The web is a world of ever-changing standards. These changes are not arbitrary nor are they simply trends. They reflect advancements in technology and the way users interact with the web. The prevalence of mobile devices, changing algorithms at Google, and new possibilities in code all have a good deal of influence. With things changing so quickly, however, it can sometimes be hard for our clients to keep up with the fact that yesterday’s popular approach is dead today. We’re listing here a few web standards we often receive requested from clients but feel are either on their way out or irrelevant entirely to current websites.
1. Sidebars on Homepages
Side bars are so 2008... At this point, the most useful function of a site’s sidebar would be to provide links to specific, related content. For example, if you read a blog article, the sidebar could offer options to filter content, or links to related articles. Sidebars are visually disruptive elements provided to offer links to other sections, or to view different configurations, of our website.
Typically, homepages are specific and do not present much unique information - they function the same way as a book or magazine cover. Their purpose is to “captivate” site visitors. For this reason we try to make them uniform and visually attractive, offering an orderly and elegant structure, organized hierarchically but presenting them linearly where possible. Sidebars force a type of visual scanning that breaks a website’s vertical narrative, causing the user to divide attention between the main sections of the site and the additional content, which may be redundant depending upon other available navigation options.
The proliferation of mobile devices, on the other hand, has made the horizontal space in the screen a valuable asset. What would be the value of placing a sidebar in the config of a smartphone’s vertical screen? Doing so would consume half of the screen space available.
At Tectonica, we believe that sidebars should only be used when they are truly necessary. Our homepages are gorgeous, designed with careful attention to detail, and planned to offer visitors an immersive experience in the site’s narrative. For everything else, our navigational structures, also carefully placed, are sufficient.
2. Link Pages
Before search engine algorithms were fully developed, link pages were used as a strategy to validate a website’s reputation. Saving an entire section of a website to list relevant links and URLs, as a convenient service for visitors, was considered both a valid and useful practice.
This tactic came to be considered a low form of “Black Hat SEO”. Google quickly learned that any link not supported by relevant content should be considered suspicious. Link pages were slowly replaced by specific links, inserted within the content of a site, where they served a more useful purpose of validating and expanding information on the website.
By now, link pages have virtually disappeared. However, it is still common for clients who request a virtual space redesign to wish to maintain a link page as part of their website. Our advice is to eliminate link pages where possible, and replace them with links blended into relevant content everywhere else, to improve the experience of site visitors.
3. Trying to Play "Beat the Search Engine"
The use of link pages was not the only practise to be rendered obsolete. The evolution of search engines affected other practices which are now considered inappropriate or illegal. For example, seeding an indiscriminate number of links to your site on other sites, in the hope that someone would find and click on them, is today grounds for exclusion from a search engine’s index. So are similar practices aimed at increasing traffic, including hiring the services of link brokers or participating in link buying schemes.
The influence of Google and other search companies on web standards cannot be overstated. For example, cramming an unnatural amount of keywords in the website’s content, or hiding them from the view of visitors while keeping them visible to search engines, were once common ways to cheat engines - and site visitors - into finding one’s site more easily. Even the once widespread use of meta keywords - useful at one time for describing the content of a website - has been banished in favor of a more organic approach. Sites are now required to weave keywords into the plot of the site, as part of the site’s content.
4. Above the Fold
Not long ago, people surfed the web using desktop computers exclusively. It was a homogenous world with little variability between screen sizes. In fact, for a long time, “1024 x 768 px” (the early resolution of Windows XP) was a mantra, of sorts, for both designers and developers.
When sites were predominantly static, with limited functionality and interactivity, rules were harder to break. It was thought that users would not spend time on a given website if they did not find what they were looking for right away, “above the fold”, that is, within the 700px space the website opened. Nobody, it was assumed, would scroll to the end of the page if they did not have a good reason to do so.
Clients were typically wary of not living up to visitor expectations. All content needed to appear in the miniscule but sacred space “above the fold”. This area had to make all promises about the website and also fulfill them. Any designer worth their salt needed to be capable of meeting these challenges.
The evolution of the internet and the explosion in the popularity of mobile devices changed the picture completely. Tablets and smartphones invited visitors to scroll down past the top part of the page; users became increasingly willing to do so, as long as the story proposed was interesting, inspiring or fun. Websites began telling stories whose plots were developed in the content of the webpage, and whose goals ranged from selling a product to convincing a visitor to join a political movement.
The interplay of these new standards and disruptive technologies enabled the creation of an ecosystem in which frequent users have become a more demanding audience. The “above the fold” concept has been rendered obsolete, because gaining visitor interest and participation now requires content that can no longer be limited to the height of a few pixels.