an abstract image of a grid adhering to waves with various spotlights of teal and purple

5 Deadly Sins that will Effectively Kill Your Website – Key Usability Don’ts and How to Fix Them

Christina Watts
Christina Watts

Deadly Sin #1: Structuring your site according to how your company functions internally instead of how your users think

This is one of the biggest mistakes we see on the web today. People are deeply ingrained in their own business, talking about what they do and how they sell, and using internal jargon and nomenclature that only they would understand. And because it comes so naturally to them, they think people outside their walls will understand it too. Nine times out of 10, this is not the case.

Obviously there are exceptions to this rule in very specialized, niche industries but the key here is to use words that are clear, descriptive and allow site visitors to make good navigational choices. Enlist outsiders (both professionals and nonprofessionals) for feedback and usability tests. Look at site and search analytics to see what words people search to find you. Then try structuring your site closer to online best practices, regardless of how well they conform to your internal structure. You might even learn something new about your own company (and how it is perceived by customers) in the process.

Deadly Sin #2: Ignoring a well-calibrated site-wide search

This is especially important if your site structure or category names aren’t intuitive. If a user knows what they’re looking for but can’t seem to make a connection to the main navigation because it’s not meeting their expectations (see: Deadly Sin #1 above), a user will instinctively look for a site search. And if that site search returns 25 nebulous results that they have to click through in order to find what they need, they’ll get frustrated and leave after 2 or 3 tries (and that’s being generous).

Think critically about weighting specific keywords in your site’s content, but also think about the language used to describe your products or services within your content. And try to think like an external user, not an internal employee. Chances are your customers will be searching on a keyword or description words – not the internal business language/names you use within your company walls. And finally, organize your search results thoughtfully, with faceted categories or filterable attributes. An intelligent search tool that can do all this for you is often worth the extra expense. 

Deadly Sin #3: Skimping on easy access to a clear, hierarchical navigation

Relying solely on mega-menu dropdowns and breadcrumbs for site navigation instead of providing persistent secondary navigation across the site is a trend we’ve been noticing lately and it’s one that frustrates us, both as usability experts and as casual surfers. Dropdowns are notoriously tricky, hazardous to accessibility (requiring precise mouse movements, etc.), and never guaranteed to function, for instance if javascripts conflict or are purposefully disabled. And breadcrumbs by their very nature are too narrow and finite to function as a main navigation strategy. Without a persistent sub-navigation, a user won’t know what their other category options are at a glance if their only visible option is a breadcrumb. Sure, you can force them to use the back button or return to the homepage and start over, but only if your goal is to frustrate and increase abandonment.

So please don’t forget exposed sub-navigations. Designers might not find them to be the trendiest solution visually, but they don’t always have to be on the left, and they don’t always have to be a straight-up boring list. Reference sites that you like personally as a user and then work with your creative team to come up with a solid, clear sub- navigation layout and design that will work on your site.

Deadly Sin #4: Dead ends

You’ve finally guided the users to the content they were looking for…now what? What’s the next logical, intuitive step for them to take on your site based on their content selection? Don’t make them hunt for related articles or topics. Help your users take the next step by guiding them to valuable content.

With a robust content management system, you can easily provide related content by tagged categories or keywords, or you can serve up similar products by type or popularity. You can offer simple links to the previous or next articles without forcing a user back to an index. Make sure your category headers and titles are links that allow a user to understand and surf within their current position in your site hierarchy. You can continuously offer them tantalizing glimpses of everything else your site has to offer. And using a product like Sitecore’s Adaptive Print Studio, you can even offer customized print downloads based on the content your user just viewed. It will build trust and demonstrate that you understand what’s important to them by saving them time. Who knows…maybe then they’ll even eventually fill out that Contact Us form or proceed to checkout!

Deadly Sin #5: Ignoring the fundamental principle of scannability

While not a commonly used word, we use this word frequently at Aware with all of our clients.  People rarely read every single word on a web page (an exception could be news sites and hopefully this blog post!). Instead, we scan for words that resonate with us and tell us that we are on the right path to finding the content we need. Everything else is only half absorbed, weeded out, or completely disregarded – so why waste your time writing it?

Too much content, wide paragraphs (or even any paragraph at all) and not enough white space make it hard for our eyes to consume web content. Combine those factors with small fonts and a lack of color strategy for action items (e.g., a dedicated color for internal links) and the usability headaches start coming on, literally and figuratively. Web content should be short, sweet, and most importantly, meaningful. Don’t go for “cute.” Instead use clear and straight-to-the point language. Your users and their eyeballs will thank you for it.

Let's Get Started

We'd love to hear from you. We probably have a lot in common. I mean, you like chatting about data-binding, UX patterns, and javascript functions, right?


Cookies help us improve your website experience. By using our website, you agree to our use of cookies and our privacy policy.