33 Top Website Usability Mistakes That Are Hurting Your Business!

These website usability mistakes drive people crazy! (photo by Jan Tik, Flickr)

These mistakes drive users crazy! (photo by Jan Tik, Flickr)

We don’t see nearly as many website usability mistakes as we used to, but there are still plenty of them out there.

In today’s podcast I’ve tackled 33 common website mistakes that I still see pretty often. I list them all here, but give a bit more detail if you have time to listen to the podcast too.

Don’t Do These Things On Your Website!

Look / Appearance

  1. Too Creative. Keep it simple! Follow standard patterns and layouts that people expect on websites. Things like having your main navigation links running across the top, not somewhere else.
  2. Inadequate colour contrast. I don’t know why designers are so fond of using pale grey text. I had to battle with mine for ages before he agreed to make most of the text black! I love this simple tool to check that you have enough colour contrast: http://www.checkmycolours.com/.  On the other hand, avoid clashing colours that strain your readers’ eyes.
  3. Not mobile responsive. Your site must be easy to read on a handheld screen. That doesn’t just mean shrinking the text size.  
  4. Wasting too much space “above the fold”. You don’t need a huge picture or banner across the top. Make sure that what they see in that first screen gives them motivation to want to read more.
  5. Relying on PDF documents. This is bad for readability and for search engine optimization (SEO). You can have a downloadable pdf version available as an option, but make sure you convert your pdf’s to web-friendly formats.
  6. Animation. Really, folks, the days of dancing dogs on a star-spangled background are loooonnnng gone!
  7. Sneaky Sound Attacks. If you are using video, don’t have the sound come on automatically. Not everyone is checking out your website in a quiet, private place.
  8. Don’t flash me! Flash is a bad idea for a whole bunch of reasons, not the least of which is that it usually delays people getting to the content they want to read!
  9. To Click or Not To Click? Make it obvious what is clickable; and make things people expect to be clickable (for example, images that look like buttons) actually be clickable.
  10. Having to click in just the right spot. Make your link’s clickable space big. Not just the arrow at the end of the words, but the words themselves, and a bit of white space around them. Or if they are in a box, the whole box should be clickable.
  11. Don’t make me squint! Make sure your fonts (text sizes) are big enough to be easy on even middle-aged eyes.
  12. Too many pages. Give people the option of reading long content all on one page instead of with several clicks. It is really frustrating to have to click for only a paragraph of content.
  13. Long, dense paragraphs. Make your pages easy to scan quickly. Use headers, bullet points, and white space.
  14. Inconsistency. Keep a consistent look throughout your site. If you have to take people off the site (e.g. to pay) warn them of what’s happening.


  1. Too generic. What’s your unique selling proposition (USP)? Why should I buy from you instead of somebody else?
  2. Poor navigation. Test out what is logical to your users. Good website usability also means not using cutesy navigation link names. Don’t call your About Us page “The Fab Five” even if there are five of you!
  3. Ignoring standard reading patterns. In languages that are read from left to right, top to bottom, put the most important info in the top left. People’s eyes scan your page in a capital F pattern, so leverage that to show the things you most want them to notice.
  4. Hidden contact info. You should have a prominent contact link at the top of every page. And if you are more likely to make a sale with some phone contact first, put the darn phone number (toll-free) on every page in big numbers.
  5. Thinking Web 1.0. We are now in the social sharing era, so include social sharing buttons all over the place. That includes both buttons they can click to share your content with their friends, and social media links to your own social media pages.
  6. Pretending price doesn’t matter. It does. Even if you can’t bring yourself to put in exact prices, give them a range and explain what affects the pricing. If they aren’t in your ballpark all you lose by revealing your pricing is wasted sales time with someone who was never really a prospect anyway.
  7. Thinking that by not answering questions you’ll get them to contact you. Answer all the questions you can think of. Not only will that help with your search engine rankings and save you time on the phone, it will make prospects more likely to call you, not less, because they’ll admire your expertise and willingness to share.
  8. Thinking anonymity makes you seem big and corporate. Show who’s behind the site. Put up pictures of the real people who work in your company. This builds trust.
  9. Overusing “click here”. It is better for scanability, SEO and people using screen reading software if your links are descriptive. Don’t just say “click here”.


  1. Lacking call to action buttons. Be loud, be proud … let people know what you want them to do and how to do it.  Make sure your calls to action stand out.
  2. Overwhelming them with choices. Give people too many choices and they get paralyzed by indecision. Aim for 3 options.
  3. Asking for too much information.  Of course you want to know more about people who are downloading your free e-book, but asking them for it is likely to just scare them off. Ask for as little as possible. Every question you add loses you prospects.
  4. Hiding shipping information. Let people have shipping information and prices before they start to order. And if you don’t ship outside the U.S. say so before they’ve wasted their time filling in your forms.
  5. Premature registration. Don’t make people register to see your content. Even if you are selling them something, instead of making them register to place an order, let them place the order and then at the end ask if they’d like you to save their information to make things faster if they come back.
  6. Making usernames and password rules too complex. Use email addresses for usernames. (And when they return to your site, say “Enter the e-mail address you signed up with”, not “Enter username”)
  7. Forcing them to use your preferred formatting. Don’t be fussy about things like spaces or dashes when people input a phone or credit card number. Have it programmed to accept the info with or without the dashes and spaces.
  8. Playing ‘spot the error’. If there’s a form error, make it obvious right away what they’ve done wrong.
  9. No end in sight. In a multi-step process, like applying for insurance or answering a long survey, let people know where they are, and give them some estimate of how much more they’ve got to do.
  10. You snooze, you lose. Auto save whatever they’ve entered as they move through your forms. That way, if the form times out or they suddenly lose their internet connection, they won’t have to start over.

What website usability mistakes drive you crazy?

These aren’t the only places people go wrong with website usability. Share your usability pet-peeves below. C’mon — get it off your chest!

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