Fail Lists (Part 2): Website Walhalla

Sign-Error-iconPreviously I discussed some of the elements that were quite some fails of handling usability and interaction design. Today I would like to point the spotlight into another direction; developing and publishing a website. It is something so very easy that anyone can do it, and so very hard to really master. Let’s highlight some common fails in perception and production of running and publishing websites.

Fail #1: HTML 5 is the way to go!

Let’s raise some hands. How many web developers haven’t had the opportunity to hear a project leader or a boss mention buzz words that should be included in the current project. 7 13-5 years ago, everything had to be Flash. Then, it all needed to be HTML again, and since 3 years, if you don’t use HTML 5 you are lagging behind.

HTML 5 at the moment is indeed still a buzz word. If you have been trying to make use of some very interesting features of HTML 5, like the calendar, the slider bar etc, you will notice that there is no universal support for a lot of things in the different browsers, let alone that the look and feel somewhat resembles. In some cases, even the usability of the elements is completely different.

This is because HTML 5 is still not a standard, and is only in its first revision at the time of writing, and there will be no finalized standard at least before 2018, but rumors also mention that 2020 should not be unexpected.

Facebook wanted to make the transition and Mark Zuckerberg himself mentioned earlier this year that that had been a mistake. You cannot build something on a standard that is not a standard yet. Some elements you can use already; like the shortened headers, but at the time of writing, using JavaScript and/or jQuery should help you out. And it will work also by the time HTML 5 will be a standard.

So, Don’t rely on HTML 5 yet, but make it work with everything available right now to ensure production and compatibility.

Fail #2: jQuery and AJAX need to be used instead of JavaScript

The weird thing, this one I hear most of the time from developers, that usually do not have enough experience yet, or just have heard some words and don’t really know what they are talking about. Let’s clear this up once and for all:

AJAX and jQuery are JavaScript. It does not change JavaScript, it does not do something that JavaScript cannot do on its own.

jQuery is a set of predefined methods that make working in JavaScript a lot easier and a lot faster, with visually very nice tricks that will take a lot of work to build on your own. The downside is, the libraries take up some space, and they do require some processing power. But, with updates being made, these negatives become less and less interesting if the jQuery is implemented correctly.

AJAX is a way of handling data in your web page. It is Asynchronous JavaScript And XML. It means you use JavaScript to load up data in an XML file, while being on a web page and not having to reload the page. It can be achieved with simple JavaScript or jQuery has some nice libraries for it.

But it is all JavaScript. Nothing more, nothing less.

So, if a developer mentions he wants to use AJAX or jQuery instead of JavaScript, have a good job evaluation talk with him. 

Fail #3: A website needs to be perfect before launching

A website indeed needs to meet certain standards before you decide to launch. But some companies or project leaders bring that to a whole other level and know to delay the launch of a website into infinity.

A lot of things you cannot know, will not understand, about the usability or reception of your website by your audience. The best way to launch is to make things good, launch, and be prepared to make changes. These changes will come no matter what. Even when you think your website it perfect before launch, but your audience clearly doesn’t agree, you will make changes to match it with your audience after all.

Unless you have previous data and you are updating or overhauling your website, you cannot know what the effect of your website will be. The best thing is to make your site good; design it well, program it correctly and test it thoroughly, but don’t be afraid to launch with elements you don’t feel 100% sure about yet. You need user feedback to really finalize your product. You can do this, as explained in my previous post, by adding a usability-lab during the development phase, or by receiving feedback by users while the site is live or in Beta.

A usability-lab might be far too costly for many small companies, so user feedback while being live or in Beta might be the way to go.

So, if you do not have the user feedback, you cannot guarantee a perfect website. Be willing to learn and modify your site while being live or in beta, instead of delaying the launch indefinitely.

Fail #4: We need to have good ‘SEO’

Somehow, almost every client I worked with in the last couple of years loves to bring up ‘doing SEO’ to make sure their product is a guaranteed success. And they read on websites that SEO is crucial. And you have no idea how many companies still pay for SEO to be put on that first page.

Let’s get one thing straight; If you have a bad product, or a product no-one likes, SEO will not help at all. Even if you get a lot of visitors, in the end, your site needs to be effective in what it has to do. And just receiving visitors is usually for a commercial company not enough; the advertising profits on sites are not that high that you can actually create a living with it, if your name is not Perez Hilton.

SEO is not something you buy. It is something you need to be aware of, and play according to its rules. It is a method to get noticed by the right audience, which in its case – if your site is indeed interesting to the correct audience – would get a much more quality audience to your site. That, in result, should result in a better result of what you try to achieve with your website too.

Sure, there are companies who offer services in getting your page listed and guaranteed on the first page of the search results. But that cannot be guaranteed at all. If there are 10 results on the first page, and 15 companies buy into this on one day, there is simply a physical problem. To avoid this, that company will never exactly mention on what search term query you will show up on the first page. Maybe it is a search query that hardly anyone actually uses.

Not only that, the only way to ‘guarantee’ your first page means that results are somehow tweaked. There is no other way around that. And of course, search results can be tweaked. The problem is, search engines are merciless to companies and websites that are caught. If the sites are not taken out of the search results altogether, they will lower their page in the search results drastically. And keep in mind, it will be your site, your company, that will hurt because of this, not the company that you actually hired to do this work with.

So, be and develop SEO-aware, but SEO is not something you ‘can do’ or can buy.

Fail #5: My audience is everyone!

I have highlighted this one in numerous earlier postings. One of the major hold-ups during web development is not knowing who you are developing for; who will be your audience. And a lot of site owners or project managers don’t understand that you cannot have ‘everyone’ as an audience member.

Even if you are a news site, your audience is most likely 24-60 year olds, probably 65% male, 35% female, some level of education and interested in news. And because of that, you have already some important things that hook into your usability design: educated people who are interested in news. In other words; your audience might know how to work a computer since they have been doing it for a longer time, and they frequent other news sites. So you can take a look at those, and understand how they are behaving. Find common dividers between the top news sites in design, flow and usability; and see if you can apply them on your site.

There is always an audience group. But because some people just simply think that they want to appeal to everyone; it simple is not going to happen. And by aiming for a site that is for everyone, there are too many problems; for one it is too difficult, for the other one too easy, too childish, too dark, too light… you cannot please everyone.

But also, understand your own production, your own website. And if you think that your site should be for everyone, ask yourself the following questions:

– Is the site for kids?

– Is the site for the elderly?

– Is the site for people who don’t own a computer?

– Is the site for people who do not live in your country?

The third point might sound like the weird question, but that question should put you mostly at ease. People who have a computer, and were able to find your website, deliver you a lot of information:

– They know how to turn on/off a computer.

– They know how to work a mouse and keyboard.

– They are known with their operating system (this means also, pull-downs, text-boxes, default buttons, starting programs and quitting them, etc.)

– They are known with a web browser and the concept of surfing.

– They are known with search engines (how else would they find your site if not by advertising, or if you have banners linking to your site, they need to have seen those on other sites, which they knew how to visit).

– They are known with the basics of web interfaces.

Voila! That already provides you with a lot of information. Never underestimate the user’s skill. Although there are a lot that might not know what they are doing, they usually known the basics. This will fall back to the usability design Fail List; if you stick to the basic and standard interfaces, people will figure out how it works. Just make sure you make it clear what they are doing on your site.

But a lot of companies or project managers do not want to take the time to actually add this to the production plan. And in the end, that only ends up with them using themselves as test audience, which never works out. But since they assume they are part of the ‘everyone’ crowd, it sounds like a wise decision to do so and save money. But in the end, it simply doesn’t work that way, and requests for changes will only pile up, and add a huge chunk to your budget and deadline that is completely unnecessary.

So, no matter how much you might like to think you are right; Everyone is not your audience. Never!

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