The Internet of today is a highly competitive place. With so many individuals and businesses spending money and time on digital marketing and SEO — trying to outperform their rivals and sit at the top of the Google heap — it’s harder than ever to get users to visit any given website over another.
Given the difficulty of acquiring new visitors, you might think that all the webmasters of the world would do everything in their power to provide a delightful user experience and ultimately retain each hard-won customer, but we all know that there are a number of unpleasant and off-putting bad habits that seem to crop up time and time again.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common offenders making users leave in frustration…
1. The Site is Too Slow
In a world where almost everybody has a super-powered smartphone in their pocket, the Internet has become synonymous with instant gratification. A user who might be idly wondering about some half-remembered trivia can have the answer delivered to them via Google within a few seconds, and if they want to contact a friend in another country thousands of miles away, they can do so basically as quickly as they can type the Facebook or Whatsapp message.
If the original click was motivated by nothing more than frivolous curiosity, the user is very likely to think, “ugh, never mind” and try somewhere else
We’ve all become spoiled by the speed and responsiveness of our hyper-connected world, and so when we click on a search result and sit on a blank loading page for three seconds or more it can seem like an eternity. If the original click was motivated by nothing more than frivolous curiosity, the user is very likely to think, “ugh, never mind” and try somewhere else.
The BBC reported in 2018 that they’d found that every additional second spent loading pages tended to cost them around 10% of their users, which in Internet terms is huge (by this measure, the passing of ten seconds can mean that your traffic is all but gone).
Google have also stated that according to their research, more than half (53%) of mobile users will abandon a site that takes longer than three seconds to load. After six seconds, it’s almost a guarantee that they’ll look elsewhere. Of course, the functional needs of the majority of websites are not very complicated — the average e-commerce store or blog site really has no excuse for taking longer than a couple of seconds to load.
2. Too Much Popup Clutter
We’ve all had the experience of clicking a link in our Google search results and being taken to a page that seems to be doing everything in its power to stop us from reading the content. Within two seconds, an enormous screen-filling popup will appear, along with — something familiar to all Internet users in the EU — a GDPR/cookie popup, giving you two things to click on at once.
Combined with a browser alert that “this website would like to send you notifications”, the overall effect is one of being bombarded with irrelevant nonsense that entirely buries the actual content you were trying to reach — content that you are now expected to excavate yourself by manually dismissing each of the popups.
The use of popups continues to be a divisive topic; some designers and advertisers cite significantly improved conversion rates thanks to their use, whilst others are put off by their potential for user irritation (with one study from 2013 finding that a startling 70% of people consider them annoying). However you feel about them, we can probably all at least agree that popups are often done badly. They may have their uses, but delivering too many at once and not respecting the user’s desire to see content that is relevant to their interests is more likely to result in a bounce than not.
As for GDPR and cookie notifications, whilst these are a legal requirement for all websites serving data to users from the European Union there are certainly ways of presenting them that are more disruptive than others — and web designers from outside the EU can sometimes forget that these messages can add another layer of visual clutter for a significant percentage of their audience.
It’s remarkable to see in 2019, but many web designers still seem to treat the mobile version of a website almost as an afterthought. It’s still not uncommon to find a mobile site where items are misaligned, overlapping, formatted strangely or subject to some other oversight from the designer, all of which can signal to a visitor that your company doesn’t take the time to go over little details.
It’s worth remembering that catering for mobile users is not “serving a niche”, it’s now the most important part of the job. Statista reported that 52.2% of all Internet traffic happened on mobile phones in 2018 (up from 50.3% the previous year), proving that desktop browsing is actually now the less-used way to explore the web.
Coupled with Google’s algorithm change in March 2018 to prioritise mobile-first indexing, there is now no reason at all to neglect the mobile experience of your website. A low-quality mobile site can negatively affect your SEO performance as well as the experiences of your users, so it’s important to get it right.
4. Too Much Animation
We get it: animation looks great. Nothing says, “I’m a professionally-designed website!” like some nice smooth transitions, transforms and appearances, and well-deployed animation can breathe vital life into an otherwise static and sterile layout.
animation is a spice to be used sparingly
However, animation is a spice to be used sparingly and it can be distracting if overdone. Ideally it should support and draw attention to key content and call-to-action buttons – and not overwhelm the user with things popping up and swooshing around to the point that they’re too bewildered to read the actual text. Animated introductory screens, too, are great attention-grabbers when users first arrive on your site, but don’t make them sit through the same animation every time they want to return to the homepage. In general, the function of website elements shouldn’t be dictated by their aesthetic presentation; requiring users to wait for an element to appear or to become interactive because of an animation is not a great tactic, and this can cause users to resent the animation for getting in the way of what they’re trying to do.
For example, a returning user may know as soon as they arrive that they’re intending to click the “About Us” button, but making them wait while the navigation bar unhurriedly does a fade-in animation to show them the button before they can click is likely to cause irritation.
A related note is that some animations can cause accessibility problems; using a lot of moving parts or content that flashes can pose problems for some users (such as those who might have an attention deficit disorder), making it very difficult for them to concentrate on the content.
5. Autoplay Media
No discussion of irritating web design faux pas would be complete without mentioning autoplay media. It’s been the bane of web users since the early days of the Internet, but unlike status bar marquees and GIFs of CGI dancing babies it still hasn’t gone away.
There are ways to do it tastefully, but it’s so often misused that it certainly deserves a spot on our list. Whereas autoplayed MIDI music and Flash sites with audio were the scourge of the 1990s and early 2000s, the pox of today’s world is autoplay video. Many sites today will put a video playing next to the body text of an article or blog post — often this is entirely irrelevant to the content of the page, and if you close it before navigating to another page, it quickly reappears. Of course, this is highly distracting and often feels rather presumptuous (as though the website is saying, “hey, I know you clicked to read an article about digital design trends, but wouldn’t you prefer to watch this video of our glitzy charity gala?”)
Even worse, many sites preface these videos with automated advertisements which, given that the videos themselves are generally advertisements in one form or another in the first place, is tantamount to asking visitors to sit through an advert for an advert.
One small mercy, at least, is that modern browsers such as Chrome have been moving towards only allowing autoplay on videos which are either silent or muted, significantly curbing the frequency of the extremely annoying user experience of having unsolicited audio played at you.
Ultimately, all of the problems discussed in this article are issues of bad UX design. Every element of the site must be appraised for its impact on the function of the page: Does it help or hinder the user in finding what they’re looking for? Does it enhance or detract from the actual content of the page? Does it shorten or lengthen the process the user must undergo in order to complete a transaction?
Attracting users to your website is often no mean feat, and it makes sense to reward those who do arrive by anticipating their needs and treating both their time and their attention with the respect they deserve. In this way, well-treated users can become loyal repeat visitors, and a website can never, ever have too many of those.