I’ll get hate emails for what I’m about to share with you…You see, this post is not going to be popular with designers, web developers or techies…

It’s for the rest of us.

This is aimed at anyone who uses a website for their business, or is intending to set one up.

I can’t think of any enterprise that couldn’t benefit by having a website that  engages with visitors and sells your services and products.

However, just having a functioning website doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing things right.

The opposite, in fact…

Without even knowing it, your website might be riddled with mistakes that:

  • REPULSE your visitors, sending them away to your rivals
  • FAIL to keep your visitors engaged with what you have to say
  • RUIN your credibility
  • CONTRADICT your brand, sending out the wrong messages
  • PREVENT you from making sales, capturing email addresses and building a social media following

But what’s really shocking is that you can do all this damage simply by making basic errors with your website’s layout…. that’s before anyone’s even read what you have to say yet!

According to a Canadian academic study published in the journal Behaviour and Information Technology, internet users make decisions about a website in just one 20th of a second!

So here are 17 website design mistakes you probably don’t even know you’re making that could be stopping potential customers from sticking around.

1. Splash Pages

A lot of websites still have this: a front page that’s filled with lovely-but-useless images and NO content.

They are called splash pages.

And they suck.

Usually there’s only a little bit of text that says something like ‘Enter’

You click and only then do you enter the REAL website, where all the articles, images, links, ‘about me’ page and other essentials are hiding.

Why are these pages so annoying?

Because they are far more concerned about the business showing how arty/clever/important they are.

It’s a barrier they have erected between the prospect and their website.

It implies the visitor is less important and must wait before they can enter.

Why make visitors work to get into your site?

What’s the point in adding another click to the process?

Your front page should be your home page, filled with content.

At a glance the visitor should be able to understand exactly what your website is about and why they should dive in immediately.

2. No Search Box

The search box is one of the absolute essentials of all websites.

Without them, we are quite literally lost

Almost all the WordPress themes give you the option of having a search box where the visitor can put in the word, product or name they are looking for.

It’s a vital shortcut for busy people who want information quickly.

Yes, you want them to navigate and browse your site, but there will be many who have a very specific thing they are interested in.

Give them the opportunity to go directly to it before they leave in a huff.

3. Poor contrast

A classic mistake. You find a great looking website, but the text is in a faint brown or grey which fades into the colour behind it.

Keep the contrast high so that the text really sticks out on the page. Again, don’t make it hard for people to quickly and easily scan your page to know immediately what you’re writing about.

Here’s an example (click to enlarge, then click ‘back’)…

Can you see what I mean? It’s like trying to see through a mist!

4. The Wrong Font
Ok, so I’m a bit of a font facist, but it’s only because I care!

First, avoid using serif fonts.

A serif font is one of those, like Times New Roman, where the letters have little tails trailing from the bottoms and tops of the letters.

It looks good on paper… but not so good on a website.

Sans serif fonts (including Helvetica, Arial, Futura and Franklin Gothic) are far easier to read online.

Here’s a sans serif font used on the BBC News website (click to enlarge, then click ‘back’)…

And here’s an example of website with all kinds of serif fonts, italics, comic sans and other no-nos (click to enlarge, then click ‘back’)…

5. Hard to read copy

People are at your website because they want to read your content and probably don’t have a lot of time.

So make sure it’s easy to read and digest.

  • No long blocks of text that look difficult and unfriendly, break them into small paragraphs and vary the size of those paragraphs
  • Use sub-headlines to break up sections of the text easily so the eye can scan down and pick up essential information
  • Make sure there is white space on either side of the text and that the text is in a relatively narrow column rather than spread out across the page. Again, see the BBC’s website above for a good example.

Here’s an example of a post claiming to be about ‘website design mistakes’ that actually makes this error (click to enlarge, then click ‘back’)…

In a worst case scenario, you’ll end up looking like a dodgy SEO sp*m site like this (click to enlarge, then click ‘back’)…

6. No links to other parts of the website

Want your visitors to stick around longer, reading more posts, and browsing your products and services?

Then make sure your blog posts, articles and pages include links that push readers to other pages, or to your products and email sign ups.

And while on that subject…

7. Broken links

Those links that show up as a “404 error” page or that simply don’t do anything when you click on it are really off-putting to visitors (no matter how much of a spin you put on it.)

In many cases they can ring alarm bells, indicating that there’s a problem with your business or that your website is old, out of date, or even abandoned.

Especially look out for affiliate and product links that have been taken down. Clicking a link to see something like this will terrify people.

8. Cheesy stock photography

There are some great stock photo sites, and some terrible, tacky ones.

Using obvious stock images signals to your visitor that you are artificial and maybe even untrustworthy.

Where appropriate, take photos yourself. Any smart phone will take decent enough pictures for your website.

Or buy a decent camera.

If you sell physical products, it might be an idea to invest in a photographer to take professional-looking shots.

For blog posts, see if you can use images that you’ve taken yourself to make you stand out, look credible and give your site a personal touch.

This article on designshack.net has some good tips on stock photography.

9. Your Images are too large

When you put photos on your website, make sure their file size is not too large, otherwise they will slow down your website, meaning people have to wait while your page loads up, causing frustration and – usually – forcing them to go elsewhere for what they want.

If you have Photoshop, then you can easily lower the size of a picture there.

Or try one of the resizing tools online like picresize.com orshrinkpictures.com

10. No ‘share’ option

One of the most basic aims of having a website is to attract as many qualified prospects to read your content as possible.

But this won’t happen if you don’t allow your visitors to share content that they value.

So make sure there’s the option on the page – at the top and the bottom – to share on Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, Pinterest and any other social media networks that your prospects are likely to use.

For instance, here’s what the bottom of each post on Brainpickings.org looks like (click to enlarge, then click ‘back’)…


11. No social media/email links

You should also allow people to join up to any social network accounts that your business has, and also sign up for your emails.

So make sure you have a link to your Twitter, Facebook (and any other) pages at the bottom of each webpage or post, or permanently on the website so they’re always visible.

12. Reversed out text

Another one of my personal bugbears.

Avoid white-on-black text like this:

While it’s fine for menu bars or very small sections, it’s hard to read when it’s the main copy.

Some designers love it… but be firm and go for high contrast.

13. Too much content on one page

Don’t cram one page full of lots of different ideas, images, videos and offers (click to enlarge, then click ‘back’)…

Each page should do something particular.

For instance, a page for a blog post, a page for ‘about me’, a page for sales copy, a page for contact details.

Don’t try and create one single webpage that does everything, as the visitor will have to work hard to scroll through to find what they want.

This one does that wrong – and almost everything else on this list, for that matter:

14. Using inappropriate images

One sure sign of a dodgy or amateurish website is one that has images that don’t really support your business brand or identity – or that don’t suit your prospects’ taste.

For instance, scantily clad women, or pictures of wads of cash, flashy cars and other images could ring alarm bells for people, even if your content is good.

Same goes for cheap clip art or really poor quality self-taken photos.

15. Outdated information

You need to make sure that the website isn’t advertising offers that have finished, or using phone numbers and email that have changed, or information that is now out of date.

16. Poor navigation.

You visitors should be able to move through the website pages to find what they want, easily and quickly. Make sure there is a menu bar, categories, shortcuts and link – and that it’s NOTHING like this (click to enlarge, then click ‘back’)…

17. Poor choice of colour

It’s important that the colours on your website:

  • Match the tone of your content
  • Tap into the mood of your visitor
  • Give out the right emotions and signals for your subject  matter
  • Don’t distract from the copy, for instance, this kaleidoscopic affair (click to enlarge, then click ‘back’)…


This is something I’m going to cover in the next issue of Digital Upstart.  I have a web-developer and marketer working on a guide to make sure you get your colour choice right.Finally, I wonder if you could help me…

What really annoys you about websites?

I’ve come up with 17 website design problems, but there are plenty more. I’ve love to hear from you what irritates you about websites you visit. Some examples would be fantastic.

I’ll share some of the biggest clangers in the coming weeks.

Send them over to me nick@digitalupstart.co.uk

Or link up with me on Twitter: @nickupstart

In the meantime, here’s something that might help show you what not to do.

It’s a site called Websites that suck 2014


PS: Would you like a free critique of your website? I’ve had some great submissions so far and will share my assessment in the next issue.
Remember, the only requirement is that if  you are chosen I can publish my findings in the future issue or on the Digital Upstart website.Let me know at the usual email address: nick@digitalupstart.co.uk