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3 Web Design Misconceptions And The Ammo You Need To Combat Them

by Robin Cannon

Web design is one of the few professions where people will pay you to tell you you’re doing it wrong.

I can’t remember where I heard that quote. It’s felt accurate at times. One of the most common ways in which it manifests itself is when clients and employers bring up some of the more commonly held misconceptions about web design.

It can be frustrating for a designer or developer to address these issues.

It’s tempting to simply say “you’re wrong”.

That doesn’t work. Nor should it.

Part of being paid for your expertise is a responsibility to help educate others. They’ll trust you more, and they’ll also be better placed to make well-informed choices in future.

These can feel like battles at times and the ammunition you need to educate your client or employer is EVIDENCE.

Here are three common misconceptions about web design and the evidence you need to combat them.

Misconception 1: Links should open in new tabs

The misconception

Opening external links in a new tab keeps people on our site.

The evidence and how to address it

Users generally dislike this practice. Taking control of someone’s browser means assuming that I know better than they do. Users become frustrated when standard operations such as the back button don’t work (because we’re in a new tab). It gives a negative overall impression.

This is particularly true before tabbed browsing was widespread. Links that used to open in a new window now open in a new tab. This seems to have led to a new boom in using target=”_blank” (or alternatives). There’s no longer widespread agreement on whether it’s OK practice to open new tabs. UX Movement argues that it’s actually a good thing (and makes some reasonable arguments why).

I believe the principle is the same, though. While the immediate annoyance might not be quite so great, it still demonstrates a lack of trust in the end user. Jakob Nielsen talks about how multiple tabs lead to “frequent context-switches” (i.e. a lack of focus). There’s a big difference between my site being open in a tab, and a user actually being “on my site”.

Misconception 2: We need a splash page

The misconception

An aesthetically beautiful splash page acts as a great portal and excites people about the site

The evidence and how to address it

I’m amazed that this misconception still exists. The evidence is clear. A splash page that simply adds an extra step causes a massive drop off in visitors. People don’t have the patience to click through. Most articles on how to reduce your bounce rate will suggest eliminating a redundant splash page.

This is not to say that a landing page can’t be effective, but it has to have a purpose. For me that’s the difference between a “splash” page (which is simply an aesthetically attractive obstacle to content) and a “landing” page. A page that provides only a single link to “move forward” is denying the user choice. A powerful landing page can present a website effectively, and encourage (not discourage) further exploration by providing choices.

Misconception 3:  We need a lot of text for SEO purposes

The misconception

Sites should have a lot of text that includes keywords, so that they show up high in the Google rankings.

The evidence and how to address it

This is a little more subtle. Good SEO does mean relevant content that’s specific to the search terms I’m targeting. Less…but better…is far more effective than more…but worse…keyword content. Artificially keyword heavy content can even breach Google’s guidelines and be penalized.

Skillful targeting of keywords and phrases, semantic code, logical site structure, internal linking. These are genuinely effective ways of maximizing SEO. Remembering that the ultimate target audience is real people, not search engine spiders, is vital. Most of the principles of SEO are basic common sense. The most powerful SEO is organic growth based on strong foundations. It’s difficult to force either in terms of time, or in terms of content.

Educating your client or employer

Use evidence! It’s easy for a client or employer to conclude that arguing against some of these misconceptions is simple laziness on your part.

This isn’t a war, you are both after the same thing.  It’s important that you demonstrate with evidence why you are  pushing back, and why it will benefit them.

You don’t just want to provide a good service. You want to improve the web design industry in general. There are still unprincipled designers who’ll take advantage of the fact that these misconceptions are well established. It’s important not just to deliver a great end product, but also to deliver a positive and professional impression of the industry.



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Robin Cannon

Robin Cannon is Front End Engineer at Viggle, Inc. He also blogs regularly on his site Shiny Toy Robots.


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  1. Sarah Bauer says:
    April 3, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    I like this article because it shows that these misconceptions can be tackled with evidence and compromise. There are ways to meet the client’s perceived desires halfway-with skillful keyword targeting ( instead of cramped content), and dynamic landing pages ( instead of glitzy splash pages). Maintaining the balance between client expectations and user expectations sometimes requires intelligent compromise. This article has some excellent examples of such.

    Sarah Bauer
    Navigator Multimedia

  2. Darssh says:
    April 3, 2012 at 8:38 am

    Thanks Robin for the instructions regarding SEO content and the link to the Google help about keyword stuffing.

    Most of my clients take my advice if they should hire a professional writer for writing their content or not. I always say to them, “if you can write content that can explain your services or products well, there is no need to spend money on hiring writers, you should spend that money on some link building and marketing your product/services on social media.

    Now I can give them a reference to this blog post so that they get a true guideline.


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