You’ve seen those sites, you know, the websites that look like they are from the Netscape days of 1996 on a 56k modem? While we may remember those days and enjoy reminiscing, it’s important to do what is best for your business, so if you’ve got any of these ancient relics hanging around on your website, get rid of them! Some of these elements can affect your SEO, even if indirectly (user satisfaction...). They can all negatively affect your conversion rateas well.
1. Old School Ads - Banner Ads and Adsense
Before you jump the gun too much, let me say my main emphasis here is two-fold: ugly ads, and too many of them. Google actually looks at websites and devalues pages which have too many ads on them. It is important to make your ads fill in natural spaces (general to one side of the content or below the content). You might also have a single banner ad (wait, I’ll explain soon) across the top above the navigation menu. Another reason for avoiding too many ads and ugly ads? Users. People generally don’t like ads. One thing I hate is AdSense ads (text only) which appear in the middle of content and are styled to match the site. I could accidentally click on it thereby costing the advertiser money and making money for that deceptive site owner. Don’t be that guy! Why might you still have banner ads? Because they are still very relevant and have high conversions, as long as they’re not ugly. Any banner that’s too flashy, in colors and/or motion, shouldn’t be on your site. Some ads are becoming more relevant as media companies become more aware of who is on their site (tracking cookies, re-marketing, social network data, etc.), but by and large, people resist advertising, and by extension: the site upon which the ads appear.
2. Narrow Width
Another child of the late 90s is narrow spacing. One of the goals of a web designer is for the design to be viewable on most devices. In the 90s, this included mostly 800x600 resolution CRT monitors. Today it is recommended that your website be responsive. This means your site is designed to adjust to the screen size of the user. In addition to CRT monitor relics, we now have retina displays, iPhones, iPads, and a smorgasbord of Android and other devices to which we must cater. Building a responsive site means your website doesn’t need to recognize the device type so much as displays the content based on the screen size. Not a bad way to go if you ask me, and likely the future of the web anyway.
Once upon a time, websites were structured using tables. This enabled quicker design and helped us maintain code which didn’t look like spaghetti. As time went on other more effective methods for structuring content emerged and tables began to disappear. Modern coding techniques allow for more flexible design than do tables. Search engines can read tables just fine, but tables tend to make your site look really box-like and very 1995. If your site looks like it’s from the mid-nineties, your visitors may think the content is too. If you’d like to shed some weight in your code, check out this post. Tables tend to bulk up the code more than is necessary, so it’s worth looking at!
4. Splash Page
A splash page is a page which appears before the home page will load. Users generally need to click on an “Enter Site” button of sorts. There are at least 5 billion reasons to never have a splash page, but I’ll keep it short and just cover a few:
- They are most useful for a new visitor to your site (but not all new visitors will appreciate it). But most of your revenue and ongoing use (hopefully) is also going to include returning visitors. If you make them go through that annoying splash page every time, they are less-likely to want to return.
- Some new visitors won’t look around or care to click another button, and you’ll lose new visitors right on the splash page.
- It adds another layer through which search engines have to crawl. The more difficult you make your site, the less likely it is to be crawled and fully indexed.
Moral of the story: don’t have a splash page because they’re pretty lame.
5. Static HTML Sites
Of course you’re going to have static content, including static HTML. What I’m advocating against is having sites hard-coded from static HTML, like they used to do in the nineties. You wanna know why?I’ll tell you why:
- You won’t keep your site up-to-date. You’re not going to want to go in and code HTML just to update things. Trust me on this (been there done that!). You’ll have to train someone in your organization to do or hire someone to do it if you’re delegating to someone else, and that’s just a pain. Don’t do it.
- You won’t be able to roll out cool new features or integrate with social media as easily. If you use a popular CMS such as WordPress, you’ll have access to code (plugins, scripts, themes, etc.) that thousands of other people are writing for you... often for free. That sounds better than reinventing the wheel, doesn’t it?
- With content management systems like WordPress available for free, there’s no good excuse not to have a CMS. Any reputable web host will give you free access to a MySQL database, so you really don’t need to worry about that being an issue anymore.
- You’ll be able to manage on-site SEO much easier with a CMS like WordPress than on a static HTML site. With a static site you’ll have to do every little thing manually, whereas WordPress with a couple plugins can do most everything you need. (hat tip: I wrote this how-to post in July about optimizing a WordPress site).
6. Dynamic URL Structure
This is one of those unpardonable sins. I know you want to track everything, like how people get to other pages on your site, but if you’re tracking using a dynamic URL structure, stop it! Here are some fantastic reasons:
- Users don’t like it. When searching, users are more likely to click on a URL that says what the page is, than a string of seemingly random characters. They feel safer doing so because they have an expectation of what they’ll find.
- Search engines generally don’t like dynamic URLs, because they can’t keep current URLs in their index if they change, and it can create issues of duplicate content. This means the search engine thinks you have multiple pages with the same content on them because the URL appears unique to the search engine. That’s a bad thing.
Moral: use a static URL structure (really easy to do in WordPress!). If you can’t do that (such as with a complex e-commerce site), check out this post on URL structure.
Around these parts, Flash is a dirty word. Not only do search engines generally not like Flash, people generally don’t either. What? Crazy? Here’s what: people who are still mentally stuck in the web of the early 2000s (maybe late nineties even) may think Flash is good because it’s flashy, flexible, and seems really cool. But here’s the reality:
- Search engines don’t like Flash because they can’t parse its content, or it’s still difficult to do so.
- People hate Flash because sites still built using Flash often have auto-play features like music which are terribly frustrating when you’re hunting around for the pause/stop button.
- Despite what you might think, people don’t enjoy browsing sites that have lots of moving pieces, flashing content, etc. They like something that is easy on the eyes, easy to read, and that doesn’t distract them while they’re looking at the content they want to view.
- Flash doesn’t work on iOS devices like the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch, and despite what Android advocates claim, the user experience of Flash on Android is quite dismal. Many of the newer Macintosh computer models and likely other future Mac updates do not support Flash at all. So why would you want to essentially block 20% of the internet from accessing your site?
The one exception to this is video. Video is generally still used in Flash players, however, I always recommend that you use an HTML 5 player which can deliver video in multiple formats. If you just use a Flash player, 20% or more of the internet won’t be able to see your videos. With a proper player like YouTube’s latest embed code (which uses iFrames), it will recognize the device and serve up a format compatible with the device. Stay up-to-date with modern design and code standards and you should be just fine. Users expect what they are used to, and the better user experience you can deliver, the better you’ll convert them into customers.
Google algorithms generally follow standards and best practices as well. Forget the naysayers and do what’s best for your customers (which does include SEO... make it easy to find you!). Are there any other web design practices of yesteryear you’d like to call out? Anything you’d like to add? Don’t be shy! Share in the comments. A little healthy discussion never hurt anybody.