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Top Web Design Mistakes to Avoid
By: Paul Steinbrueck

When it comes to web design, I break things down into two areas: aesthetics (the way a site looks) and usability (the way a site functions).

Here are nine web design mistakes I see on a regular basis that make websites look bad.

1. Creating a design misrepresents the organization
The design of your site should express who you are as an organization. Childrenís ministry sites should not look corporate. If the people in your church are all one ethnicity, donít use multi-ethnic stock images. Donít try to appear cooler, younger, or bigger than you are.

On the flip side, donít settle for a website design that undermines who you are. If youíre a strong, growing church, donít settle for a site that looks like it was made by a high school intern.

This is probably not something you can evaluate well all by yourself. Ask people who know your organization well, ďDo you think this website represents who we really are?

2. Using a theme/template that doesnít match your logo
This happens a lot with organizations that use free templates or themes for their site. The end result is a site with a lot of different colors that donít really go well together. Your logo colors should flow throughout the design of your site. This is one of the major benefits of having your site custom designed.

3. A site that is too narrow (or too wide)
Once upon a time when computer monitors were 640◊480, the rule of thumb was to design websites to be no more than 640 pixels wide. Now with much higher resolution screens, anything under 960 pixels wide just looks old. On the other hand, thereís nothing more annoying than having to scroll left to right to read something, so donít go too wide.

4. Using a busy background behind text
People should not have to strain to read a web page. There should be very little if any texture behind the text on a website, and, by all means, donít use a picture behind your text. Make sure there is good contrast between the color of the text and the background.

The next five mistakes have more to do with website content than web design or themes, but Iím going to mention them because weíre talking about aesthetics. And after all, if a website looks bad, nobody really care whether itís because of a bad theme or bad content.

5. Using too many fonts and colors
No, using lots of different fonts and colors does not make you more creativeÖnor does it help to emphasize the important parts of the page. It just makes it look busy, messy, and disjointed.

6. Pages that are too long
People donít read web pages they skim, and the longer a page is, the faster they skim. If you really want to put your 20-page manifesto online, break it into 20 separate pages (and use short paragraphs, headings and bullet points, but now weíre really getting into content issues).

7. Ugly, distracting ads
On-site ads are a viable business model for some blogs and news sites, but not for a church, school, ministry or business. The ads detract from the look of the site, compete with the message, and lure visitors away. This goes for partnership/affiliate links and banners, too. If providing visitors with links to additional resources is within the mission of your organization, its best to place them on a designated page or well-designed area in a sidebar.

8. Animated GIFs
Enough said.

9. Blank/under construction pages
Blank pages look poor and frustrate visitors. ďUnder constructionĒ messages and graphics are no better. All good websites are under perpetual construction and updated regularly.

Now letís turn our attention to usability issues Ė problems that make a website difficult for visitors to use.

1. Inconsistent design
Every page in a website should have the same basic look and layout. If a page looks different from the rest of the site, people will get confused, wondering if they mistakenly moved on to another site.  If a page is laid out differently or the menu is different, people will get confused and have difficulty doing what they want to do.

2. Flash sites
Creating a website entirely in Flash has never been a good idea, but now that tens of millions of people view sites with iPhones and iPads, which donít support Flash, itís a ginormous mistake.

3. Really long menus
The primary purpose of a navigation menu is to help people get to get to the information or functionality they want as quickly and effortlessly as possible. If there are more than sevenitems in any menu (main or sub-menu), it becomes challenging for the visitor to find what theyíre looking for. If a site contains hundreds of content items, itís critically important to group content into categories and sub-categories in a way that will be intuitive to the visitor.

4. More than one menu
Just as with really long menus, having more than one navigation menu makes a site confusing and hard for the visitor to find things. Just to be clear, Iím not referring slide-out or drop-down sub-menus. Those are usually very user-friendly. Iím talking about having a horizontal menu across the top and then another menu below it or in a sidebar.  Consolidate!

5. Bad site organization
Another navigation pitfall is having pages/functionality under menu headings that donít make sense to the visitor. Before a site is designed (or redesigned), take the time to do content mapping. Using post-it notes (with each page/function on its own note) on a whiteboard can make this easier and prevent leaving anything out.

6. Insider language
Using insider language in the navigation menu, icon, or other navigation graphics also makes it difficult for visitors to find the information or functionality theyíre looking for.  Churches are notorious for this with ministry names like ďFuel,Ē ďDrive,Ē ďAxisĒ and ďHearts on Fire.Ē Visitors have no idea what these terms are, so be sure to use them in combination with more descriptive terms like ďMiddle School (Fuel).Ē

7. No menu/link to homepage
Make it easy for visitors to get back to your homepage. Itís become a common design convention to make the organizationís logo link back to the homepage. I highly recommend it. If for some reason a site doesnít do that, itís absolutely necessary to have a ďHomeĒ button or navigation menu item.

8. Dead links
Pretty obvious usability problem, right?

9. Violating linking conventions
People have come to associate underlined text with links. Putting links into text without underlining that text will cause people to overlook the links.  Underlining text that does not link will confuse and frustrate some people. Donít make people think; just follow the convention.

10. Requiring plugins
Any content that requires a plugin is going to be missed by some users who donít have the plugin and donít want to install it.

11. Hidden contact info
Donít make it difficult for people to get in touch with you and ask you questions. Address, phone number, and either an email address or link to a contact form should be on every page of every website.

12. Broken functionality
Another pretty obvious one here, but forms that donít submit, videos that donít play, and shopping carts with error messages give a poor user experience. Be sure to test these things to death, and in multiple browsers (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome and Safari, at the very least).

Paul Steinbrueck is co-founder and chief executive officer of www.OurChurch.Com.

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