My 11 Biggest Beefs About Websites

by Doug on August 8, 2008

Nigel Tufnel: The numbers all go to eleven. Look, right across the board, eleven, eleven, eleven and…

Marty DiBergi: Oh, I see. And most amps go up to ten?

Nigel Tufnel: Exactly.

Marty DiBergi: Does that mean it’s louder? Is it any louder?

Nigel Tufnel: Well, it’s one louder, isn’t it? It’s not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You’re on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you’re on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?

Marty DiBergi: I don’t know.

Nigel Tufnel: Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do?

Marty DiBergi: Put it up to eleven.

Nigel Tufnel: Eleven. Exactly. One louder.

Marty DiBergi: Why don’t you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?

Nigel Tufnel: [pause] These go to eleven.

– from Spinal Tap, the greatest rock-and-roll movie ever

Thanks to the above scene, eleven is my favorite number. It also represents the Spinal Tap-level thinking still perpetrated by too many webmasters here in 2008. Here are 11 of my biggest beefs. I put them in order of what you’re likely to encounter when you call up a certain website.

1. Works on I.E. Only: Having a website that works only on Internet Explorer is so 2003. That’s when I.E. had 95% market share. At the time, I thought it was a good thing, since developers had been putting up with AOL’s lousy browser for too long, and Netscape’s last gasp was truly awful. But since then, I.E.’s share of the marketplace has dropped to about 80% (this site’s visitors are about 80% Firefox) — and will probably drop even lower now that Microsoft no longer makes I.E. for the Mac, whose market share is growing. In addition, more PC users are switching to browsers like Firefox and Opera for various reasons (such as speed and protection against malware). Consequently, we developers need to take other browsers into consideration again — particularly if we’re targeting people who are likely Mac users (such as designers and students). Some webmasters have refused to diversify, and are still quoting that 95% figure. Keep up with the trends, comrades! Other webmasters have responded by coding their entire sites in Flash, which is generally browser agnostic, but Flash has its own set of problems — serious problems. And that leads me to my second beef…

2. Flash Intro Movies: Flash intro animations were cute — once upon a time. But these days, they’re just annoying. You have to sit and wait for them to load, then they’re moderately entertaining at best. It takes a lot of creativity to give a Flash intro animation a “wow” factor anymore. From a development point of view, they’re expensive to create, expensive to edit, and most people I know click that “skip intro” button anyway — particularly when they’re surfing at the office and don’t want all that Flash noise to attract the boss. The only sites that should have Flash intro animations are movie sites, whose purpose (and forte) is entertainment. Want to spice up your site? Put a movie on the homepage — not QuickTime (see next beef) — and hire a professional designer and a professional writer.

3. Plug-In Required: I hate having to download a plug-in to use a website. Flash — OK, that’s fairly common, and most experienced surfers will download it early in their web-browsing. (Why Flash doesn’t come pre-installed on all computers is beyond me. Must be an issue with those greedheads over at Adobe.) What bugs me is QuickTime, which is Apple’s video player. If your audience has to download a plug-in before they can watch your movie, it better be a never-before-released scene from The Dark Knight.

4. Illegibility: I mentioned hiring a professional designer, but you have to keep an eye on them, too. Many of them see words as a “design element” rather than conveyors of important information. Consequently, you’ll find lots of sites with blocks of text that look spiffy, but are impossible to read: the text is too small — you shouldn’t have to lean into your monitor to read something if you’re younger than 50 — or the color combination is absurd (black text on gray, or white text on yellow). A common color combo these days is white text on black — which is great for short blocks of large text, like headlines. But entire paragraphs of white on black is definite headache material. What’s wrong with black on white? Another beef I have is text that consists of an image, which search engines can’t read, and which requires a designer to update. I know reading is anathema to the digital generation, but let’s give words a fighting chance on our websites.

5. Bad Writing: Sometimes the words might as well be illegible — hence, my suggestion to hire a professional writer. Obviously, you want correct grammar and spelling, but good communication goes beyond that. Many companies have their marketing executives do the writing, forgetting that many of them are MBA’s and prone to sentences like, “X Corporation is a leading provider of seamless end-to-end solutions and value-added best practices for your enterprise-level mission-critical initiatives.” Don’t believe me? Check out this site on business communications, Fight The Bull — Why Business People Speak Like Idiots by some guys from Deloitte Consulting. Ironically, Deloitte’s website is a jargonized mess. I just found this beast on their homepage: “Innovations tend to follow two routes: assimilation into the status quo or dissipation due to the lack of a sustainable business case. But disruptive innovations such as retail clinics and medical tourism veer off the beaten path, with sticking power that has the potential to change the way services are sought and delivered.” Scary, huh?

6. No Explanations: Of course, illegibility assumes that there’s text on the homepage to begin with. Lots of websites just assume you know what they are and what they do when you first land on them. Many Web 2.0 sites, such as, ask you to “Sign Up Now” before even telling you what you’re signing up for! These sites bury their explanations in the “About Us” section. Not only is that detour annoying to the prospective user, it also means all that search-engine friendly text is on a sub-page. “About Us” sections should be used for the history of the company and bios of the management — put the company or product description on the homepage! As for repeat users who don’t need the description, use cookies to automatically reroute them to their dedicated pages.

7. Mandatory Registration: It amazes me how many sites expect me to go through the registration rigmarole right off the bat. How about letting me try you out first — or at least let me watch a demo movie? And how about giving me some perks for signing up, such as an entry into a raffle? One of my biggest beefs involves going through a laborious sign-up process to use a site, then realizing it’s nothing I ever want to come back to. A lot of smaller employment sites fall into that category. I want my test drive!

8. No Registration Instructions: This is a minor beef, but it’s unfortunately too common. Ever start registering for a site only to have your registration rejected because you didn’t pick a username or password in the right format? You know, “sorry, your password must include a capital letter, a number, a Greek phrase, and the initials of your first lover, provided that you’ve actually had a lover, otherwise just use zeroes.” I understand the need to make passwords more complex, but how about providing all the registration guidelines before I start registering?

9. Dead Links and Other Errors: One reason I want a test drive before divulging my personal info is that many sites have more flaws and problems than Chinese-made dog food. Nobody’s perfect, but it kills me when I’m on a site that wants me as a customer, but they can’t even bother to make sure that most their links are working. How can I trust them with my email address, not to mention my credit card info?

10. Impossible to Find Anything: Inaccurate site maps. Invisible contact info. Insane search engines. Regardless of the size of your site, smart architecture and simple navigation are utterly imperative — particularly since Google could deposit a user somewhere deep inside of it. How will they find their way out? I picture hordes of users wandering the innards of a site like survivors on The Poseidon Adventure, yelling, “Where’s the Contact page? Where’s the Contact page?” And please don’t cheap out on search functions, particularly if your site contains over 20 pages of content. The search engine over at MySpace should be put out of its misery.

11. Ads That Annoy: Here’s one of the saddest parts about web development. We go to all the trouble of building a site that’s easy to use, easy to read, easy to navigate. It works on all browsers and doesn’t require any fancy plug-ins. It’s been quality checked again and again to root out errors. And then the webmaster hires an ad-serving business that coughs up annoying banner ads that flicker, move, dance around, or even shout at the user. The ads make dubious offers or even intrude upon the site’s usability with pop-ups or overlays — all of which damage the host site’s image and reputation. And when a user clicks on them, the banners take them far away. Lots of sites try to send visitors away before they’ve barely even landed. Now, whether ads are the best way for websites to make money is a whole other debate. But at the least, make sure they give the rest of your site a fighting chance.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to get a burger — all this talk of beef is making me hungry.

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  • Elliot Lee

    Great post! One thought – “Must be an issue with those greedheads over at Adobe.”

    Actually, I would guess it’s an issue with the folks who make the OSes – Microsoft and Apple. Then again, Linux distros can’t include it due to licensing restrictions, so it could be Adobe. Yet it seems in their best interest that Flash remain #1… it would be impossible to ignore Flash if it were as ubiquitous as the web browser.

    “What’s wrong with white on black?” – I think you mean “black on white” =P

    “…which search engines can’t read…” Google is working on recognizing stuff in videos. And I’m sure they’re working on text in images. And of course, you can use the “alt” attribute. But I do agree – real text is always better.

    “Scary, huh?” YES! That’s why people read blogs like yours :)

    Re: Mandatory Registration. If those sites gave you a test drive, you’d try them, and STILL never come back. At least if they make you register, they have a tiny chance of keeping you. Anyway, how about a mention of OpenID here?

    “Insane search engines.” Big, big problem. So many sites have useless search engines. Fortunately Google is getting better at indexing on an individual level, and it’s a simple matter for webmasters to integrate Google site-specific search.

    “…Google could deposit a user somewhere deep inside of it.” Yup, especially true of sites that use frames. Sometimes I end up on a page with no navigation whatsoever, only to discover (by hand-editing the URL) that it’s meant to framed.

    “Ads That Annoy” – that’s why we loved AdSense so much when it was just text ads. That actually was innovative. Now with Flash and animated ads, we’re back to square 1.

    Elliot Lees last blog post..PodPress WordPress 2.6 Fix

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  • Karen

    What a fun article to read. I found myself saying ya I hate that too. I loved your humor and choice of pictures, I found myself looking at your pictures and trying to guess how they were going to fit together before I read the text. Another type of site I hate is one that keeps telling you that they are going to tell you something, you read for 15 minutes and never do find what they said they were going to tell you about.

  • Medical Mitten

    The only way you can get away with mandatory registration is if you have a huge presence already. Other than that, I am not staying around to find out what the site is about

  • GaryTheMonkey

    The only way you can get away with mandatory registration is if you have a huge presence already. Other than that, I am not staying around to find out what the site is about

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