Top 10 Mistakes in Web Design That Hurt Ad Agency New Business

ten website mistakes

Usability is a critical success factor for websites. If yours isn’t easy to use it is a very poor reflection of your agency and prospects will simply leave it.

I’ve written this often, a good creative rational for your agency’s website is that it should become your agency’s online brochure. It is he place where your work resides along with your agency’s capabilities and credentials. It must be user-friendly.

Web design expert, Jakob Nielsen states that, “Web design is not a matter of taste or aesthetics — it’s a matter of science … what we actually know from our studies is that the average user experience on the Web is that of failure.”

Nielsen practices what he preaches. His own Website registered some 5 million hits last year, and he estimates that some 200,000 visitors read his bi-monthly column on how to make Web sites more “usable” — that is, easy to navigate and clearly organized so that visitors can find the information they’re looking for.

Here are his top 10 mistakes in Web design:

  1. Bad Search. Search is the user’s lifeline when navigation fails. Overly literal search engines reduce usability in that they’re unable to handle typos, plurals, hyphens, and other variants of the query terms.
  2. PDF Files for Online Reading. Users hate coming across a PDF file while browsing. PDF is an undifferentiated blob of content that’s hard to navigate. Reserve it for printing, distributing big documents.
  3. Not Changing the Color of Visited Links. Knowing which pages they’ve already visited frees users from unintentionally revisiting the same pages over and over again.
  4. Non-Scannable Text. A wall of text is deadly for an interactive experience. Intimidating. Boring. Painful to read. Write for online, not print.
  5. Fixed Font Size. Respect the user’s preferences and let them resize text as needed. Read more about letting users control font size.
  6. Page Titles With Low Search Engine Visibility. Search is the most important way users discover websites. The humble page title is your main tool to attract new visitors from search listings and to help your existing users to locate the specific pages that they need.
  7. Anything That Looks Like an Advertisement. It is best to avoid any designs that look like advertisements. Selective attention is very powerful, and Web users have learned to stop paying attention to any ads that get in the way of their goal-driven navigation.
  8. Violating Design Conventions. If you deviate on your site what is commonly done on other sites, your site will be harder to use and users will leave. Jakob’s Law of the Web User Experience states that “users spend most of their time on other websites.” Consistency is one of the most powerful usability principles: when things always behave the same, users don’t have to worry about what will happen.
  9. Opening New Browser Windows. Designers open new browser windows on the theory that it keeps users on their site. But even disregarding the user-hostile message implied in taking over the user’s machine, the strategy is self-defeating since it disables the Back button which is the normal way users return to previous sites.
  10. Not Answering Users’ Questions. Users are highly goal-driven on the Web. The ultimate failure of a website is to fail to provide the information users are looking for.

Why do Web site designers neglect to ensure usability? 2 Primary reasons:

  • “First is that they just neglect the entire issue because they think their own Web site is easy to use because they designed it so they don’t understand the need for usability testing,” says Nielsen.
  • “The second reason is that even if they recognize the need for usability, they think ‘we’ve got to bring in a team of five Ph. Ds, build a special laboratory with one way mirrors and test fifty users’ — no you don’t.”

Nielsen also points out that there are 2 things that a site can do to improve usability:

  1. “You can run a very simple user test in three days… just get some real users in.”
  2. The second method is professional analysis, which requires an expert with many years of experience to assess a Web site’s design and structure.

Read the full version of Jacob Nielsen’s article, Top 10 Mistakes in Web Design. See also: Usability 101: Introduction to Usability

photo credit: woodleywonderworks via photopin cc

About Michael Gass

Consultant | Trainer | Author | Speaker

Since 2007, he has been pioneering the use of social media, inbound and content marketing strategies specifically for agency new business.

He is the founder of Fuel Lines Business Development, LLC, a firm which provides business development training and consulting services to advertising, digital, media and PR agencies.


  1. User tests and professional analysis are great, but they are no substitution for looking at logs and analytics, and offering random surveys to find out what your site actually does for *actual* customers.

  2. Really nice and informative post.Thanks for sharing.Usability of the website is very much important so that it could attain its purpose. Some website designmistakes result in a significantly lower website performance and others might even dramatically affect customer’s experience.Web designers should avoid these mistakes if they want to create a professional website.You can try “Buraq Technologies” design services by googling it.

  3. You are welcome.

  4. Maestro BK says:

    nice one. Indeed, it was my old m8 Fritz Klaetke who reminded me to “just do a grid” for work samples. Easy to use and it allows the work to talk for you vs appearing to deceive your visitors with the latest AJAX tricks …

%d bloggers like this: