Twenty Design Mistakes That Could Be Hurting Your Website

Happy February! We’re here. We did it! We made it through one whole month of 2017. How are your resolutions and goals for the year coming along? Are you sticking to them? Or have they gone the way of that one lonely candy cane you always find in the bottom of your stocking the next year?

If one of your resolutions is to up your website game and attract more of the right people to your business (and whose isn’t, really?), this quick list is for you.

I see a lot of websites. A. Lot. Consequently I see a lot of the same mistakes made over and over, and a lot of those mistakes are super simple to fix, even if you don’t know a lick of code. Since I want to see you thrive I thought this would be a great time to share some of these mistakes with you, in no particular order. So grab a cup of coffee, pull your website up in another window, and make sure you’re not turning people away without even realizing it!

1. Too many menu items

Take a look at your main menu. Does it fit neatly into one line, or does it wrap onto two? Are your menu items right next to each other or do they have room to breathe? Can you consolidate similar items in a drop down menu? I recommend keeping your main menu to between five and seven links unless the site is super information heavy. This is how people will find their way around your site, make it clear and easy to figure out!

2. Low contrast text

Just because you can easily read that light grey text doesn’t mean everyone can. Trust me, I feel your pain. I have a sincere disdain for solid black text, #becauseDesigner. But you can’t go full on whisper mode either. There needs to be a certain level of contrast between the background of your site and the text so that the majority of people can comfortably read it. There are a lot of good tools out there to check page contrast. Here’s one to start.

3. Dark backgrounds with lots of text

As a follow up to the contrast mistake, be very careful with dark backgrounds. Dark grey text on a white background is perfectly fine, but something about blocks of white text on a very dark background makes our eyes and brain go into panic mode. If you’re going to use a super dark background make sure you’re going very, very light on the text on top of it, stick to large headline text or very minimal body copy.

4. Forgetting to optimize images

This one is twofold. First, make sure you aren’t using enormous images on your website. My general rule is no wider than 2000 pixels for any graphic, with the exception of full width background images and slider images. Those huge images you didn’t know you were uploading can really slow things down. You can use Preview on a Mac or check out this tutorial for PC to learn how to resize your photos. And while you’re resizing go ahead and name it something that uses your keywords. A lot of people don’t realize that search engines actually pick up your photo names and Alt information. This is a great place to throw a few more of your favorite keywords in.

5. Too many colors

Ideally you’ll have already gone through the branding process with a designer and will have a pallette of 3-5 colors and a brand board with guidelines on where to use them. If you haven’t made it that far yet just follow this general rule: Keep it simple. Your website isn’t trying to attract a mate in an overpopulated tropical locale.

6. Forgetting who the site is for

This one is really easy to do, especially if you haven’t done the work to determine who your target audience is. Your end goal is for people to come to your site and feel like you’re speaking directly to them. Your target audience should be top of mind anytime you're writing content or making design choices for your brand. I understand that you love the color fuchsia, but it's possible your clients aren't fans.

>> Related: Download my guide for figuring out your target audience

7. Not sticking to one writing style

If you’re going to write your About page in third person extend that voice through the rest of the site, don’t rotate between first and third person. I personally prefer a nice light tone that feels like a conversation with the reader, but your mileage may vary depending on the type of site you have. The important point here is that you make a choice and stick with it. Consistency is key to building a brand people want to do business with.

8. Too much crap (Slowing down the site)

One of the reasons I switched to Squarespace is there's more built in functionality that you would need a plugin to accomplish with WordPress sites. Granted, if you can code you can customize either platform without bogging it down too much, but if coding isn't your strength you'll need to keep a close eye on how many plugins, images, and files end up on your website.

9. Not making your phone number clickable

Have you ever been browsing a site on your phone and decided to give them a call, only to realize the phone number wasn’t clickable? I have, and it drives me insane. It’s 2017. I don’t want to copy and paste your phone number, or rely on my not-so-great memory to make it from the browser to the dialpad. There are two things you can do to make sure your phone number is clickable. First, format it the standard way, with dashes between the segments. Don’t get fancy here. Most phones will pick up standard phone numbers and allow you to dial them straight from your browser. For the phones that won’t, you’ll need an extra push. You can create a link around the phone number itself, just like you would if you were linking to a webpage. For the URL use “tel:1-555-234-5678” without the quotes, and obviously with your own phone number.

10. Unreadable fonts

Not all fonts are created equal, and loving the style of a font doesn’t make it right for your website. You wouldn’t use a script font for your body copy, but don’t forget that your headers and subheads are just as important. Lots of people won’t read your body copy but will scan your headers to decide if you have something valuable to offer. Make sure they're just as legible as everything else. Save the fancy accent fonts for less important areas where you just want a little more style.

11. Not answering your readers questions

Sometimes we get so involved in our businesses that we forget not everyone knows what we know. I’ve definitely been guilty of that myself. It’s so easy to assume that everyone is on the same page we are and as a result leave a potential client confused by what we’re offering or not understanding how to get started. Ask someone outside of your industry to take a look at your site and answer who you are, what you do, why they should work with you/buy from you, and how they go about doing that.

12. Forgetting that not everyone starts at your home page

Expanding on that last point a little bit, make sure that no matter what page of your site someone lands on they’re able to quickly find the answers to who, what, why, and how.  

13. Assuming your visitor knows what you want them to do

I’ll admit that I still struggle with this one myself. It can feel bossy to tell someone exactly where to go and what to do, and even though I realize it’s a mindset issue I still feel salesman-y when I tell someone to buy now or sign up for my newsletter. Regardless of how much value you’re offering your potential clients, you can’t expect them to automatically know what you want them to do on your site. Try to remember that most people want to be given clear directions on how to work with you or buy your products and not just left on their own to wander around your frequently asked questions.

14. Making it about you

It’s not about you. Unless it really is about you, but even then it’s not really. People don’t watch Oprah to hear her talk about herself. They do it to learn something about themselves, or be entertained, or improve their own lives in some way. The same goes for your website. Offer as much value as you can, always.

15. Assuming everyone has the same capabilities you do

There are people of all different abilities accessing your site in lots of different ways. Visually impaired people may use screen reader software that reads the text of your website to them. Color blind people are probably not going to want to click the green button instead of the red one. Not everyone experiences the internet in the same way, and you definitely want to keep that in mind when making design choices.

16. Using images instead of text

Search engines can’t read text inside of images. Neither can screen readers. You can get around this to an extent by using Alt and Title tags with your images, but you’re still at a disadvantage. I totally get that you like the fancy font you found in Canva and you want it for all of your website headers, but unless they make a web font version of it or you really know what you’re doing, stick with actual text for anything important.

17. Not utilizing hierarchy in your text

Nothing will make most people run away from your site faster than a large chunk of text with nothing to break it up. If you have a high bounce rate on your blog and aren't sure why, make sure you’re breaking your content up into readable bites. Use larger or bolder (or both) text headers to create sections, then break those sections up into smaller sections, then maybe add some bullet points or bold the important bits. You don’t have to go crazy with it, but formatting your text in a way that gives all different types of readers something to scan will help keep them around longer.

18. Not thinking through your navigation

How much thought have you put into your site navigation? Do you know where you want your visitor to go first? Where do you want them to ultimately end up? What pages are important for people to see? Sit down with a pencil and paper and sketch out a rough flow chart to help you figure out the best way to lay out your menu, then implement it. Content Management Systems like WordPress and Squarespace make it easy to change up your menu even after the site is live.

19. Asking for too much, too soon

Give, give, give, then ask, then give some more. Don’t expect to snag your visitor’s email address at the top of the front page unless you have something damn compelling to offer in return. That doesn’t mean you can’t have an opt-in “above the fold” on your homepage, but it does mean stop begging for email signups before they’ve even had a chance to finish the blog post.

20. Flash

Just don’t, please. K. Thanks.

Did you find any of these on your own site? Feel free to add to the list in the comments!