CXO

15 ways to run a terrible website

Irritating website characteristics can annoy and drives users away from your business. See below what website design blunders you're guilty of and how to prevent them.

If you're old enough to remember the horrendous content displayed on Geocities websites back in the 1990's you can call yourself a seasoned internet veteran. You can find some hilarious examples around the web, but suffice to say, the dawning age of the internet was one of experimenting with what worked—and what didn't.

Websites have come a long way since then, and for the most part are more polished and professional, especially business-related sites. However, there remain some stubborn pet peeves among users, which plague some sites and drive away customers (or potential ones).

With that in mind, here are 15 tongue-in-cheek tips on how to run a terrible website.

SEE: Job description: User experience specialist (Tech Pro Research)

1. Require a certain browser/plugin

It amazes me that some sites still depend on a certain browser, or at the very least offer their full range of features and accessibility on only one browser. For instance, I deal with two business-related sites at my job that depend on using Internet Explorer.

I suppose it's understandable if the company makes said browser (such as Microsoft). However, in many cases it's simply a fact that the web server or various related apps aren't elegant enough to support the range of available web browsers out there.

Worst of all are the sites, which don't bother telling you that they depend on a specific browser for best results, forcing you to guess (or abandon your efforts to use the site entirely).

It's the same for plugins. Being told that you have to install an Adobe plugin, for instance, can turn into a frustrating exercise. Some users may have locked-down browsers, which they can't add plugins to. Chrome is usually the best of the bunch here, often already having the necessary additions, but for best results avoid such requirements where possible.

SEE: Hiring kit: User experience specialist (Tech Pro Research)

2. Use a cumbersome URL

How can you spot an amateur website? The URL often gives it away. What works better: www.company.com or www.joeandbobstastyclamshack.com? To work well, keep the URL short and snappy, especially for people who type it in manually. What's worse? Using a hosted site with a link like www.hostingorg.com/joeandbobstastyclamshack.com.

For the above example I'd go with www.jbclamshack.com.

3. Annoy or distract the user

One of my biggest gripes as an IT guy is when I google a certain problem, click a link to a vendor website (which purports to offer a solution), start avidly reading, and then get hit with a pop-up asking me to take a survey. I have responded affirmatively to 0.00% of such requests.

It's also frustrating to use an ad-blocker and be told by a website that you can't view any content until you disable said ad-blocker. I realize websites depend on ad revenue to exist, but such heavy-handed approaches cause many users (myself included) to just go somewhere else.

SEE: Research: The evolution of enterprise software UX (Tech Pro Research)

4. Make the user login to interact with the site

It is time-consuming and cumbersome to force a user to create a login account and login to interact with a website. I realize many sites must require this for you to post content, such as when replying to a news article, as spammers and scammers would quickly overrun such comments sections posting nonsense. However, it's absurd when a site demands that you create an account simply to give an article a virtual thumbs-up.

5. Make the user log in and then take them to the homepage

We've all come across a website where you are told to log in to proceed with your action, such as replying to another user's comment.

As I've said, that's fair enough to prevent spammer or scammer antics, but when the user logs in, make sure they're not taken directly to the site's homepage—let them continue with their action. Nobody wants to hunt for the content they just wanted to reply to.

6. Set a low timeout threshold

Banks are notorious for this, and I suppose I understand why, but it still causes stress. While conducting my banking online I might lose focus on the site by figuring out my checkbook details, for example, and invariably the site times me out. Then I have to log in again. So, when I pay bills online I often hurry to get the amounts entered and logged so I can click Submit as quickly as possible.

A timeout session of five minutes is fair, but anything shorter than that inconveniences and aggravates the user, making the site less desirable.

SEE: Hiring kit: Multimedia designer (Tech Pro Research)

7. Design a lousy layout/navigation

A website without an intuitive interface or one that limits the user's ability to easily find what they're looking for is burdensome.

I recall one famous printer manufacturer website, which was laid out so poorly that it was extremely hard to find drivers and downloads for my device.

Another vendor website actually had the Chat tech support function hidden so successfully that I could only reach that link by Googling it. That's a very bad vendor mistake.

SEE: System update policy (Tech Pro Research)

8. Provide substandard or no search capability

Without a search function your website is doomed. Yes, it's possible to offload that task to Google, but many already know how to do that.

Worse than no search function is a bad search function. To search for phrases and receive irrelevant or no results at all is unforgivable. Make sure the search option works well—and quickly, too. That spinning wheel (or similar Please Wait icon) leads to exasperation.

9. Provide no (or poor) mobile access

Let's face the facts: Many of us have to access websites on our phones. A site which doesn't have a mobile option (like m.facebook.com), or which renders very poorly on a mobile phone browser isn't one many people will want to use.

10. Utilize cumbersome or non-working two-factor authentication

Two-factor authentication involves something you know (a password), and something you have (a one-time code). It generally entails the use of an RSA token or a special code transmitted to your phone or email, for instance. This is required to log in.

I fully understand and support the need for two-factor authentication, but when there are too many hoops to jump through it becomes tiresome. I don't need to have a code sent to my mobile phone EVERY time I try to log into my carrier's website, or just because I'm logging in via a different PC.

Worse is when I enter my mobile number or email address to receive the code—then wait. And wait. And wait.

If you use two-factor authentication, make sure it performs in top-notch fashion.

See: IT leader's guide to cyberattack recovery (Tech Pro Research)

11. Don't maintain or update links

You know what screams "stale website?" Outdated links. When users click on the URLs you provide, those URLs should go to their intended destinations, otherwise the site loses credibility—and so do you.

12. Don't update content

Content on a website should be reviewed and updated on a periodic basis. If instructions or details change, make sure to reflect this on your website.

Also, make sure to retire obsolete content, which is no longer relevant or valid, so as to avoid wasting users time with misleading or incorrect information.

SEE: Quick glossary: Computer graphics (Tech Pro Research)

13. Make it difficult to contact you

We've all hunted for it. That elusive link on a website, which provides information for how to contact the website operators or customer service group. While I'm sure website owners would love for everything users need to be located on the site, but this isn't always the case. Provide a Contact Us link on the main page containing phone numbers, email addresses, physical mailing addresses and a feedback field, which allows users to communicate directly with you.

Which leads me to my next point...

14. Don't request or act upon communication and feedback

Invite your users to get in touch with you via the previous suggestion—and make sure to monitor communication and answer queries/requests in a timely fashion. When you facilitate contact from users, and then ignore or disregard, it's as if you are pulling a football away from someone trying to kick it.

15. Don't apply operating system or application patches

You don't want your website to become a Typhoid Mary whereby it gets infected or hacked, and then turns around and attacks users who access it. Always apply all operating system or application patches to keep your site secure—as well as data of your users confidential. Your business depends on it.

Also see

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Image: fizkes, Getty Images/iStockphoto

About Scott Matteson

Scott Matteson is a senior systems administrator and freelance technical writer who also performs consulting work for small organizations. He resides in the Greater Boston area with his wife and three children.

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