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Top 10 Mistakes in Web Design

by JAKOB NIELSEN on January 1, 2011

Summary: The ten most egregious offenses against users. Web design disasters and HTML horrors are legion, though many usability atrocities are less common than they used to be.

Since my first attempt in 1996, I have compiled many top-10 lists of the biggest mistakes in Web design. See links to all these lists at the bottom of this article. This article presents the highlights: the very worst mistakes of Web design. (Updated 2011.)Cartoon- Man searching for 'Honalulu' and getting no results.- Woman: 'Oh, forget it. Let's just go visit my mother in Fargo.'

1. Bad Search

Overly literal search engines reduce usability in that they’re unable to handle typos, plurals, hyphens, and other variants of the query terms. Such search engines are particularly difficult for elderly users, but they hurt everybody.

A related problem is when search engines prioritize results purely on the basis of how many query terms they contain, rather than on each document’s importance. Much better if your search engine calls out “best bets” at the top of the list — especially for important queries, such as the names of your products.

Search is the user’s lifeline when navigation fails. Even though advanced search can sometimes help, simple search usually works best, and search should be presented as a simple box, since that’s what users are looking for.

2. PDF Files for Online Reading

Users hate coming across a PDF file while browsing, because it breaks their flow. Even simple things like printing or saving documents are difficult because standard browser commands don’t work. Layouts are often optimized for a sheet of paper, which rarely matches the size of the user’s browser window. Bye-bye smooth scrolling. Hello tiny fonts.

Worst of all, PDF is an undifferentiated blob of content that’s hard to navigate.

PDF is great for printing and for distributing manuals and other big documents that need to be printed. Reserve it for this purpose and convert any information that needs to be browsed or read on the screen into real web pages.

> Detailed discussion of why PDF is bad for online reading

3. Not Changing the Color of Visited Links

A good grasp of past navigation helps you understand your current location, since it’s the culmination of your journey. Knowing your past and present locations in turn makes it easier to decide where to go next. Links are a key factor in this navigation process. Users can exclude links that proved fruitless in their earlier visits. Conversely, they might revisit links they found helpful in the past.

Most important, knowing which pages they’ve already visited frees users from unintentionally revisiting the same pages over and over again.

These benefits only accrue under one important assumption: that users can tell the difference between visited and unvisited links because the site shows them in different colors. When visited links don’t change color, users exhibit more navigational disorientation in usability testing and unintentionally revisit the same pages repeatedly.

> Usability implications of changing link colors
> Guidelines for showing linksCartoon - guy being crushed under wordy 'terms and conditions' legalese

4. Non-Scannable Text

A wall of text is deadly for an interactive experience. Intimidating. Boring. Painful to read.

Write for online, not print. To draw users into the text and support scannability, use well-documented tricks:

  • subheads
  • bulleted lists
  • highlighted keywords
  • short paragraphs
  • the inverted pyramid
  • a simple writing style, and
  • de-fluffed language devoid of marketese.

> Eyetracking of reading patterns

5. Fixed Font Size

CSS style sheets unfortunately give websites the power to disable a Web browser’s “change font size” button and specify a fixed font size. About 95% of the time, this fixed size is tiny , reducing readability significantly for most people over the age of 40.

Respect the user’s preferences and let them resize text as needed. Also, specify font sizes in relative terms — not as an absolute number of pixels.

6. Page Titles With Low Search Engine Visibility

Search is the most important way users discover websites. Search is also one of the most important ways users find their way around individual websites. The humble page title is your main tool to attract new visitors from search listings and to help your existing users to locate the specific pages that they need.

The page title is contained within the HTML <title> tag and is almost always used as the clickable headline for listings on search engine result pages (SERP). Search engines typically show the first 66 characters or so of the title, so it’s truly microcontent.

Page titles are also used as the default entry in the Favorites when users bookmark a site. For your homepage, begin with the company name, followed by a brief description of the site. Don’t start with words like “The” or “Welcome to” unless you want to be alphabetized under “T” or “W.”

For other pages than the homepage, start the title with a few of the most salient information-carrying words that describe the specifics of what users will find on that page. Since the page title is used as the window title in the browser, it’s also used as the label for that window in the taskbar under Windows, meaning that advanced users will move between multiple windows under the guidance of the first one or two words of each page title. If all your page titles start with the same words, you have severely reduced usability for your multi-windowing users.

Taglines on homepages are a related subject: they also need to be short and quickly communicate the purpose of the site.

7. Anything That Looks Like an Advertisement

Selective attention is very powerful, and Web users have learned to stop paying attention to any ads that get in the way of their goal-driven navigation. (The main exception being text-only search-engine ads.)

Unfortunately, users also ignore legitimate design elements that look like prevalent forms of advertising. After all, when you ignore something, you don’t study it in detail to find out what it is.

Therefore, it is best to avoid any designs that look like advertisements. The exact implications of this guideline will vary with new forms of ads; currently follow these rules:

  • banner blindness means that users never fixate their eyes on anything that looks like a banner ad due to shape or position on the page
  • animation avoidance makes users ignore areas with blinking or flashing text or other aggressive animations
  • pop-up purges mean that users close pop-up windoids before they have even fully rendered; sometimes with great viciousness (a sort of getting-back-at-GeoCities triumph).

8. Violating Design Conventions

Consistency is one of the most powerful usability principles: when things always behave the same, users don’t have to worry about what will happen. Instead, they know what will happen based on earlier experience. Every time you release an apple over Sir Isaac Newton, it will drop on his head. That’s good.

The more users’ expectations prove right, the more they will feel in control of the system and the more they will like it. And the more the system breaks users’ expectations, the more they will feel insecure. Oops, maybe if I let go of this apple, it will turn into a tomato and jump a mile into the sky.

Jakob’s Law of the Web User Experience states that “users spend most of their time on other websites.”

This means that they form their expectations for your site based on what’s commonly done on most other sites. If you deviate, your site will be harder to use and users will leave.

9. Opening New Browser Windows

Opening up new browser windows is like a vacuum cleaner sales person who starts a visit by emptying an ash tray on the customer’s carpet. Don’t pollute my screen with any more windows, thanks (particularly since current operating systems have miserable window management).

Designers open new browser windows on the theory that it keeps users on their site. But even disregarding the user-hostile message implied in taking over the user’s machine, the strategy is self-defeating since it disables the Back button which is the normal way users return to previous sites. Users often don’t notice that a new window has opened, especially if they are using a small monitor where the windows are maximized to fill up the screen. So a user who tries to return to the origin will be confused by a grayed out Back button.

Links that don’t behave as expected undermine users’ understanding of their own system. A link should be a simple hypertext reference that replaces the current page with new content. Users hate unwarranted pop-up windows. When they want the destination to appear in a new page, they can use their browser’s “open in new window” command — assuming, of course, that the link is not a piece of code that interferes with the browser’s standard behavior.Cartoon- woman (at car dealership): 'How much is it with automatic transmission?'- sleazy salesman: 'I'll give you a hint - it's an EVEN number...'

10. Not Answering Users’ Questions

Users are highly goal-driven on the Web. They visit sites because there’s something they want to accomplish — maybe even buy your product. The ultimate failure of a website is to fail to provide the information users are looking for.

Sometimes the answer is simply not there and you lose the sale because users have to assume that your product or service doesn’t meet their needs if you don’t tell them the specifics. Other times the specifics are buried under a thick layer of marketese and bland slogans. Since users don’t have time to read everything, such hidden info might almost as well not be there.

The worst example of not answering users’ questions is to avoid listing the price of products and services. No B2C ecommerce site would make this mistake, but it’s rife in B2B, where most “enterprise solutions” are presented so that you can’t tell whether they are suited for 100 people or 100,000 people. Price is the most specific piece of info customers use to understand the nature of an offering, and not providing it makes people feel lost and reduces their understanding of a product line. We have hours of video of users asking “Where’s the price?” while tearing their hair out.

Even B2C sites often make the associated mistake of forgetting prices in product lists, such as category pages or search results. Knowing the price is key in both situations; it lets users differentiate among products and click through to the most relevant ones.

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8 Blog Topic Generators for Blog Post Idea Inspiration

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Is blogger’s block getting you down? Have no fear, blog topic generators are here!

Blog topic generators will help kick start your inspiration, ensuring that you continue to generate fresh, enticing, clickable content.

1. HubSpot’s Blog Topic Generator

HubSpot’s Blog Topic Generator has you input three different nouns and dishes back five blog topic ideas that will get those creative juices flowing.

blog post topic generator

I put in art, creativity, and design. The suggestions: not half bad!

blog topic ideas

2. Portent’s Content Idea Generator

Portent’s Content Idea Generator is as simple as they get. Just toss in a keyword and go to town. This generator has some personality, adding little quips and jokes in bubbles alongside the topic suggestions.

As is common with these generator tools, some blog topic suggestions will come out a bit silly, but spend enough time on this one and you’ll definitely find some gems.

random blog topic generator

Want to boost traffic to your site? Download our free guide: 25 Ways to Increase Traffic to Your Website

3. Build Your Own Blog’s Idea Generator

The Blog Post Idea Generator from Build Your Own Blog is a bit different in that you don’t put in any keyword related to your industry – you just tap the “generate blog post idea” button and off you go.

blog post idea generator

You’ll naturally need to customize these suggestions to fit your target audience. The ideas aren’t quite strokes of genius, but you may find something that tickles your fancy.

Some titles this random blog topic generator gave when I had my hand at it:

  • X Myths About ….
  • 10 Things Your Competitors Can Teach You About…
  • Top X Must Have’s For _________
  • 7 Reasons Why ___________ Always Works

4. Blog Title Idea Generator

This Blog Title Idea Generator from Inbound Now is basically the same as the one listed above. It’s fine. You’ll probably find some nice blog post title ideas. Not much else to say.

blog idea generator

5. Link Bait Generator

The Link Bait Generator isn’t as flashy as the other blog idea tools, with a simplistic, barebones design.

Type in your keyword and then choose whether you’re looking to write a blog post that is:

  • Controversial
  • Fun
  • A List
  • Shocking

blog title generator

What’s interesting about Link Bait Generator is that it gives you some nice insight about what certain phrasing or title structures will work best depending on what type of post you want to write. No other blog post idea generator takes into account what kind of style or spin you’re shooting for.

When I said I wanted controversial topics, I got ideas like:

  • X Things the Media Hasn’t Told You About _________
  • The Connection Between X and Sex. (Heh heh, I’m curious about putting PPC here)
  • X Reasons Why ________ Is The End of the World As We Know It

While the suggestions might be a bit too Buzzfed-esque for some tastes, they’re certainly aiming for clickability. I consider the Link Bait Generator an interesting little dive into human psychology to help you consider what makes people tick and what kind of wording gets them fired up.

MORE: The Ultimate A-Z Marketing Buzzwords Bible

6. ContentIdeator

ContentIdeator is another blog topic idea generator that offers suggestions based on the keyword you type in. What sets ContentIdeator apart is that it generates pages and pages of suggestions (although by page 4 it starts to look like nonsense).

get blog ideas

Some suggestions are oddly specific. For example, when I typed in “art” I got blog topic ideas like:

  • Reasons to Start Your Own Stamp Collection
  • Music and Art Are Inextricably Linked’ A Look at Ronnie Wood Art
  • What Batman Can Teach Us About Cartoon Fonts

Other suggestions are ridiculously vague. My first four generated suggestions were:

  • How To Buy Modern Art
  • Modern Art Online
  • Ways To Find And Buy Modern Art
  • Choosing Art

You need to put in a broad keyword to get any results. My search for “health food” generated only one suggestion (and it was a lame one), while “health” worked just fine.

I’d suggest going to other tools before this one, but if you’re willing to dig around a bit, maybe you’ll find a subject that speaks to you.

7. Content Strategy Helper

The Content Strategy Helper by Built Visible is actually a Google Doc tool that generates blog topic ideas right into your Google spreadsheet.

The tool gathers information from Google News, Google Insights, Reddit, YouTube, Topsy, and more sources to show the stories everyone is talking about. As a bonus, it also offers outreach contacts for relative topics, which is always handy.

content idea generator

This tool is different in that it’s providing info on existing stories. However, looking at these hot topics can help influence your content strategy choices and also makes it easier to find news-worthy stories that you may want to jump on the bandwagon for.

While not a blog topic generator in the classic sense, the Content Strategy Helper isn’t a bad content tool to have in your arsenal. However, if you have your own preferred tool for keeping track of hot news stories, you probably won’t gain a ton by using Content Strategy Helper.

8. Buzzsumo

Buzzsumo is favorite tool of mine. It’s similar to the tool listed above, as it shows the most popular existing articles (vs. pure concepts for articles).

Buzzsumo is a great study in what kinds of title structures and topics are most appealing. It’s straightforward and easy to use – search by topic or by site URL (it’s always a good idea to check out what your competitor’s topic articles are).

Also don’t forget to mess around with the filters. Confine search parameters to the last week or month if looking for newsworthy stories.

blog topic generator

3 Final Tips on Generating Blog Post Titles & Ideas

  • Blog, Borrow, Steal. What headlines do you see that capture your interest? Steal that headline and tweak it for your own purposes. Imitation is flattery x5!
  • Same But Different. You’ll find that, for the most part, the ideas spun by most of these topic generators are largely the same. These generators are using formulas that work and applying them to your key themes. If you find that you prefer one generator over another, go ahead and stick with that one.
  • Expand Upon Generator Ideas. The “X Things You Don’t Know About ___________” is a standard blog topic. It’s overdone and overused, but it’s still spit out as a good idea because it works – it generates curiosity. Don’t be afraid to use one of these tried and true blog structures, but make sure that you add some creativity to make it your own.

14 Steps To Write A Great Listicle

How to Write a Listicle

Let’s take a look at how to write a listicle. A listicle you ask? Why yes, a listicle. A listicle is is a blog post or article found on the web which is outlined in a bullet point or numbered fashion. Listicles have become all the rage and entire websites have surfaced which dedicated themselves to nothing other than creating high quality listicles. As you can see by the heart in the graphic to the left, people just love listicles! Like anything else, there are a few guidelines to keep in mind when writing this type of blog article. We’ll take a closer look at how to write a listicle in this blog post now.


1. Number Each Listicle Item

Your listicle can be about any topic you like. Choose something you are super interested in! When you are genuinely interested in the topic, you will actually have a lot of fun writing the listicle since you will also be doing research along with your writing. As you come across bullet points, or defined sections, for your article, use a number for each item. So why number your blog post? Well, for one, it makes it easy for the reader to summarize and consume the information you are trying to present. Neatness and organization count, and having a neatly presented and numbered list is being nice to your visitor and making it easier for them.


2. Use An Odd Number In The Listicle Title

With numbers you have many choices. They can be single digit, double digit, odd, or even. At this point let’s just look at the difference between even and odd numbers. The number you choose for your list makes a difference. Based on the data, research has shown that odd numbers perform better than even numbers for these types of posts. Check out this article where we learn the following:

Instruction specialist, Abreena Tompkins, recently conducted meta analysis on more than 300 articles about online learning and concluded that grouping information in parcels of three or five can help people absorb information better.

Your goal as a writer should be to try and convey information in the most easy to absorb manner possible, and if an odd number helps with this goal, then you should do it!


3. Use A Prime Number In the Listicle Title

What is a prime number? It is a number which is greater than 1 which has no divisors other than the number 1 and itself. Here are some prime numbers to consider for your list posts: 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, 37, 41, 43, 47, 53, 59, 61, 67, 71, 73, 79, 83, 89, 97, 101, 103, 107, 109, 113, 127, 131, 137, 139, 149, 151, 157, 163, 167, 173, 179, 181, 191, 193, 197, and so on. Sometimes just a quick small numbered post will do the trick. Other times, you may be feeling brave, or completely amped on caffeine and ready to tackle a 5000 word 197 point listicle. The choice is yours, but as a rule, go with the prime numbers. Why? They work. Math Geeks dig them.


4. There Is A Perfect Number. It Is 29.

With all of this talk about numbers in figuring out how to write a listicle type blog post, this does beg the question, “Is there a perfect number for a Listicle Blog Title?” The answer would be yes, and according to number crunching big data scientist Gilad Lotan – that number is 29. You may be skeptical of course, but the proof is in the pudding – or in this case, the numbers. The data doesn’t lie.


5. Go Big or Go Home

If you’re going to write a listicle, you might as well swing for the fences. Look, these suckers are going to take a lot of time, effort, and willingness to research the topic at hand – but the pain will be worth the gain when you’re ready to publish. For this tactic, you are going to combine the power of a list, with the power of long form content. Long form content would be referred to as an article that is a minimum of 1,000 words in length up to 10,000 words in length. Industry leader Moz did an exhaustive study of what type of content is able to generate links back and social shares. What they found is fascinating.

Long form content consistently receives more shares and links than shorter-form content

Articles that were less than 1,000 words in length performed the worst while articles that dug in and provided over 2,000 words of quality content did best. Is there a perfect length? Serp IQ did a study, and places the number right around 2,450 words.

In addition to this, the type of post that attracted the most shares and links was you guessed it, the List Post. List Posts beat out Why posts, How to posts, Video posts, Infographic posts, and quiz posts for shares and links.


6. Put A List In Your List

People love lists, in fact you are reading one right now! What could be better in your list, than more lists of course! Here is an example of more information on how to write a listicle.

  1. Write A Listicle With Wikihow
  2. How To Write A List Post
  3. You Can Write The Perfect Listicle
  4. 9 Ways To Write A Listicle
  5. The Listicle as Literary Form

7. Number Each Item In The Post

If you’re going to keep to the point of number 5 above, that is to go big or go home, then this point is going to be crucial for you. When you set out to create long form content, you run into the danger of ending up with one massive, undigestible, mass of words. By placing a number before the heading of each list item within the post, you are able to break the large blog into digestible chunks that are consistent, scannable, and easy to breeze through.


8. Top, Best, Most

When people are looking for information, they are looking for the best of the best. You want your listicle to surface the top, best, or most important pieces of information about the topic at hand. Some ideas of this concept might be as follows.

  • 11 Top Reasons Why It Rocks To Design Web Sites.
  • 21 Mistakes Most Bloggers Make.
  • 13 Best Birthday Gifts For Photographers.
  • 31 Top Bloggers To Follow.

9. Mention Famous People In Your Listicle

As bizarre as that sounds, mentioning famous people in your Listicle can draw more attention and traffic to it! How might this work? We can think about it like this. If you want to write an article about the best way to throw a football, you might consider something like this: 10 Reasons Tom Brady Can Throw Better Than You. Now, you can go and Google 10 things about Tom Brady, write your awesome list, and you’re good to go. You don’t need permission to write about Tom Brady, but you do get the benefit of associating his name with your blog and what that means to the information it contains. As a Monday morning quarterback, no one is going to want to hear your opinion on how to throw a football. If you research the blueprint of how to do it right according to Tom Brady however, you have a shot at getting noticed.


10. Write A Great Title

Writing a Great title for your listicle or blog post is crucial to it’s success. This doesn’t mean to create the most click bait worthy piece of text you can come up with. People are so sick of click bait, services exist to save you a click. (You need to follow this guy btw!!) Use a title that most accurately describes the content on the page, not one filled with a string of ridiculous adjectives in a sales pitch. Super blogger Amit Agarwal has some great tips about this in his post on how to write a successful blog.


11. Motivate, Teach, and Inspire.

Writing a post that makes people exited and want to take action is a motivational type post. It turns out, blog posts that motivate people are the best performing and most valuable type of content you can create. Many people have the skills they need to make great things happen, but lack the motivation. Help them with this by writing a great motivational listicle. In addition to getting motivated, people have a love for and thirst for learning. What are you good at? Share it with the world in your blog. Finally, inspirational articles also tend to perform well in listicle format.


12. Systems Perform Better Than Goals.

Goals are a great thing to have. You get to imagine losing 20 pounds, or winning a softball championship, or making a six figure income, or making a million dollar income. It doesn’t really matter what your goal is, but the reality is that simply having a goal will not make that goal a reality. Systems are where it is at. Unfortunately systems are generally boring, repetitive, data driven, black and white things. It pays to keep the following things in mind with regard to systems and goals.

  1. Commit to a process (or system) not a goal
  2. Blogging is a system, not a goal
  3. Something you do on a regular basis that increases your odds of happiness in the long run
  4. Never make a loan to someone who is following his passion

This quote from Scott Adams really hits home as to what a system is, something that is boring, and looks good on a spreadsheet:

My boss, who had been a commercial lender for over 30 years, said that the best loan customer is someone who has no passion whatsoever, just a desire to work hard at something that looks good on a spreadsheet. Maybe the loan customer wants to start a dry-cleaning store or invest in a fast-food franchise—boring stuff. That’s the person you bet on. You want the grinder, not the guy who loves his job.


13. Short Titles Rock

Short and sweet is where it’s at when it comes to title length. Why do you think Twitter has become so popular? The attention span of the average internet surfer is 7.5 seconds (made up), but truly, avoid excessively verbose titles that dilute the message and distract from the point of your listicle.


14. Get Controversial

Listicles that have a hint of controversy often times do get a bit more attention. You can latch on to a controversial topic and lure your audience in to get them emotionally attached and discussing your site. Just think of the controversy this would cause: “10 Reasons Diversity Doesn’t Matter On Project Greenlight”. On the other hand, just be careful what you wish for, you may end up generating lots of attention for your listicle but it might be in the form of a backlash.

The Listicle Conclusion

The truth is, Listicles are here to stay because they work. Like Mike says in this article Lists organize our brains, help to break information down, save time, makes article shareable, and is conversational in nature.

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