky sense of humour and bluntness is refreshing.
    Ive taken some of your tips from here and other articles and forming up my own strategy to go ahead with my own website. Cheers:)

  3. Avatar for John John says:

    Solid writing and great stuff, especially for the novice.

  4. Avatar for Chris Sorbi (Admin) Chris Sorbi (Admin) says:

    I’m glad you liked it. I know that flash has gotten much better over the years, but i still disagree with you. Nothing is worth compromising SEO over. Without traffic, your site can be made out of gold and it would still be worthless.

  5. Avatar for Leila Leila says:

    Great and loooooooooooooong article. Although I disagree with you on the use of flash. Flash has gotten much better over the years and I think It adds to the site even if it takes away from obvious SEO benefits. And I love Macs, so that must be it. 🙂

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