Andy Killworth

24 Moans About Web Design & Usability From a Grumpy SEO

17th Sep 2012 Analytics, Conversion Rate Optimisation, Analytics, Usability 25 minutes to read

A Grumpy Old ManUs English love a good moan; the weather’s too hot, the weather’s too cold, summer’s over already, the banks have ruined the economy, etc. I confess I also partake in a good old whinge on an increasingly frequent basis as the years tick by.

At the weekend I spent a lot of time online – this isn’t unusual (I need to get out more). I’m about to move house and of course there’s loads of things to take care off; from bills, clearing out stuff, to things to buy for the new place. I’m also researching a holiday that I want to take in November. This led me to visit a bunch of websites I haven’t been to before. Some were great, some were mediocre, but some were, frankly, awful. It got me to tutting and groaning with annoyance in the style of someone double my age.

Additionally I got to thinking, as the web grows and becomes more mature, why aren’t all sites good, if not great?  Maybe I’m dreaming the ‘Impossible Dream’ or maybe I’ve just become a Grumpy Old Man – either way, there were loads of websites I just gave up on almost as quickly as I found them. So this post is basically a moan – I’d love to give examples but I won’t embarrass any sites by naming them.

In the words of Eeyore, “Rain again…” So here we go, let’s start with everyone’s favourite..

1) Captchas

Captchas are the work of the Devil, or perhaps Walter White out of Breaking Bad. They are sent to annoy us, to try us and possibly invented by manufacturers of keyboards or monitors so we’re forced to replace them after punching them. Actually they were invented by Luis von Ahn, so we can blame and hurl rotten fruit at him. But anyway, I get why Captchas exist – to keep at bay those pesky little spammers. Fair enough. And indeed many Captchas are perfectly readable.

However, the majority seem to be almost made to make the user fail at submitting their form, over and over again.  It’s the ones where the letters are close together as to be indistinguishable that really get my goat; that and the ones where some of the text ‘leaks’ off to the side of the image so you can’t even read it. And don’t even get me started on the ones with black backgrounds and green text that force you to get about 1cm away from your monitor to stand any chance of reading it.

Bottom line – if you want to use Captchas, be my guest. Just make sure they’re not the sort that are a total pain, otherwise don’t expect your customers/potential customers to stick around. They won’t. Be sure to utilise web analytics to get an idea of how many visitors aren’t getting ‘through’ that page. Go and test it yourself – would you tolerate it?

2) Forgetful Forms

All this talk of Captchas brings me nicely on to what I can only describe as a real pet hate of mine (yes I have many). We’ve all been there – you’ve just completed an online form (typically long one with plenty of free text boxes). You fill in the Captcha and press submit and get sent to the next screen. Guess what? You filled in X field incorrectly/messed up the Captcha/used the wrong format password/insert error of choice.

No problems, let’s go back to the previous screen and sort it out – but no dice, the page has cleared either all the fields, or more typically, the longer ones which you took minutes typing out. And guaranteed you have to type in the password (twice) again each time.

C’mon, make it easy for me – just take me back to the form screen, highlight the fields with a red asterisk or whatever, and I’m on the case. But please, please don’t make me fill in everything again – it’s annoying. Whilst we’re on the subject – have a look at this awesome article about good form design and usability

(Shop til you drop)

I do an increasingly large proportion of my purchases online. For the most part I much prefer this to braving the cultural delights that is Southampton of a weekend. Sure, I like a bargain as much as the next person, but I’m also impatient. If I’ve made the decision to go online and purchase, I want to do it as quickly and efficiently as possible (unless it’s a big purchase in which case I’ll be sad enough to make a spreadsheet).

I’m not interested in speaking to anyone, in taking ages clicking through stages, I simply want my chosen product, at a price I find agreeable, and confidence in the company and website before I hand over my credit card details or hammer my PayPal balance. Now admittedly in the overall picture of retail, ecommerce is still young – I get that. However there are still masses of awful sites out there which must be losing vast amount of business time and time again.

Working in SEO obviously I consider myself to be ‘net savvy’ –  so if I give up on a transaction or bounce away from a page you can bet your bottom dollar plenty more people new to online shopping left way before I did.

3) ‘Chat now’ Pop-Ups

Picture this – you’ve searched for a product you want to buy. You’ve found a search result that looks promising. You click through to the site – it looks great, you find the product /s page easily and you’re deciding which one to buy. Then a pop-up comes up saying something like “would you like to chat to us?” or something entirely false and automatic-looking like “Hi my name is Susan, can I help you today?” Now I’m sure these work, otherwise sites wouldn’t use them.

And I’m sure they stem from the bricks-and-mortar retail practices of sales assistants sidling up to you in-store going “do you need any help at all?” but it’s just infuriatingly annoying. Get out of my face, and off my screen. It’s intrusive and it spoils the buying process. Frankly if your site is a good ecommerce one and well designed, why would I need assistance?

4) No Prices Stated

“If you have to ask how much it is, you can’t afford it” – as the (paraphrased) saying goes. I’m in the process of moving home at the moment. Whilst assuring myself that I will never, ever do it again, I’m also becoming a domestic bore. I realised that the oven I’m leaving behind is, frankly, pretty manky. So I go online to Google ‘oven cleaning Southampton’ or such – great, several companies pop up who specialise in it.

Naturally I want to get an idea of price so click through to some. I was surprised how many didn’t give prices online – instead asking you to contact them for a quote. Why? It’s an oven – how different can they be? Why should I bother picking up the phone to you for a ‘quote’ when your competitor has flat rate pricing set out nice and simply for me with a good call to action?

Now admittedly it may be that the companies with no prices are actually cheaper – but I’m lazy and I want things sorted now – therefore I go with the company who is upfront about their pricing and the first lot loses my business. Not listing a price or putting ‘call us for the best price’ looks shifty – it almost screams “we want to know if you’ve had a price elsewhere, in which case we’ll price match it, or if not, we’ll try and blag our normal price”.

Have some integrity and make things simple for your customers – just tell them the price! If you price match, by all means state that, but spare us the intrigue and annoyance of having to contact you.

5) Not Allowing Me to Buy Online

Call me assumptive (I’ve been called a lot worse) but if you have a website and you sell products, I expect to be able to do the whole transaction online. I’m someone who, if I decide to buy something, wants it there and now – I want to be able to get the order in and have it the next day – simple yet demanding (that’s me). I’m on the web, so I don’t want to speak to anyone and I don’t want to pick up the phone (told you I was lazy). So what I find annoying is finding a great product at a great price and then finding out you’re too tight to implement an ecommerce solution.

Or I click a ‘buy now’ button and you tell me to ring you. I really can’t be bothered and I’m off to your competitor who will allow me to buy online and you’ve lost the business.

6) Having to Register For Purchases

More and more I find that when I want to buy something, I am forced to register an ‘account’ with that company. Now with places like Amazon and so on, I’m happy to do so. But with small, niche purchases, I’m just not interested – it’s hassle and I’m not likely to want to buy, say, earphone sponges again for a long long time. I don’t want or need another username with another password that I’ll invariably forget. All I want is to buy your product – so make it easy for me.

I’ve no problems with being offered the choice of an account/profile, but leave it as that – optional.

7) TMI!

Related to the above, quit asking me for information you really don’t need – why is my date of birth any of your business? This goes for forms in general by the way – just ask for the minimum information you need. The simpler the form is, the more likely users are to complete it. Ask me for my life story and I’m leaving – pronto.

8) Useless Javascript

A frighteningly large amount of websites utilise Javascript to put the current time and date on the site. Apologies for my bluntness here but it isn’t big and it isn’t clever.  The great thing with computers now is they show you the time and date on the screen – magic, eh? And also many places have clocks and calendars – imagine that! So why on earth do you think I need to be reminded of it when I look at your website? I mean, especially if it’s a Monday morning – please don’t rub it in (Tuesdays are actually an inferior day to Mondays but that’s another story entirely).

If you’re a designer, ask yourself what you think the time and date is adding; and if you’re a developer then you know there’s much, much cooler and more useful stuff that JS can do. Let’s put ‘features’ like this out in the bin with the <marquee> tag please.

9) ‘Coming soon’

If you don’t currently offer a service or feature, don’t advertise it by saying ‘coming soon’, or ‘shop online soon’. What you’re basically saying is “ we don’t offer this.” Fair enough if you’re someone selling, say, DVDs and you’re promoting new releases. But other than that, it’s of no use to me as a customer, especially if I’m buying there and now. Do you really think I’m going to bookmark you then come back next month? I don’t think so.

10) Spammy Domain Names

What do I mean by spammy? Well for me it would be either names that are ludicrously long (e.g. or hyphenated ones (  They put me off and nine times out of ten I’m not even clicking through from the search results to your site. They scream “optimising for keywords”, they scream “we don’t have the ability or confidence to build a brand” and they just look damn untrustworthy.

Incidentally, I think the word ‘cheap’ in a domain name is also incredibly naff, and ironically gives the impression of your site and company being ‘cheap’ too.

11) Slow Page Load Times

A golden oldie – people online are impatient critters. If your server sucks or you have a stupidly multimedia-rich site, then be prepared for people to run away faster than Usain Bolt in the 100 metres. If I visit your site, my expectation is that you want me to – and if I’m waiting staring at whitespace for several seconds, then I don’t feel welcome. Goodbye your site, hello search results, and you’ve lost business again.

It’s the same as if I’ve gone in to your shop and I’m stood at the till point whilst being ignored. Here at Koozai, one of the regular technical SEO checks we do is to look at your site’s performance and then make recommendations if needs be. A slow site is also going to get frowned on by the search engines (I like to think of a bot on a server somewhere in the world tutting and rolling its virtual eyes), so can impact your rankings. Put your visitor experience over your site looking ‘pretty’.

12) Spelling and Grammar Errors

There is never, ever an excuse for your site to have a spelling or grammar mistake – ever. It looks awful, it looks unprofessional and if you can’t even be bothered to proof read your own site, why on earth would I trust you with my money? Check your copy then get someone else to check it. If you can’t even find it in you to do that, then at least use a spell-checker.

Your visitors may very well use ‘text speak’ and abbreviations in their communication, but it looks tacky, cheap and just sloppy not paying attention to your own copy. Your website is either your brand, or at least a representation of your brand – pay attention to detail and check, check again.

13 Accessibility – or Lack Thereof

It may come as a surprise to some people but not everyone who uses the internet has perfect eyesight or perfectly functioning bodies. In this day and age it’s surprising just how many web pages are just non-starters for the colour-blind. Sure, you want your site to look good, you want nice looking palettes of colours that gel well together. But is it too much to ask that these are still viewable by those whose colour perception is different?

What do you think is going to happen when a colour-blind user (estimated at one in 12 men and one in 200 women, so this is hardly an uber-niche audience) goes on to your site and can’t read the text? You’ve lost the business straight away. How about the blind or those using text/screen readers? Don’t forget that those pesky alt attributes on your image aren’t just there to stuff keywords in – they’re important for letting your visitors understand the content on your pages. Using a good quality web design company who incorporates accessibility in a holistic manner will prevent finding out later on that your colour scheme doesn’t work.

What about users who have physical disabilities? Are your pages unnecessarily long, requiring constant scrolling? Is the navigation and structure poor, meaning an annoying amount of clicks are needed? What if you didn’t have the use of a mouse and were just using voice controls or a keyboard? Test your site yourself, you may be surprised.

What’s that I see on your site? A professionally produced promotional video or audio? Ooh pretty! Looks very slick! But what if I’m deaf? It still looks pretty but with no idea of what the commentary is it no longer serves much of a purpose. Easy solution – subtitles or a transcript – problem solved and no annoyed visitor – happy days. You may also want to familiarise yourself with a little thing called The Disability Discrimination Act!

What I’m getting at is that when thinking about design and the user experience,  think more holistically – don’t alienate sections of your audience just because your ego says the site looks/performs great ‘as is’. A great site performs well for everyone; this means happier punters and more sales/conversions for you – you have nothing to lose and plenty to gain!

14) Autoplaying Multimedia

Without naming names, a leading newspaper in the Hampshire area used to annoy the hell out of me, to the extent I stopped visiting. Why? Quite simply that when you clicked through to a given news story, a news video (with audio on) started playing. Why? I didn’t request it, I didn’t hit play. I hate the way there was an assumption – and that assumption was that I didn’t actually want to read the article, that I wanted to watch the video of it NOW, THIS MINUTE and had no choice in the matter.

Although, thankfully the web seems to have moved away from the awful days of Flash splash/intro screens, there’s still so many sites out there which have multimedia that starts on the page loading. This is intrusive, annoying and a pain. Most of the time when I’m browsing (including at work where we’re fortunate enough to have Spotify on) I have the audio and speakers on. If I’m at home, I’m often listening to music or (shameful I know) have something lame like Home and Away on in the background.

I don’t want another noise overlaying that. If you have a video on your site – fine. But give me the choice of whether to watch it/listen to it – incidentally nine times out of ten I’m not going to anyway. Speaking of things of the past, remember those days of being on dial-up and having the page hang during loading as it was cranking in some dodgy .midi file? I try to block out memories such as these but I still come across sites that play music. I just can’t get my head around this. Turn off the bells and whistles (literally).

Let your visitors make their choice. (As a side note, if you think my choice in TV is bad, you should see some of my Spotify playlists.’Nuff said.)

15 Rubbish 404 Pages

Look, if I’ve clicked through from another site and the URL was duff, I know it wasn’t your fault. I’m not angry or bitter, but if your custom 404 page is really blunt, unhelpful and looks like the online equivalent of a 1970s concrete tower block, then it’s pretty much a two-finger salute to me as a visitor.

It doesn’t take a huge amount of time to crank out something that looks good, but more importantly maximises the chance of your visitor carrying on. You can even get creative and/or inject some humour into the 404 page – check out these awesome examples.

Now go and view your 404 page and ask yourself if it sends the right message to your visitors. If it doesn’t – change it, make it as awesome as any other page of your website.

16) Unfinished Content

Putting blatantly unfinished pages live is unforgivable. Whilst it’s not as unforgiveable as, say, killing a puppy, in both cases there really is no need for that kind of behaviour. If you’re not ready to publish – don’t. In a particularly poor example I witnessed recently, I came across content which cut off mid-sentence. Now in that case, you can safely assume it was published accidentally (publish != save draft).

However, it creates two issues – one, you haven’t got a good enough awareness of the content that’s live on your site, and secondly it’s going to look really, really bad for visitors. Regular audits of your site don’t take long (unless it’s something like a huge ecommerce one) and can identify issues like this which can be easily rectified.

And whatever you do, please, please, please do not even CONSIDER using an ‘under construction’ .gif (for extra minus marks why not make it animated!)

17) Messing With My Back Button Navigation

So for whatever reason I’m done with your site. Hopefully I’ve bought something or made an enquiry. Or maybe I just didn’t like it – either way I’m off, see ya! But what’s this – you’ve used some code so that when I hit the back button on my browser (Chrome, if you’re wondering), it takes me back to your site. Seriously, how arrogant do you have to be to implement such a ‘feature’? What do you think it’s possibly going to achieve other than winding the visitor up? Ditch it and let me leave in peace.

18) ‘Are You Sure You Want to Leave’ Pop-ups

Thankfully these are becoming increasingly rare, but another pet hate of mine are Javascript popups triggered when I exit the page which say something like “are you sure you want to leave?” like I’ve just made some massive life decision and need to be quite, quite sure before I go. It’s like on Who Wants to be a Millionaire when Chris Tarrant asks the poor contestant about a million times “is that your final answer?”…”are you sure?” ad nauseum.

So yes, I’m very sure I want to leave your site, and especially now I’ve seen the annoying code you’ve implemented.

19) Non-Scrolling / Always Static Modules

I was on a site earlier – great site, well designed, content was good (social media news related, if you’re asking), etc. However there was a social ‘add/like’ module on the left hand side which was coded such that if you scrolled down/up it didn’t move. This was mildly annoying (personally I think it just looks a bit odd) but the problem was that it blocked the text content – a simple but silly mistake in the design and the developer clearly hadn’t tested the site much (if at all) after installing the module. A simple thing but spoiled what was otherwise a fantastic site.

20) Animations / Pretty Moving Things

Applications such as Flash are, or can be, awesome – they allow designers to really push their creativity and on the right sites can be absolutely amazing (check out this link for a few). But let me be quite honest – 99% of the time I don’t want to see any animation, any scrolling modules, or anything that’s distracting me from actually reading the content of your site. By all means have modules that CAN scroll or animate (e.g. featured products), but don’t visually assault me as soon as I enter the site.

It’s the online equivalent of me walking into your shop and having some over-keen sales assistant who’s just come off a ‘get motivated’ two-dayer jump into my face going “hey great to see you! Guess what, we’ve got a sale on JUST FOR TODAY, come over here and have a look. Now look at that product! Looks great right? How about THIS one?” before I’ve even had the chance to breathe. If your site is properly designed, it conveys the information you want to the visitor by itself. It shouldn’t need to distract, it shouldn’t need to ‘shout’.

A well thought out site puts the prominent stuff first by default through good design (featured products, sales etc), not by being glitzy. Sure, there’s always going to be exceptions to this; I guess what I’m saying is – think it through first – if the answer to the question “what does this add to the user experience?” is “I don’t know” or “nothing” then ditch it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a simple website (far from it)!

21) Bad Navigation

If I visit a city for the first time, I’m not going to know my way around it. I might take a map (if I’m old-school), or perhaps use sat-nav or Google Maps to find my way around. However, if the town planning department there is good, they’ve made my life easier by providing well designed, well thought out signs that direct me to the main places. There might be maps with the old ‘”you are here” arrow on them.

If I come to your website, it’s your responsibility to tell me how to get around. What I want is to know where to go and I want you to make it easy for me. Because if you don’t, then I’m going to get confused, annoyed (or both) and I’m going to leave. And I’m probably going to click back to the company who’s one below you in the search rankings that you thought you were better than. Navigation needs to be planned out early in the design process of the site. Obviously the smaller your site, the easier this is.

But good navigation is still achievable even in a massive site – I use Amazon and Ebay a lot and I’ve never got ‘lost’ on either – why? Because the structure of categories/products and the internal links is spot on. It’s intuitive and it’s been designed with the visitor in mind. A site with bad navigation was either planned/designed badly to begin with, or has gradually gone to pot over time. Either way it’s going to annoy your visitors and put people off (even more so for people new to using the web).

Structure the site logically – use hierarchies; use ‘breadcrumb’ trails so it’s easy for the user to figure out where they are. Don’t forget to utilise an HTML site map – an XML site map is great for Google but don’t forget your visitors! Ensure the navigation is consistent – I came across a site this week where some pages have some navigation, some have others. Some have all the social buttons, others have none, some a few.

Inconsistency confuses people;  so make things as simple as possible for your visitors. Consider installing a good quality search function – this is especially important for large sites. It gives impatient visitors (yes, like me) a quick way for finding a given product or keyword without scouting around your navigation menus. Finally, keep the number of links on a page as low as possible whilst retaining usability – too many links looks cluttered (and in some cases, spammy) and just confuses your punters. Remember the old acronym KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid!

22) Intrusive Adverts

I like an easy life, I really do. And if I visit your website, I want a nice easy experience, thanks all the same. Now, I get that you want to make money, and I get that you can do that with on-screen advertising. But please, at least have some sense of decorum about it. If you really must have Adsense on your site (which incidentally might make me think your main product isn’t converting, but that’s another story), don’t shove it in my face and don’t plaster the site with banners.

Anyone in the SEO business should know that Google doesn’t think loads of ads ‘above the fold’ is cool any more. Don’t just think of Google though – remember your site is there for your visitors. If you think that several blinking, distracting ads on a page is going to impress them or make them convert, think again. Don’t even consider doing popup ads (assuming you’re not a torrent site) – they look appalling and give off really, really bad signals to your visitors. (If you’ve read this far – well done – don’t worry, I’m nearly done!)

23) Opening Links in New Windows/Tabs

I can usually forgive you for opening an external link in a new window, I’ll allow that. However what gets my goat time and time again is when I click on an internal link and it opens in a new window. What is this supposed to achieve? This seems to be all the rage with opening blogs, even if they’re on the same domain. I just don’t get it. The next thing you know, you’ve clicked on a few links and your browser window is ‘tabbed up’ to the max. It’s annoying and it’s unnecessary.

24) Style Over Substance

As more of a generalised rant, it’s worrying how many sites have been designed to just look ‘flashy’ without any regard for usability or conversions; think large images, Flash, fancy fonts, ‘interesting’ colour schemes and so on. I think many website owners allow themselves to get seduced by ‘pretty’ looking things or an overly-keen web designer that wants to showcase their skills. For sure, there’s a time and place for showing off (high end products, creative industries and so on) but for the most, visitors aren’t out to be stunned or visually impressed.

Whilst they want a site that looks good (and by good I mean easy to read and easy on the eye), they more importantly want something that looks professional, is usable and easy to navigate.


So there we have it – a long rant about something I actually love – the web. The issue with many websites is that the companies that run them are too familiar with the site or become too ego-centric about them, and either fail to see what ‘outsiders’ can, or, worse still, refuse to make changes as they won’t accept that anything’s wrong.

My point though isn’t that the internet is all bad – the vast majority of sites are awesome; I just feel that as industry (digital in general) we often lose sight of the user and think more in terms of ‘good’ design or ‘good’ SEO. If we worked together more we’d have more happy customers and more happy users – group hug! So over to you – what design or usability issues drive you crazy? Let’s hear them!

Image Source

A Grumpy Old Man via BigStock

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