Five Mistakes Novice Web Masters Make

Cut it out, web designers!

Nowadays, everyone has a web site. But not everyone has (or needs, or can afford) a professionally designed web site. If you simply cannot afford to hire a web designer right now, don’t sweat it. There are a few things you can do to make sure that your web site is at least not shooting itself in the foot with regard to optimization, usability and accessibility. Here they are, in no particular order.

  1. Empty Page Titles — Every HTML page has a title tag. And that title tag is crucial if you want your site to show up properly in search engines. The Title tag of your pages is one of the most important (if not THE most important) elements in terms of SEO. Not only does it appear in the SERPs but it also carries a lot of weight for your ranking and for the search engines when they are trying to determine what a page is about. If you use a content management system, the page titles are likely managed for you. If you are writing your own static HTML pages, though, it’s easier to overlook that title tag. And failing to populate that title tag with something relevant will cause your site to look like the example above. Here’s what a title tag looks like in an HTML editor:
  2. blank-page-title

    <?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
    <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC 
      "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN"
    <html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en">
        <title>Blank XHTML 1 Transitional Page</title>
  3. Music on Page Load — This is one guaranteed to send me away from your site, screaming and holding my head. If you must have music on your web site (and I understand some sites lend themselves to this; and for a musician’s or band’s web site, it’s de rigueur), then at least don’t have it play on page load; have the USER control whether it’s on.
  4. loud-music

  5. Typography Matters — Be careful that your web site is legible at all times. This means appropriate font choices. Don’t use a highly decorative font unless absolutely necessary (and, really, when would THAT be?). Make sure the font color and the background (if other than white) doesn’t make the contrast too low for sight-impaired visitors. Allow your text to scale; don’t use fixed font sizes.
  6. typography

  7. Hijacking The User’s Mouse — My mouse is mine and mine alone! I don’t want to see mouse trails (they serve no purpose unless a user has specifically enabled them in his or her operating system). I don’t want the page to open another browser window unless I tell it to do so. In other words, let the browser’s “back” button do its job. If your site has valuable content, you won’t have to resort to this kind of treachery to keep visitors on your site, will you?
  8. cursor

  9. Validate, Validate, Validate! — You would be surprised how many errors that the mere act of validating your HTML and CSS will shake out. Especially if you post your HTML and CSS problems to a forum, mailing list or newsgroup, get into the habit of running the misbehaving page through an HTML or CSS validator. Typographical errors in the HTML or CSS can play havoc with page layouts!
  10. checkmark

Joni Mueller has been designing web sites for hire since 2003, when she first blew up her web host's server by insisting on running Greymatter. Since then, Joni has designed for Blogger and Movable Type, TextPattern, WordPress and CMS Made Simple. She lives with her cat and shoe collection in a bucolic old section of Houston called Idylwood. For some strange reason, Joni likes to refer to herself in the third person. When she's not working on web design, she's ordering lawyers around. And blogging about it. Or both.

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