10 archaic website features to avoid

Visual gimmicks, unwanted music and video, navigation horrors—all these will chase away visitors. Here’s what to ditch so you can serve your audience properly.

The Web has seen quite a lot of change since the first site was launched in 1991 (that site belonged to CERN, and you can see the original here). Designs, navigation, content, programming language, responsive capabilities—everything has evolved dramatically.

Yet we all occasionally see sites that make us feel as though we’ve slipped back in time (for some real fun, go to an actual Web Wayback Machine and type in the URL of a site of some major brand, like Pepsi then select a year and month/day to see what that site looked like on that date). They still feature some of the goofy gimmicks that were hallmarks of a burgeoning industry but are now remnants of a time we should be proud to have moved past. These gimmicks, at this point, are annoying and will probably turn away some of your best prospects.

Here are the top 10 features NOT to include on your site (or to remove if you’ve still got ’em):

1. Flash. Flash graphics and animations were fun at first; they captured viewers’ attention and showed what’s possible beyond text. (Flash made the Internet more like TV.) Now, Flash is a bit of a loading nightmare.
If you’ve ever sat through a long load—even a “clever” one a glass filling with beer or an acorn taking root—you’ve been on a Flash site. Probably not for long, though; slower page loads result in increased page abandonment. (Forty percent of consumers abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load.)

What’s worse is that iPhones and iPads can’t view flash and search engines don’t “see” it. On the other hand, search engines love text, and your home page should have it. Your home page is your front door, your first impression, your billboard. Don’t waste this space; use it to tell visitors what you do and what you have to offer.

Here’s an example of a beautiful and creative site created by a very talented Flash designer that makes my case: http://portfolio.lutincapuche.com/

2. Flash/HTML versions. Some developers give visitors a choice when they reach the home page: Would you like our Flash or HTML version? Don’t ask visitors to do anything before your home page is presented; there are too many other sites that’ll give them what they want immediately. You might understand the difference, but anyone older than 40 or so probably does not and won’t know which to select.

3. People coming out from behind the home page and walking around. Some things were once done on Web pages simply because they could be. Most people find it terribly intrusive (and a little weird) to see a guy or woman walking out onto the home page and interrupting their viewing with a welcome message or “great offer this week only.”

If you want to have visitors “meet” your CEO or sales rep, a video (one that doesn’t automatically start playing) is a much more accommodating way to do it.

4. Reverse type. White type on a black background is difficult to read and slows comprehension. One study showed 70 percent of those who read black text on white had “good” comprehension of the topic, while 0 percent had the same level of comprehension of the same material. (In fact, 88 percent had “poor” comprehension of the white-on-black type.)

5. Weird navigation. Navigation on the top of the page—or along the left side—is what the world has come to expect because it makes sense. It’s essentially your website’s headline and you shouldn’t hide it or make it a challenge to find.

We’ve seen navigation spinning in semicircles, floating on flower petals, on a dinner plate, lined up along a kidney-shaped swimming pool. These probably seemed clever—or even groundbreaking—at the time, but convoluted navigation is a hurdle the visitor doesn’t want to jump over. See No. 1 for an example of difficult navigation.

RELATED: Ragan’s new distance-learning site houses the most comprehensive video training library for corporate communicators.

6. Music. Aside from the fact that your barbershop quartet ballad or “Deliverance”-like banjo tune alerted everyone in my office that I’m not working, music is corny and distracting.

The only sites that should feature music are sites selling it—and even then it should not automatically start when the page loads. Video that plays automatically is almost as bad. The decision to listen to music or watch a video should be your visitors’.

7. Home pages with no copy, just images. A typical Google search returns millions of results. If your prospects hit your site and don’t quickly find something that addresses what they’re looking for, they’ll go right back to search results to find a site that does.

A home page is a crucial first step in confirming for visitors that your site is the resource they’ve been looking for; don’t delay in presenting your message then and there.

8. Sites that don’t work in multiple browsers. According to Pingdom and as of March 2013, Internet Explorer has 39 percent of North America’s browsing traffic, but Chrome and Firefox (28 percent and 16 percent, respectively) are also widely used—perhaps by your next big prospect. Make sure your site is programmed to ensure optimum and consistent performance on all the major browsers.

9. Crazy mouseover effects. Graphic navigation buttons (kittens that purred, people who burped, semis that honked) were once popular, but fortunately your visitors have become more sophisticated. Text alone is more clear and direct and doesn’t distract from your message (unless, of course, burping is your message).

10. Other silly effects. These might include blinking text, bobbling heads, or peeling pages. If a feature doesn’t reinforce your message or demonstrate your expertise, get rid of it. When it comes to design, less is usually more.

The point of having a website is to tell your prospects how you can help them solve a problem. Say it simply, elegantly, and powerfully—without bells and whistles that date your site and dilute your message.

Meg Hoppe is the creative director at Weidert Group and has extensive experience spanning a variety of industries and businesses. A version of this article first appeared on Business2Community.

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