8 Web Development Mistakes that Make Any Site Look Bad

Whether you’re a developer, a designer or just an entrepreneur, a professional website is nearly impossible to do business without. While most people spend endless amounts of time to get the design of the site just right, most people don’t even pay attention to what’s behind that design. Unfortunately no matter how awesome your website looks in the front-end, bad development can ruin your visitors’ experience and make them run away quicker than you can say “HTML5″.

It is worth it to pay as much for development as for the actual design itself. Here are eight web development mistakes that could be costing you business.

1. Slow Loading

One of the first things a visitor notices about your site is how fast it loads. This is especially important now in the age of mobile browsing and mi-fi setups. When you’re stuck with a slow loading site, it can be tough to diagnose (I was once “graced” with this problem myself). Here are a few things you can look at to speed up your sluggish site:

  • Images – Do you use a lot of images? Are they web optimized? Try using something like Yahoo’s Smush.it to see if you can compress them some more.
  • Database Calls – If you’re using a CMS, it’s possible that it’s calling to the database way too many times, making your site take longer to load. Try going through the code and replacing as much as the dynamic content as you can with static. Does everything really need to be updatable by the CMS?
  • Server – I was once with a certain host that caused my site to take over 17 seconds to load! They tried to tell me it was my install of WordPress and the theme I was using, but when I finally switched hosts, the site ran in under two seconds. It seems they simply stuff too many people on one server with too little power.
  • Javascript Errors – Another biggy, if you have JS errors, or a site you’re using to host your JS is done, this can make the page almost unloadable. Make sure something like a Tweet or Facebook button doesn’t hold up the rest of your site if their API is down.
  • CSS/HTML – Is your code bloated? I’ve seen sites that have had thousands of lines of code that could’ve been accomplished in just a few hundred. Take a look and see if the code itself needs to be pared down, as well as running it through a minifier.

2. Broken Mobile Experience

While the computer is still the #1 way people access the internet, mobile is quickly catching up. New toys like smartphones, tablets and even mobile powered laptops and netbooks are quickly being used in place of a full-sized computer. Your visitors no longer view your site in 1024 or higher resolution, you’re now faced with dealing with a bunch of smaller resolutions.

While I don’t believe every site needs an app, or even a mobile web site, your site needs to at least look and function probably in the mobile world. If it works just as well on these devices as it does on your computer, you’re good to go. If not, you’re missing on a lot of traffic and potential business.

3. All Javascript–No Static

You’ve probably heard about the recent blow up of a popular network–after launching a new version of their site, one error on one like of Javascript caused the entire site to come up completely blank for ever user. Why? The simple version was that they decided to use AJAX and JS to load ALL of their content. Which also meant that devices that have JS turned off by default (some Android devices) can’t see the site at all, even when they fixed the bug.

4. No Testing Needed…

One of the biggest mistakes I see clients make, is that they launch the site before they’ve fully tested it. Contact forms get sent to nowhere, the gallery is broken, and the menu still has address hash-tag placeholders. This not only deters visitors, it also makes your company look like amateurs. Please make sure to fully test the site before you launch – it helps to grab a couple of your friends and let them browse the site as well. You’ll be surprised at what kind of bugs they’ll come across.

5. Invalid HTML

A lot of developers still argue whether it’s important to validate your HTML or not. I say, why not? There’s no excuse not to validate, and validation catches a ton of bugs before they make it into the live version. Especially when it comes to making the site consistent across browsers, validating can be a major, major help. Plus, it really doesn’t take any good developer extra time to do, and it means your site is less likely to have issues when browsers and code standards are updated.

6. Tables

I can’t believe that in 2011 I still have to tell people to stop using table-based layouts. But I do. Don’t ever, ever, ever use them. Tables are meant for tabular data, not layouts. Not only will you waste a ton of time trying to get the site to conform in all browsers, you’ll have unnecessary images from the slice tool, bloated code and other nasties. I repeat, don’t use tables!

7. Naughty SEO Tactics

Some people are obsessed with SEO, but in the real world, SEO really isn’t that big of a deal for most companies. The truth is, there are billions of web sites out there, Google is changing things all of the time, and most visitors probably won’t find you through search.

So that being said, please stop using bad SEO tactics. It’s one thing to optimize your site with good keywords, it’s entirely different to stuff every crevice with them. Don’t cram keywords in the footer and sidebar. Don’t just randomly throw them in your content. The key to good SEO is making the content real and relevant. It should happen without you really trying.

8. Forgetting About Accessibility

One of the key things that people forget, is that everyone who browses the internet isn’t exactly like them. There are blind people, deaf people, people with color blindness and more who want to navigate on your site. If you forget to put accessibility items like alt and link title tags, you can be missing the traffic from disabled persons. Your site is awesome and you want everyone to be able to experience it, right?

Your Thoughts

What are some of the worst development mistakes you’ve seen people make? How does it affect normal users?