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Gopher Holes of Web Design: the Bad, the Worse, and the Ugly

The gopher holes of website design range from features that just plain look bad to those that deter Internet surfers from visiting the site. Some of these many faults are not even seen by the visitor yet, like a network of burrows below the ground's surface, undermine the technical usefulness of the website.

Following are a few flaws that are—painfully!—obvious to the visitor. If a site has these visible flaws, the odds are that more lurk below the site's surface:

Stale Clipart: You know the one, the ubiquitous stylized horse that came out with WordPerfect in the mid-90s. There are quite a few of these clipart clichés and they turn up like bad pennies on websites all over the Internet. They are hallmarks of uncreative sites and do nothing to differentiate one business from the next.

Blinking, Spinning, Flashing Text and Excessive Animation: Unless a surfer is only interested in looking at videos and other things that move, content is still king on websites. People are looking for information on the Internet, not for a psychedelic headache. A little goes a long way when it comes to attention-getting animations and textual motion on a screen. Too much distracts from the message and detracts from the business' image.

Abuse of Color: The web-based palette includes 216 colors, and by golly, some website creators are bound and determined to use every one of them. Unless the visitor was color-blind when they arrived at these sites, they will be blinded-by-color when they leave.

In addition to using too many colors, many bad websites use the wrong colors: combinations that clash, colors that trigger the wrong psychological response, and colors that do not offer enough contrast.

Font Over-Population: A "font" is the typestyle on a page. Basic design principles call for using one, two, or sometimes even three different fonts on a page. Fonts do not find power in numbers: the more there are on one page, the less potent their message. With one exception: ransom notes use a lot of fonts, and those have pretty potent messages....

Great Big Image Files: You stumble across these when you try to load a web page and find yourself sitting and waiting and sitting and.... These are Great Big Image Files masquerading as web pages. On these pseudo-pages, there is no text or any other information until the GBIF appears. The viewer may decide to wait for the screen to load and hope that the content will be worthwhile, but more likely he will just move on, leaving the still-loading GBIF in his dust. The GBIF: an inconvenience for the viewer, and a disaster for the site-owner hoping to build business from the site.

A little sister of the GBIF is the website made of sliced image files—the SIF. These are usually created with pseudo-website designing software, such as Adobe Image Ready. They differ from the GBIF websites in that the great big image is divided into chunks: squares pieces of the image appear one by one. While this DOES give the visitor something to look at during the page loading time, these SIFs are still tendon-pullers on the gopher hole scale.

Uncompressed Image Files: A stepchild of the GBIF, these are often included on web pages with real text. Their file sizes are so gigantic that visitors may not wait around to see them. The absence or delay of their appearance on the page deprives the viewer of theoretically important content. Images that are important enough to include should be optimized so that they can be viewed in a reasonable amount of time.

Uninvited Sounds: A lot of websites utilize menus that make noise: little beeps, the occasional charming whinny or hoofbeats, and so forth. The technique is not so bad, although it can become tiresome when the sounds are played over and over. The deepest gopher holes in the Uninvited Sound category are websites that automatically play music or a long recorded message for the whole time the page is open. Quick—rush to mute the sound on your computer to escape someone else's idea of a toe-tapping ditty! Of course, if visitors don't think of muting their computers, their only escape is to leave the offending website. Again, not the desired result for the business owner.

Hide-The-Ball Navigation: About twenty years ago I read a humorous article talking about "theme restaurants." Sometimes themes are carried to the extreme: instead of the universal silhouettes of a man (in pants) and a woman (in a skirt), the restroom doors sported some theme-inspired symbol instead. The punchline? How was a person in need of using a restroom at an aquarium-themed restaurant to know if they were a "turtle" or a "tortoise" before opening the corresponding door?

Some website navigation systems are like that. Menus can do fancy things like drop down, slide out, appear and disappear, follow the cursor, and so forth. This is sometimes nifty but usually obtuse. Website visitors need to know whether they are "turtles" and how to get to the "turtle" door.

Demanding Sites: This is one of the deepest of the gopher holes, because it is just plain rude. The screen says "To view this site, you must download the latest Flash plug-in and change your screen resolution to 1639 x 897." The REAL message is "Your visit is not important enough for me to bother with letting you see my website." The website visitor can't ride in this field without leaving to first to get extra "equipment," and wouldn't want to, anyway.

Would you send a customer away from your farm or store if they were not wearing Ray-Bans through which to view your wares? Would you refuse to let them in the door until they watch a movie? So why chase website visitors away because they don't have the latest, faddiest computer gizmo to look at your site?

No one will be so devoted to seeing a website to change browsers or download gizmos to their computer. Websites should have a "come as you are" attitude, providing SOMETHING of content to anyone gracious enough to stop in, even if the visitor can't see the whole nine yards of the feature-enhanced website. For example, Flash sites should offer a non-Flash alternative. Don't chase your visitors away!

The whole point of offering an online place for your customers to "ride" is to build your business image, sales, and profits. Make it a safe pasture, free of lethal website gopher holes!

Page 1: Gopher Holes in Your Equine Website
Page 2: The Deepest Website Gopher Holes
Page 3: Gopher Holes: the Bad, the Worse, and the Ugly