web design resources
Boring Is Best

Boring Is Best

Teacher: Bob McElwain

In sorting accumulated bookmarks recently, I found I could not recall why I had saved some of them. After clicking on a few, I was struck by the fact that so many sites looked so much alike. Boringly alike.

I sense that more and more webmasters are coming to understand that site content and expertise available is what makes the site. Not bells and whistles.

If you have not embraced these notions, you are losing ground. But as in so many things about the Web, there is no need to take my word for this. Check it out and see for yourself. You will find that in site design, simple is a good idea. And that boring is best.

The Test Sample

I began with a set of 43 bookmarks recently collected. Some I recognized as resources to be added to my newsletters. Others were sites someone had suggested or requested I visit. But for many, I was no longer able to recall why I had saved the address.

While I wanted the sample to be random in the sense of checking the entire set, I did not want to examine this many sites in any detail. After looking at several, I found a criteria that allowed my to eliminate a whole bunch. And that proved to be a great time saver. Here it is.

What's in it for me?

I omitted 14 sites that did not respond adaquately to this fundamental question asked by every visitor. (One exception is included below to make a point.) In each case, before making a hasty retreat, I noted additional flaws. Since it is not my intent to play critic here, I simple left them out of the list. The sites listed below had at least an adaquate answer to this question for their visitors in the first fold (screen). Does yours?

First Fold

Since I eliminated sites that did not adaquately answer the question above, all the sites listed had at least a good first fold. Note I said good, not great. In many cases there was room for improvement. (For more info about the importance of the first fold, send a blank email to mailto:firstfold@sitetipsandtricks.com )

Simple Navigation

While some sites were better than others, navigation seemed pretty straightforward throughout.

Load time

All but two sites had good download times on my system. Less than 30 seconds in all cases, most were under 15 seconds. One took 2:47 minutes, which is much too slow. Regards the second slow site, see the following.

Splash Screens

Only one site had a splash screen. I left after 3 minutes, before it had completely loaded. This is the exception included, simply to make this point. I never did see the first fold.

I really hate to see this, for it is so easy to demonstrate that this kind of page simply will not work. Just compare the hit count on the entry page to that of the page it links to. It is highly unlikely there will be even half as many hits on the second page. In this particular case, I'm not sure anyone ever has stuck around long enough for the entire page to load.

Horizontal Scroll

Only 4 sites forced me to scroll horizontally with my browser screen width set to 640 pixels. One had the table width set to 660 pixels, which makes little sense to me. Another had the table width properly set to 600 pixels but was still forcing scrolling about 50 pixels, probably due to a graphic in the page, but I did not check. Another site was using a table width of 100%, rather than 600 pixels; this leaves things to the browsers to position the page wherever. Of all sites visited, only one had a greater width: 812 pixels, an odd choice that forces almost every visitor to scroll. If you assume visitors are using 800 pixel screens, the better choice is 760 pixels.


Only one site used frames. And a bit of scrolling was required in each window. Not good. Since 28 of 29 sites did not use frames, you can do without them as well.

Text And Background Colors

All but three sites use black text on a white background. Two used black text on a background Windows calls moneygreen. (A very pale green.) It worked for me. Only one used a bold combination of colors. I was not taken with it, but it will not likely offend anyone. Clearly the work of an artist who knows web colors. The bottom line, though, is that 26 of 29 used black text on a white background. How much thinking does it take to figure this is the best way to go?

Font Face

Only 5 use Times Roman. There are those who maintain this is the way to go because it is what people are accustomed to reading in printed material. But in taking this position, they may be overlooking a key point.

Text on a computer monitor is much fuzzier than it would be in print. Fuzzier by something like 25%, even when compared to news print. This slows reading by about 20%. The serifs in Times Roman add fuzz, which slows reading even further. Most sites use Arial or Verdana. Either choice is the best available.

Line Length

The amount of readability research available is enormous. Believe it. The basic concern of parents and schools in the early grades is improving reading skills. Better readers do better in school; there's no question about this. Long before the Web was born, it was clearly determined that the ideal length of a line in characters is 60, and that 65 is the maximum acceptable. Only 2 of 29 sites ignored this rule. Can you afford to do so?

Pop Up Windows

Only two sites had a window that popped up. While popular with some webmasters, most visitors are annoyed because the new window blocks part of the page they came to see. Are you into annoying people?


I found animation on only one site. As a reminder, though, I only visited a couple of pages on each site. Further, I ignored banner ads. It may not be reasonable for a site to reject animated banners if revenues depend upon them.


No site offered sound.

The Wow!

I was surprised to find such commonality in a set of my bookmarks, collected for a variety of reasons. But the real wow came later, as I was adding up numbers and making counts.

Of the 29 sites included, 14 followed every one of the implied rules above. 7 others faltered on only one point. Thus at least 21 of these 29 sites agree that boring is best in site design. That content is indeed what it is all about.

See For Yourself

Many newbies embrace the freedom of the Web, but then carry this same sense of freedom into their website. That is, they do it their way, without regard to the norms that exist. It's a bad move. Your site design must be acceptable to your visitor. They are the only people who matter. Follow the "rules" most often used. Be creative in your content and products or services.

Don't take my word for this. Or the word of anyone else. Take the time to check for yourself. It's easy.

Go to your favorite search engine and enter "site promotion" as a search term. Remember these are people into making a site sell effectively. Briefly visit the first 15-20 sites listed. See how many you can find that ignore the "rules" above. When I checked at AltaVista, I did not find any break in the first 10 listings.

The Sample Set

Here are the sites visited in alphabetical order. I had thought to omit them, but decided someone might want to double check my notes. I've deleted http://www. in front of each.

associateprograms.com/ betterbackup.com/ ccslide.com/ createadvertisingthatsells.com/ csds.com/ ecommercebusinessdaily.com/ everyone.net/ findgoodnames.com/ free-services.com/ freepolls.com/ gambling.com/ gocritique.com/ herbal-lifestyle.com/ netmind.com/ netnation.com/ northernwebs.com/ payperclicksearchengines.com/ profitinfo.com/ prowebsite.com/ ronscheer.com/ searchengineforums.com/ sprinks.com/ successtrain.com/ top-10.com/ unclaimeddomains.com/ webcmo.com/ webmarketingnow.com/ xpider.com/webxtractor/ zoomerang.com/

About the teacher:
Bob helps webmasters grow their sites by showing them how to work smarter for more fun and profit with less effort. He has been marketing on the Web since 1993. Visit his newest site: http://SiteTipsAndTricks.Com. Subcribe to STAT News Now: join-stat@lyris.dundee.net

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