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bad-web-designGo and look at your Facebook page. Go on, right now. And don’t pretend you haven’t got one, we’ve been watching you and we know you spend six hours a day playing Mafia Wars.

OK, so what do you notice about it?

How about cleanliness? Facebook takes a lot of flak, but one thing it does well is design.

Recently we’ve started to see the introduction of customer landers, backgrounds and headers, but even these are worked into the basic layout.

You can have a hundred boxes on Facebook and it will remain a clean, clear masterclass in whitespace management.

One of the main reasons it managed to crush the crazed glittery-zwinky world of MySpace is that it doesn’t ever make your eyeballs catch fire. Anyone can use it easily.

Now let’s have a look at your website...

As a marketer, your goal is to increase traffic for that site, and you’ll often be asked to qualify that, providing reports on traffic, pageviews and other analytics.

Depending on your goals, you need to transform that traffic into either direct conversions, or an increase in ad revenue on the site itself. If it’s the latter there are plenty of tricks you can use to increase pageviews.

Problem is, all of them are awful, terrible ideas that will wreck the user experience, actively turning customers away in droves. And here they are:


If you are charging for exclusive content, then fair enough. If you aren’t, then why are you asking me to complete long registration forms?

I want to read an article. If it’s good I’ll probably come back to your site. But I’m not going to if I have to give you my name, address and Justice League Junior Fanboy number in advance.

Making users register to comment is another no-no. Yes there’s a chance of spam on your boards, but there are plenty of quick and easy ways to identify users that don’t require them to fill anything in.

You can link your comments section to Facebook, Twitter or an email server and ask people to sign in with those. If it’s one click then I’ll do it. If it requires filling in a form and receiving a confirmation link it’s an instant turn off.

Users already have too many logins and passwords to remember. Let people in easily.

If they are purchasing ask if they want to leave details to make it easier next time, but don’t grasp at their information at every step. A simple API link will be fine.


Yes, they still exist. Born in an age when animated Gifs were all the rage, popups and popunders now look just as classy.

I have no problem at all with ads on a site, I understand the need to monetise and if they are relevant I’ll often click on them.

If I suddenly hear a video for an online poker site running in the background, my first reaction is that I’ve broken my computer, followed by annoyance as I hunt around for a way to close the new window.

The click-through rates on pop-ups are nearly nonexistent and they not only annoy your visitor, they actively distract them from your content.

Avoid at all costs.

Paged Lists.

As you can guess from this post, I like lists.

I admit to having a short attention span, so having things laid out in an easy to digest form works well for me. 

Lists are engaging and usually generate solid traffic, but increasingly though, sites present them as slideshows.

The thinking behind this is sound. A visitor clicks to the next slide, and you get an extra pageview.

All well and good, apart from it being an annoying waste of time that destroys the whole reason lists work well in the first place.

Paged lists are time consuming turn-offs for visitors.

Links that open in a new window.

Hi Mr. Marketer sir, I’m one of the new wave of internet savvy customers you’ve been courting recently. Thanks for assuming that I don’t know how to set my own preferences or control my own browsing experience.

Opening an entirely new window for links looks crass and if you’re a multi-tab browser like me, then it’s a serious processing power suck.

If you have links make sure they are clearly labeled and should take you directly to that page. If the customer wants them in a new tab or window they can right/ctrl-click and make the decision themselves.

Dictating preferences is condescending and actively disrupts the customer experience.


Flash intros, automated video and  audio, splash pages, each one the work of the devil.

If I’m visiting your site then chances are I already know what you do.

Screaming about your fool-proof used car marketing strategy from a hard to find audio stream isn’t going to win you any friends.

This is the internet equivalent of a pushy salesman. If it happens to me in a shop I leave, and it’s a lot easier to leave a site than a shop.

On TV, people routinely skip the ads, so having to sit through one at the start of a video or being directed through a gimmicky flash intro is highly likely to make them abandon you before they ever get to your content.

Stop the madness now.

Despite years of hard work, these features are still widespread online. If you can combine all of these then you’ll have a crass, badly organised and annoying site that will completely destroy your click through rates, discourage repeat visits and actively harm your business.

Matt Owen

Published 30 July, 2010 by Matt Owen

Matt Owen was formerly Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or hook up on LinkedIn.

203 more posts from this author

Comments (16)

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"Dictating preferences is condescending and actively disrupts the customer experience."

That maybe so but so is assuming that some of the idiots they let loose on computers can manage to wipe their own back sides! There has to be a happy medium on this surely?

about 6 years ago



Great list. and its amazing how many even very reputable sites / blogs that are experts in this space fail one or more of your tests.

Out of interest - any examples of sites that get all / most wrong

(by the way, I am going to take the time to change the settings on links from my blog to open in the same window. Its a hobby blog, but I take your point.)

about 6 years ago



Great list - take a look at newly launched, newly branded Metro Bank http://bit.ly/drcB3p for a good example of how not to do an intro page.

about 6 years ago

Darren Hart

Darren Hart, Head of Digital at Think Publishing

Not convinced about the open in new window argument - especially as most browsers will just open up a new tab rather than a window, surely it makes sense that any inbound links are straight through and any outbound links open up in a new tab.

Agree whole heartedly with the rest though

about 6 years ago


sim stewart

It's the flash intros that really annoy me, I want to get to the facts and am not interested in 30 seconds of shaped floating around the screen on gimmick imagery. Amazingly I've recently seen some sites by companies and founders who should know better still employing flash intros, I'm assuming the audience their targeting is still firmly routed in the 90's.

about 6 years ago


Tony P

Paged lists must be the brainchild of maniacs who think that inflated page impressions will equal X times the profit for the site.  A classic case of putting projected returns over usability.

about 6 years ago

Matt Owen

Matt Owen, Head of Social at Econsultancy

Hi all - Steve I had a laugh at your point, yep there's definitely a need for balance, particularly if you have a site with a lot of complex information available. To be fair a lot of these are pet peeves, and most of them are hangovers from early web design - basically a lot of site managers need to get the lead out and do some real updating asap!

about 6 years ago


Claire Boyles

interesting, useful article for those wanting to understand using a website for online marketing.

One thing I do have a differing opinion on though, and I AM a multiple Tab browser- [right now I've got 10 tabs open, which is a VERY low amount for me] I want links to open in a new tab, because if I have to click back & back & back & back & back again to get back to the original site = annoying.

about 6 years ago


Jason Dale

Good article except for the "Links that open in a new window", which is pretty condescending in it's own right. In fact if you are on FB E.g. http://www.facebook.com/#!/group.php?gid=136141033059 And click to another group (there's a link somewhere in there) It opens up another window. Just saying.

about 6 years ago


Peter Cross PNC Consulting

I have got a sixth way to ruin a website - and it is probably the most important and I see it every day.

Forget that at core you are trying to communicate a clear and concise message, and often trying to presuade someone to do something.

Remember that you are trying to communicate a message and all else can follow.

Oh and the sixth and a half way is to forget to copy edit the text, sloppy speelin and grammar makes you look sloppy and please if you don't know the difference between principle and principal or complimentary and complementary buy a dictionary.

about 6 years ago


Dallas Video Services

According to me the quality of the site can only increase if you want to stay relevant in our culture. I think you give some of the most sensible suggestions. Moreover not all flash or graphics will accomplish your goals and meet your vision.

about 6 years ago

Miles Carter

Miles Carter, SEO / Web Developer at Zeland

Great Article and one that a lot of businesses and designers would benefit from paying attention to. With the "opening links in a new window" point, I think the author maybe talking about JavaScript "window.open" links rather than normal target=blank. Having external links open with target=blank is almost expected behaviour but the other is always very very bad for user experience and will make me leave any site that employs it. When a site uses target=blank for internal links though it makes me very unhappy. Something else that annoys me is when sites display external links in an iframe (like Facebook or old Google Images). The final thing that irritates me which is becoming more common is lightboxes for image display - they can be good but often are done poorly. Lightboxes with long animations between rendering content when paging through an album of photos are particularly annoying, with the experience often degrading to spending more time watching the lightbox animate than looking at photos.

about 6 years ago

Fran Jeanes

Fran Jeanes, Internet Business Consultant at i-contact web design

With links that open up new tabs or windows - I wholeheartedly promote those if a link is going to an external URL, otherwise, yes, let the user decide.

about 6 years ago

Corrie Davidson

Corrie Davidson, Social Media Manager at Sisarina, Inc

Like many out here I don't agree with the blanket "no links opening in a new window" theory. I think it depends on the link and the content. 

And for short ads playing before a video, I don't think most people mind this as long as its a video they really want to watch- look at hulu and other such sites.... but I don't think this is really what you were referring to.

As to the rest of these points though- HERE HERE! 

I HATE paged lists!! Drives me nuts!

And flash intros on websites? Awesome and cool- if you only want me to go to your website once.

about 6 years ago

Robert Prior

Robert Prior, Managing Director at Metrea Ltd

I have to agree with others that I think point 4 is wrong. Links to your own site should be in the same window but external links need to open a new window using the target=blank method. That is vital if you want your visitors to be able to see and/or read what you are referring to while at the same time there is more for them to discover, explore, read and do on your own site and this facilitates their return very simply.

about 6 years ago



Pop ups are very bad, i had given this advice to keep pop up specially for christmas seasonal offer and i tried it on my website, but it all went wrong in huge bounce rate, now i hate pop ups and i agree with you on this.

almost 6 years ago

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