A new web site launched with a website hosting company and using a modern website builder typically starts out with a beautifully designed template that is just waiting for customization. And with the wealth of media add-ons, apps and content widgets that are available on most platforms, the options available to both amateur and professional web designers is nearly endless.
Unfortunately, the bounty of options can work against a small business owner designing their own site. Knowing when to apply the "less is more" rule and which supposed website best practices to leave in the toolbox can be key to creating a website that actually drives store visits and sales.
Following are four website design trends that have either outlived their usefulness or may be driving visitors to distraction -- and eventually to a competitor.
1. Stop using auto-play video or music.
I remember how cool it was the first time I saw a website that immediately launched a video. It was interesting when it was new, but now it's largely seen as annoying, particularly for online visitors who may be stealing a few free moments to shop online while at work or in a meeting, and suddenly there's music blaring from their phone. Just as bad, auto-play music or video can be a data hog that increased the time it takes your page to load, and that will hurt your search ranking with Google and other search engines.
Take a cue from Netflix, where even when you're browsing the movies available to watch, they don't immediately and automatically launch the movie trailer.
This doesn't mean that video content won't make a great addition to your site. But the best approach is to put it on a separate page or in a window that launches with a deliberate click. Also note the growing trend of having videos launch with the audio muted. It's a user-friendly approach that is less likely to keep visitor on your site, rather than scrambling for the "back" button while their business meeting comes to an abrupt halt.
To alleviate this, try using only the absolutely necessary scripts. Also, talk to your web master about having them place the scripts at the top of the jQuery library and combine all the other code or functionality into a single function that runs "async" when the document is ready. This will cause the browser to simultaneously render the page while the scripts are also loading. The overall perceived and actual speed of the page will be much faster.
3. Put your creativity back in the box.
Being creative with website design is fun and can help you build a site that is unique and memorable. And most modern website builders give access to dozens of templates, hundreds of type styles and fonts, and a nearly infinite number of background colors and images. The trick is putting that variety to good use, without overdoing it. Sites that go overboard end up looking frantic and are confusing for visitors.
A good general rule is to use no more than three font styles on a page and to try to use only one dominant graphic of image in each screen view. That may feel limiting, but knowing when to break rules is something professional designers spend years perfecting.
Another generally safe approach to building a professional looking website is to pick a page template you love, then update only the words and images. Leave the colors and fonts alone, because they were probably already meticulously selected for ultimate impact. The less you fuss with them, the less chance you have to ruining the design.
4. Stop debating the value of a mobile-friendly site.
Nine years ago, the question I got the most was whether small businesses needed to redesign their websites to be optimized for mobile users. That was back when the number of desktop users in the world was about twice the number of mobile device users. Even then, my answer was to stop debating the value and to immediately design your site for mobile.
Well, those devise use lines crossed in 2014, so most web use is now happening on mobile devices. It can be argued that most online commerce is still happening on desktops, but if your site is inaccessible to mobile devices, you take yourself out of consideration for all those consumers who use multiple devices to research new businesses and products. Taken as a group of target customers, multi-device users outnumber mobile-only and desktop-only users combined.