Web development has evolved from the time when most sites were built using static HTML pages and the most popular web host was GeoCities (remember them?). Now there are many technologies used in web pages such as scripts, CSS, databases, forms and video streaming. With more complexity comes greater potential to make mistakes.
Here are six of the most common mistakes that web developers make:
1. Inadequate input validation
Many websites have forms that users fill in. The golden rule is to not trust what users input. For example, if the form asks for an email address, then this needs to be validated. There is no excuse for not spotting a missing ‘@’. Without validating your inputted data you could end up with just about anything being submitted, including malicious script which can execute on your server and delete your entire website.
We kid you not.
2. Required information needs to be clear
Many web forms contain both required and optional fields. Many forms use an asterisk to indicate a required field. It is a mistake to presume that a user knows what the ‘*’ means. Using the word ‘required’ is clearer. Users should have no doubts about what is required information and what is optional.
The best practise is to validate a field as soon as it is filled in order to trap errors. Nothing is more frustrating to the internet savvy than filling out a form and submitting it, only to be told a field is required which wasn’t marked as such. When the form then clears itself at the same time, it means the end of your chances to capture that person’s data.
3. Browser incompatibility
A website should be tested and work on all browsers. There are still websites out there that say ‘please view in Firefox or Internet Explorer’ – including some parts of Microsoft.com! If a user’s default browser is Safari or Opera then they expect all websites to display correctly in their chosen browser.
The latest statistics show that Opera is used by just 1.3% of users. This may sound like a small percentage but it is still a huge number. Additionally, the success of Internet Explorer was purely down to it being the default browser on PCs and the owners not knowing how to switch. It’s an awful browser, maligned by web developers and web designers alike for its inability to render many of the effects other browsers take in their stride.
It’s also slow and full of security holes. But this isn’t a rant about Internet Explorer.
4. Slow loading pages
Many web developers work in premises with access to high speed broadband. A page with many high resolution images may load fine on the computers used to develop a website but many people in Britain, especially in rural areas, suffer from low speed and unreliable broadband. If your great looking web page takes a long time to load due to low broadband speeds, then these users will probably leave the web page before it has fully loaded.
When you also consider that more than 50% of searches now happen on mobiles and tablets, you also have to ensure your website loads over 3G and 4G. Slow loading pages is a complete turn-off.
Additionally, page-load speeds are a Google ranking factor. Do you need any more reasons to ensure your website is quick to load?
5. Code that has not been fully tested
In January 2014 Google Mail, Drive and Calendar services stopped working for an hour. This was caused by a software bug. This shows that even a company the size of Google occasionally makes mistakes in their code.
6. Not scaling
Most websites that are developed without mistakes will work fine. Visitors will interact with web pages and easily find their way around the site. What would happen if there was an unprecedented surge in users?
In March 2014, Ellen DeGeneres tweeted a selfie from the Oscars. This was retweeted 1.3 million times which was a world retweeting record. This caused Twitter to go down for 15 minutes.
A similar thing happened when Michael Jackson died.
You need an awful lot of traffic to halt a web server but, if a website allows users to upload content, particularly if they are images, then you need to consider using remote storage solutions that share content between more than one server when many people are trying to upload content at the same time.
As website technology becomes more complex there will be more errors. Google and Twitter temporarily shutting down show that mistakes may be an inevitable part of web technology. The main lesson is to be able to correct mistakes quickly once they have been spotted.
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