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October 06, 2010 By Hendrik-Jan Francke

7 Bad Assumptions to Avoid About Your Website

When it comes to planning a website, we've seen too many people make choices with good intentions but bad outcomes. Here's 7 bad assumptions you don't want to make about your own website...

Industry jargon and acronyms prove expertise.

A lot of businesses push the job of writing their site's copy to the sales team or other members who fluently speak their industry's language. But visitors often don't understand the lingo or the meaning behind an acronym like "CIO" (it's Chief Information Officer, by the way). In fact, you should always assume they won't understand something.

Instead of trying to prove your expertise, focus on the information your visitors will really find valuable—like how they will benefit from using your product or service—and do it in language they will understand. (We call this writing from the "client-in" approach!)

Users care about the company structure.

Your website is a reflection of your company or organization, but it should not mirror your company's internal structure. Users don't care which divisions or departments make up your company's internal structure. And they certainly don't want to see it reflected in your site's global navigation.

Structure your site by what seems logical to your visitors. Ask yourself: What are they coming to the site to do? To find out? Answers to these questions will affect the rest of the design process (and ultimately your ability to communicate with your users).

Drop-down menus help users navigate faster.

Mega Drop Down example

Assumption #3: Mega drop-down example.

Drop-down menus do not contribute to the usability of a lead-generating website. They do the opposite in most cases because drop-downs are designed for power users, and not for users who are coming to the site for the first or second time.

Because the menus disappear once the mouse is moved, users have difficulty remembering their choices—they just can't create a mental map of the site. And for lead-generation sites, most users are new visitors trying to find specific information.

Try a mega drop-down menu instead! A mega drop-down is much larger, which means more space for the user's mouse to stay on. And the links are broken up into categories with clear headings so users can make more sense of them.

Cool effects impress users.

What do we mean by "cool?" We mean those fun plugins or effects you see on other sites that immediately make you wonder, "Can our website do that too?" You know… those interactive features that you think will add value and visual appeal to your site for users. Of course, there are plenty of neat features out there that help shape a positive user experience on a site. But there are also plenty of annoying, unnecessary features that will drive your users crazy.

Some Trends to Consider:

Assumption #4: This carousel slideshow spins too fast!
You can't get a sense of your options!

The Carousel Slideshow

Research shows slideshows can actully distract users and are often overlooked. While it may seem they help maximize space, few users scroll past the first slide.

Flash Overload

People are drawn to Flash because, well, it's flashy. But do you really want to visitors to turn away because of an unnecessary loading wait time? Not to mention, Flash is bad for SEO! (Search engines can't read images or video.)

Unstoppable Audio or Video

When you're a first-time visitor looking for information on a website, the last thing you want is an overwhelming audio or video clip that can't be stopped. We've even seen virtual people walk on to our screens offering a promotion we know nothing about. Talk about a distraction!

Splash pages enhance messaging and navigation.

You've probably seen a splash page that has a large graphic and an "Enter" or "Next" link to the rest of a website. Some splash pages are broken up into sections that take different types of users to different parts of a website.

Simply put, a splash page is unnecessary and a poor way to lay out navigation on a lead-generation website. A splash page robs the user of their ability to browse by forcing them to watch a canned message with only one choice: "Next."

A homepage "Welcome!" statement is needed.

Because we're human, saying "Hello!" or "Welcome!" seems like a very natural way to start a conversation with visitors. But the "Welcome" statement is similar to the splash page in that it causes users to stop just a little in their search. Users skip over these kinds of statements and look for messages with real value, like how they can perform a task or locate a specific page.

The website looks the same across all size monitors and browsers.

Many people make this assumption because they are unfamiliar with different screen resolutions. Browser discrepancies are even more scattered with people using a range of versions of Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox, Google Chrome, etc. It's simply impossible to achieve the exact same look across each one.

Your visitors are using all kinds of devices and browsers, so designing a site around your personal computer is not good practice. Currently, most users have a screen size of 1024×768 or higher. We design for that resolution to produce the most consistent results.

Curious to see what your visitors are using?

Google Analytics gives you a great breakdown of the different kinds of monitors and browsers your visitors are using to view your site. But remember, your best bet is to design around that average 1024×768 screen size!

There you have it. Seven of the most common assumptions we've seen people make about their websites. We hope you've already avoided most of these for your own site or have grown wiser from reading. (It's never too late to make improvements!)

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