Web pages – check them out before you check them off

When you create a new site, or new content, it might be something you’re eager to tick off your to-do list so you can move on.

But please remember the visitors you’re making it for, and pause awhile to make sure it will actually work for them. I see so many instances where this clearly hasn’t been done.

Try to look at your pages like a new visitor. They don’t know what you know about what’s further down the page or two pages over. They only know what they see at any one time. Can they see what they need to? Is stuff getting in the way and frustrating them?

Below you’ll find a few specifics to watch for.

(Tip: I talk about zoom settings in your web browser – if you haven’t previously found how to adjust the close up/far away setting, hunt it down in the menu. It’s a useful tool, especially if your eyesight sometimes needs a bit of help.)

Page layout and screen format

I’ve been noticing this a lot recently. I still use a 4:3 format monitor, and there seems to have been a shift to assuming everyone is now on the wider 6:9. So page designs made of blocks sometimes break and I have to reduce the screen zoom % to get everything to slot into its proper place.

You don’t have any control over a visitor’s monitor and settings, so try to get your design working with as wide a range as possible. That means checking a page design on two or three devices to see how it behaves: at least a desktop and a phone.  

(Confession: at the time of writing this site is a bit rough for ‘responsive design’ for portable devices.)

Navigation bar glitches

This is mainly a subset of the previous one, but I’ve been particularly noticing sites where the top navigation bar links are squashed together with the site name. It changes if you play with the zoom settings.

If you have a theme with the navigation text links on the same line as your site title, you simply cannot wedge a lot of links in there before it breaks. Maybe 4-5. You’ll have to use submenus or find other ways to connect info; and think about what structure will support people to find the things that are important.

Absolutely do try your page with different browser zoom settings to see how it behaves. Some themes are very variable.

Text size

A few years ago my big grump was that so many people were making text too small. There seems to be a lot less of that now – yay! – but still watch for it.

Also watch out for text that’s too big, which seems to be an issue with some themes and templates. The reader has to be able to pick up words with a visual scan and set them in context, and personally when I see four words taking up most of the screen width I have to work hard to make sense of it. Emphasis doesn’t mean you have to go crazy!

Text spacing

I’ve seen a few sites with page sections or quotes where the lines of text are noticeably squashed together, making it ugly and hard to read. The line spacing settings are probably baked into the theme, and perhaps you’ll need someone to tweak the style instructions on the page.

Floating social media side bars

Unless these are really well implemented they tend to cover the text the visitor is trying to read. Typically it varies according to screen size and zoom setting, which you have no control over. I avoid these floating sidebars for that reason and put the social media links in the page body.

Giving the right info

This is a perennial gripe for me – can people see instantly who you are and what you’re about?

I saw a site recently for company selling physical products, with a clever company name and a big product picture on the home page. Overall an attractive site, but the visitor has to scroll down the page to see the entirety of the product pic and hunt down any text to tell them what the site is about. And they might not stick around to do that.

Another recent example – a digital marketing company that has no About page to tell you about the humans behind it.

These are common because we already know about ourselves and make assumptions of transparency. But you have to tell the story!

Adverts

These probably look like a useful revenue stream for some site owners, and to be fair I’ve no idea of the potential returns (though I suspect it’s only worth the hassle if you have a big audience). But I can say that few sites showing third-party ads do a good job with it.

The cautionary example is what’s happened to many newspapers’ sites. They’re probably under pressure to bring in revenue as print sales have been declining. But that’s resulted in pages so full of ads that they take forever to load and it’s hard to find the info you went for, to the extent that it becomes literally unusable. My local paper’s site is awful for this.

Another example: ad spots in the middle of pages on solo entrepreneurs’ sites. The point of the pages and posts is to build a relationship between you and your readers, and to suddenly have that word-stream interrupted by an image promoting somebody else breaks that feeling of conversation. (And feels extra-creepy if the ad uses tracking and shows them what they were just looking at on another site.) For most of us, ads are probably not a great idea.

Conclusion

There are other potential examples too, but the core point is the same. Most of these issues would be easy for most of us to spot if we made time to look at the results of our work with a fresh perspective, with our web user head on. Lay out a nice welcome mat for your visitors!

 

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