15 Key Elements All Top Web Sites Should Have – NOT!

This morning a web article appeared in Delicious.com. Delicious is a social bookmarking site and appearance on their front page indicates a very popular link. I will not link the page because I totally disagree with it. The article lists 15 most important elements of web design.

I think that many are not very important. Some can hurt your page and the order is obscenely screwed up.

Here is the list and my reaction to each.

1. Good Visual Design

Good visual design is the goal of artistic leaning web designers. It has been shown over and over again that nifty graphics and slick design elements get in the way of the content. The best visual design is little or no design. The best visual design creates a memorable page with the minimum of baloney. I would change this to Minimal Visual Design and move it way down the list a ways.

2. Thoughtful User Interface

Just what does this mean? It is as though Thoughtless User Interface is an alternative. Of course, think about the user interface. Use tried and true simple links organized as logically as possible. This is a no-brainer and should not be on the list. Your page should look as much like a standard web page as possible. Users have learned how to use web pages from other sites. Your page should not be different from other site’s pages or the user will not know how to use it.

3. Primary Navigation Above The Fold

This is another weird idea. Users don’t read below the fold. All important content should be above the fold along with the main menu. There should be very little below the fold because 90% of your readers won’t go there. All pages should roughly fit in in one non-scrolling page. The stuff below the fold is for the occasional curious surfer who is looking for additional information. You might even think of having a link to an anchor for information below the page because so few users scroll down.

4. Repeat Navigation In The Footer

Yeah, of course, you must have more than one way for the surfer to get around. A good footer might help, that is if any of them ever went below the fold.

5. Meaningful Content

Duh!!!! Why isn’t this first? This is the one and only reason why a web page gets hits, is read, and then is read again. People come for content. Rules 1 to 99 – Get Good Content. All else is gilding the lily.

6. A Solid About Page

Who cares? The only people who click the about page are salesmen looking to convince you to buy something.

7. Contact Information

I removed my contact info from several sites last year and my traffic still increases. The very few requests that I get for more information are ones that I usually can’t fulfill. If I include a raw email address, I get spammed. If I include a contact form, I get inane requests for things I don’t have or can’t do. For every 500,00 web page hits, I get maybe ten contacts with only one or two being interesting to me.

8. Search

I include search boxes for my bigger sites. Less than one tenth of 1 percent of my surfers use it. Normally I get get new users from Google searches so they have already done the search by the time they arrive. If I took out the search boxes, my traffic would not change.

9. Sign-Up / Subscribe

I am in the process of taking out all my RSS feeds. I want surfers to come to my pages, see what I have to say and read the ads. On some sites I get nearly as much RSS feed traffic as page traffic. I think this is wasted bandwidth. Sure, people are reading my words, but if they are not on the page, they can’t get the full impact of the images and ads. If I get rid of the RSS readers, I lose no money, and I might gain normal readers.

I don’t ask casual users for email and I never spam. I never mail a newsletter that a user might think is spam. I hate sites that do this. If I receive a newsletter that I did not explicitly ask for, the site goes into my spam filter immediately. I have no way to sign up on my sites.

10. Sitemap

I uses sitemaps primarily for search engine optimization. Users hardly every land on them or use them.

11. Separate Design from Content

This is techno nerdy thing. It helps you write web pages, and I use this technique, but it has nothing to do with your user’s experience. I have a feeling that individually hand crafted pages give a richer user experience than rubber stamped pages created from a master template. I have too many pages to hand craft each one. I use server side includes to standardize some things and make it easy to changes headers, footers and navigation.

12. Valid XHTML / CSS

When you page displays correctly in IE and Firefox, it is done. It does not have to validate. The user doesn’t know and doesn’t care if you have a non-compliant page.

13. Cross Browser Compatibility

Can’t be done. Different browsers show slightly different versions of your page. Your page should look OK in IE and Firefox, not the same. Surfers arrive at your site with a variety of screen configurations, software and options. I use the windows large fonts option on my computer so I can more easily read a page. You would be surprised at how many web pages this breaks and the reason is that they are so fine tuned to show a consistent interface that the smallest thing will break them.

14. Web Optimized Images

Finally, one thing that I can agree with. Small images, well compressed. Fewer images when possible. Your web page should load quickly. Words count, Fewer images means more room for words.

While we are on the subject of optimization, eliminate unreasonably large JavaScript libraries and frameworks. Hand code JavaScript if possible. Get rid of slow database look ups on home pages. Home pages should be static. Most pages should be static and load as fast as possible. Dynamic web pages are traffic poison.

Get rid of all the JavaScript doodles, widgets, gewgaws and gimcracks on on your web pages. They just slow things down and divert interest to someone else’s content. They send traffic to other web sites.

NO FLASH! I will repeat. NO FLASH! Nothing good has ever come from flash.

15. Statistics, Tracking and Analytics

I see web pages with half a dozen tracking scripts on them. They slow down web pages, especially Google analytics, QuantCast and MyBlogLog. Pick a tracking script and use it. Get rid of the others. Better yet, learn to use your weblogs.

Now that I have trashed the list here is my own version:

1 Key Element All Top Web Sites Should Have

1. Good Content.

Nuff said.