It Really Is The Little Things That Count

Nobody starts off to build a code-heavy, bloated website, so why is it that so many end up there?

One reason is the ‘what-if’ factor.

Here’s what happens:

Little things grow into big things In the initial meetings, everyone agrees that this new website should be lean and user-friendly. The website, so the story goes, will be geared towards loading quickly (great for those on dial-up connections and mobile browsers…and everyone else too, really, although those speedsters don’t often think about their monthly bandwidth caps), and keep the user in mind at all times.

Ah – how refreshing!  Making a website for a user.

The design stage is fine – everyone agrees on the easy-to-use navigation that helps users find their information quickly.  Who could say no to that? By arranging your navigation in some sort of hierarchy that makes sense to your users, you can help them find what they want quickly.  Will they look at everything on your site? Maybe not, but they’ll leave your site having had a good experience (versus being frustrated out of their tree) and are more likely to come back again or recommend your site to others (yay!).

“But wait!” someone (who was in on all the other conversations) says.  “What if the user doesn’t know to look at the top right hand corner for the home button? Let’s add ‘home’ to our main navigation so that folks will know where to find it.” And so it begins.

Without any testing or feedback from actual users, those involved in the project start to have little panic attacks that their users won’t be able to find their way back to the home page (despite the logo-linking, the upper-right-hand-corner link and the secondary navigation link at the bottom of each page). Well, if they won’t look for ‘home’ on the website, who can trust the user to look for ‘contact us’ (which is the purpose of every business site – NOT!)? So ‘contact us’ gets added to the pile. While trying to solve all of the possible ‘what ifs’, the website creators fail to notice that most of their users would find all the links just fine and they wouldn’t have to wade through all the squaddle (just made that word up) that comes from having so many choices presented.

As the development progresses, little things get added here and there that don’t add true value to the user (“Let’s move this picture to the right.” “Let’s make everything open in a new page.”). It could be argued that we create bloat byte – by – byte rather than all in one grand chunk. It becomes more difficult to argue against every little change, so the developer gives up and gives the customer what they want even though it isn’t what was agreed upon at the beginning, nor does it do the website any favours.

So – watch out for the creeping bloat by evaluating everything that you do when building the website – whether it is adding a feature or a text link and ask yourself ‘Does this make the website better?’ and ‘Does this give the user a better experience?’.  Vigilance will keep your site lean in the code and make for a smoother user experience.

Javascript menus – poof!…they’re gone!

I recently was approached by a business owner who wanted to redesign their website.  They had actually done a fine do-it-yourself job up until this point, but were ready to take it to the next level.

One of the things that I noticed in my initial assessment was that the main navigation was handled with javascript.

There are so many javascript libraries on the internet that it is easy to find one that will do neat effects with your menu, but resist the temptation.  Here’s why:

current site with javascript on

This screenshot shows the navigation on the side, because I’m browsing with javascript turned on.

current site no javascript

Poof! I disable my javascript and the navigation disappears.

Most of the cool effects that designers use to rely on javascript for can be achieved with css, and there are lots of websites to help you with out there too.

The lesson learned is that if something doesn’t function, it becomes worthless.  When it comes to your website’s navigation, it is pretty important that it functions! If you must use a menu driven by javascript or flash, the very least you should do to satisfy your ‘non-javascript-or-flash-users’ is to provide an alternative text-based menu on your website.  Your users will thank you.

Never done…

I have this floor cleaner called ‘Once N’ Done‘ (I highly recommend it) that allows me to mop my floor without having to rinse it. Yep – you just put some in the bucket with the water, slosh it over the floor and you’re done!

Unfortunately, many people approach their websites with the same kind of ‘Once N’ Done’ attitude.  In reality, a website is an ongoing project that can always be tweaked for something – better ‘call-to-action’s, better SEO, better backend – lots of ‘betters’.

The reality is that, regardless of how hard we go at the up front development process, it is really difficult to think of every use and every approach the first time out of the gate. It takes time and observation to see how people are using the website to know where to focus effort and how to best encourage the user to go from being a browser to a buyer.

For a business website, it is important not to get caught up in all the things that could be done and stay focused on funneling users towards making the owner money. This is especially important when on sites that are not e-commerce-based.  Instead they are ‘selling’ the business and asking the prospect (or user) to engage with them.

After launching a website, be sure to schedule time to review the stats over a period of time so that you can tweak and build upon the success of your website.

In summary then: Once N’ Done – great for floors, not so great for website management.

The all-Flash website – to do or not to do

I came across this little gem today while doing some research for something else (isn’t that how it always goes?) and couldn’t resist the opportunity to share.

flash website flowchartIn case you are wondering, I’m not against the use of all things Flash.  I love Flash for moving things, galleries, adding the ‘wow’ factor, etc – but not for entire sites.  In fact, I get a little ticked off sometimes when I see a site entirely built in Flash that could easily be rendered in HTML/CSS with little or no loss of …well…flash-i-ness.

You can read the entire (short) article that holds as true today as when it was written in 2006.  In fact, you can see in the comments that it has continually shown up in conversations over the years, because people are still asking the question.

The simple bottom line is that plug-ins, such as Flash, require the user to actually have the plug-in before they view your site – how rude!

Some people prefer to browse the web without plug-ins or with plug-ins disabled to avoid the longer download time or the annoying moving graphics that distract them from the real content on the site.

Others are using devices on which plug-ins have been disabled (think iPhone…) or blocked.

Whatever the reason, consider the user of your site when planning your platform.  Unless the majority of your site’s users are going to be creative-types (we love Flash and always have it enabled because it does such cool stuff!), think about dialing it back a bit.

Update April 6/10 – I was reading a blog called Nine by Blue where I read a great example of why a website shouldn’t be built entirely in Flash.  Here’s the tell-all paragraph:

The individual pages don’t have corresponding unique URLs. All content loads on a single URL — www.heartlandcafeseattle.com. This means that search engines can’t index the content as they don’t have URLs to associate with that content. In addition, the content can’t be shared on social media. The site has an events calendar, but if I saw a cool event there and I wanted to post on Facebook about it and invite my friends, I’d have to tell them to go to the home page, then click events in the sidebar, then click…  Why is this? Well, the site is entirely in Flash. It absolutely doesn’t need to be in Flash. The site could keep the exact look and feel it currently has and be in HTML.

(from Nine By Blue “Should Restaurants Care About Local Search, accessed April 6, 2010)

Hopefully the restaurant in question sees the blog and changes the site, but if nothing else, it is a great example for the rest of us of what happens when you choose ‘flashy’ over ‘web-savvy’.

Adding Copyright Info to Your Website

Adding copyright to your website reminds users that the content on your site was created by you (it was, wasn’t it?!?) and that you own the rights to it.

Because websites are generally created over time, the copyright information contains two years – the year that the information was first published to the internet and the year when changes were last made.  Many websites simply update the last date to the current year in January, but it really shouldn’t change until you put new content on your site.

Besides reminding people about who owns the content on your site, your copyright information helps users to know that you are adding new material to your website.  A website with the current year’s date in the copyright seems much fresher than one that is dated even one year prior. Internet users expect web content to be refreshed and updated regularly.