How would you know whether or not your site looks spammy?
It’s time for a spam check.
Web design is hard, especially if you aren’t an expert. Yet, in many ways you are an expert if you are a fan of the web. You’ve seen enough sites to know the difference between a clean, professional site and a spam site.
We also tend to fall in love with our sites, cherishing every pixel, or fall in love with gadgets and gimmicks, that moving icon in the sidebar, the bright colors, or that border that took you a week to figure out how to do on the menu bar…you often start seeing your site too closely, enjoying the bits and pieces you like and ignoring the rest.
It’s time for a big picture view, time to step back for a fresh look, seeing your site as new visitors see it.
Site Design Checklist: Looking for Bad Design Elements
Over the many years that I’ve studied the concept of trust when it comes to websites and blogs, I’ve heard from many their definition of what a spam site looks like. Let’s go through the checklist to see if your site qualifies in any way.
Too many ads: Too many ads compared to too little content or advertising that overwhelms the content qualifies as a spam site in many people’s opinions. It’s a tough balancing act but consider the loss of visitors compared to the pittance most sites with ads generate. Some professional bloggers have done away with all contextual and junk ads due to the poor impression they leave with readers, so look closely to see how your ads compare with the content. Some call it the “Goldilocks Test” to determine too much, too little, just right.
Red, White, and Blue: Prominent use of the colors red, white, and blue, and sometimes bright orange or yellow, are consider spammy colors by many. If your site is about the United States history, politics, patriotism, or representative of a country with strong red, white, and blue flag colors, these colors in fonts, backgrounds, and design elements are appropriate. Otherwise, most people consider them spam colors. There are millions of colors to choose from, so get hunting for variations of the primary colors.
Lack of Author and Site Information and Contact: If the About and Contact Pages are not spotted immediately “above the fold” (within the first screen before scrolling down), many are immediately suspicious. Make your About and Contact Pages prominent and easily found.
Byline by Admin: If a byline is visible on the site, author bylines that are not human names like admin, author, sizzle69, or kitten42 usually compel a visitor to run away fast.
Too much promotion, not enough help: Sell, sell, sell, sell. It’s exhausting. We are sold stuff all the time and the last thing people want is more sales pitches. If your site has more pitch than help, they think it’s spammy and too commercial. In other words, if you aren’t interested in your readers and your content doesn’t speak to them and help them, just pushes sales pitches into their face to get their attention and money, it’s judged spam. You need to do self-promotion, but it is a balancing act between sales pitch and making people feel comfortable and eager to do business with you.
Too many links in content: How many links are too many links in a single article? Depends, but if all of your articles have a link every few words, people get suspicious. It’s about balance. Anything that appears out of balance is suspicious.
Links with double underlines: Double underlines are ad links. We’ve learned that and people tend to avoid them. Move your mouse over them, they often pop up with advertising as well, giving us more incentive to avoid them. If you are indeed making money from them, great, but be discreet. Only one or two per 400 words or so. I’ve been told repeatedly that even one double underlined ad link in a post makes people assume it’s a spam site, so be very judicious. If these are not making you money, you avoid them like the plague.
Too many bolds: Too many bolds in a sentence or paragraph make it hard to read and spammy. There was a false belief that search engines gave more credit to words in bold than general words so spammers stuffed keywords into bolds with great hope of increasing SEO – which actually tells the visitor that the site is for SEO not them, thus they are gone.
Bad Use of Underlines: Underlined words are solely the prerogative of links, nothing more. Any time people see something underlined, they want to click it. If it doesn’t turn into a linked path, they think it is broken, thus the site must be broken. Do not underline anything in your content for emphasis. Use italics and bolds judiciously, and set section titles and subtitles in heading HTML tags.
Ugly or Template Designs: If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. It doesn’t take long for most people to recognize cookie-cutter web designs, templates that are a dime a dozen around the web. Same goes for old, out-dated designs. Clunky, crowded, primary colors, boxy, and dated. I don’t need to describe them as you know them. They scream spammy and out-dated, so give yourself no chance to be counted among them. Keep your site fresh, clean, bright and sparkling, open, and lean towards minimalism to avoid trends and fads.
Content Doesn’t Fit: Videos or images that are too wide for the content area can stretch and distort a website design. Same goes for things in the sidebar. Too big, too little, looks uncomfortable. Unfortunately, it also looks ignored or like the site owner doesn’t pay attention to details. Make sure whatever you put into your content areas fits, cleanly and comfortably, with some whitespace around it to give it breathing room. Fix errors, bugs, broken code, and anything that can be a distraction, giving the site the chance to make a bad impression.
Out-of-date Content: If the last thing you published or is held at the top as a sticky post is six months or more old, people will think you’ve given up and don’t care any more at the most. At the least, they will think spam and abandoned site. Either hide dates, release sticky posts more often, or keep adding fresh content to ensure your site looks alive.
You Just Know: The hardest one on the list is “you know it when you see it.” Unfortunately, as we’ve put so much time and effort into our sites, we’re too close to be objective in our perspective on whether or not our site looks spammy. Over and over again people tell me they just know spam when they see it, even though later they tell me stories of being led astray even though their gut was screaming “don’t!” People spot spam instinctively, so how do you look through their eyes to detect spammy impressions on your own site?
If you can’t be objective, ask. Be open. Ask friends, co-workers, people you don’t know very well. Ask your social web contacts to help lend their opinion. Ask your readers how you are doing and what they think might need changing.
Your blog exercise today is to stand back and look at your site objectively. You know you can spot spam when you see it on other sites. Can you spot any spam lingering on your site?
If you find it, clean it up.
People respect good practices and web standards. They are called “standards” because they have been found to work and are effective around the world. Clear links to your About, Contact, and Policies Pages, open whitespace, clean and uncluttered surfaces and designs, non-aggressive colors, and original content with a human voice behind it.
If all this web design stuff is beyond you, I recommend you experiment with the WordPress Twenty-Ten and Twenty-Eleven Themes. Twenty-Eleven allows you to customize the header art, background color and image, and a few other simple customization features, making it easy for you to get a nice clean and easy-to-use site – at least until you find another WordPress Theme that meets your needs. There are thousands to choose from, so start hunting and leave that old fashioned site design behind. Your readers will be happier, too.