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Five Ways to Make Visitors Bolt From Your Site

Congratulations. Out of a trillion web pages, I’m visiting one of yours. You’ve got an opportunity to show me something, sell me something, enlighten, amuse or entertain me.

It’s a shame I left within seconds because you did something stupid.

Most of these tricks have been around long enough that they’ve been discussed to death, and any reasonably competent web designer should know better than to use them. Yet I see them in action every day.

Automatic Audio – Automatically playing music or a sales pitch has been so despised for so long I’m amazed so many web designers still do it. Some sites think it’s OK if it’s accompanied by an animated talking head. It isn’t. Others make it even more annoying by waiting thirty seconds or so before assaulting your speakers. I usually cruse with my own music playing and typically open several tabs while reading an article, so your attack on my sound system forces me to go on a tab hunt for your awful page. When I find it I’ll slam it shut, but not until glancing at it just long enough to remember to never, ever buy your product or service.

Video Starting With Commercials – You may think I want to watch your video so badly I’ll sit through a fifteen second commercial first. You would be wrong.  A five second “Brought to you by…” banner is fine.  Anything longer than that and you’ve lost me. And you’ve made it even more annoying by disabling the skip or pause button. No problem – there’s a nice “X” on the browser tab that solves that problem instantly.

Slide Shows – Most of us are suckers for headlines like “Sixteen Ways to Save Money” or “Ten Gadgets You Didn’t Know You Needed,” or “Five Ways to Make Visitors Bolt From Your Site” But lately more and more lists use slide shows with one item per slide. I’ve even seen this done with “100 Best Movies” or “50 Essential Albums.” I’m not sure who clicks and clicks and clicks and clicks to slog though these messes, but I don’t. I don’t even bother for three or four.  If you’ve got a long list just break it up over two or three pages.

Flashing Ads – lightly animated ads can be eye catching. Flashing/strobing/quaking ads are annoying enough to make me leave immediately. I use Adblocker and flash blocking plug-ins, but some ads get past them (which is also annoying). I know you don’t have complete control over what ads appear on your site, but if a flashing ad hits, block it, or you’re going to lose a lot of your visitors.

Popups – This is another trick that should have been abandoned years ago. People hate ’em. They’re stupid an annoying and a powerful incentive to leave. The worst offenders are pop-ups that make you search for the “close” link. No problem; I’ve got one of those on my tab. See ya.

“But,” you say, “I’m offering a free newsletter!” Pfft. Who isn’t? And why would I want a newsletter from a site I haven’t looked at yet? It’s like walking into a coffee house and immediately being accosted by the owner saying, “Would you like to be my friend? Please please please? It doesn’t cost anything!”

I have no idea if I want your newsletter, or want to sign your petition, or vote for you for some contest. Odds are I’m not the least bit interested in what you think is so urgent.  Let me look around first. Make the offer somewhere on the page and leave it up to me, instead of shoving it in my face.

And that prohibition on face shoving includes when I leave your site. I’m done, ready to move on, I might come back later and BAM – here’s a popup when I try to leave. Ok, I guess I won’t be coming back later.

Good site design is not just what you do; it’s also what you don’t do. If you find something, anything, that annoys you on the web, you should know most of your visitors will have the same reaction.

It’s not easy to get people to your site. Once you’ve their time and attention don’t squander it by annoying them, or they’re likely to leave and never come back.

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9 Comment(s)

  1. Dave,
    Good article. I especially hate that legitimate sites use pop-ups now. Apparently they didn’t get the memo. It’s bad enough I have to use a pop-up blocker for the crappy sites but now I have to exclude sites I use too.

    Brian Riley | May 16, 2011 | Reply

  2. 1. People hate popups.
    2. Ad agencies don’t care.
    3. People invent popup blockers.
    4. Ad agencies invent 50 new kinds of popups.
    5. Repeat.

    Also, +1 to every single thing on your list. If I really want to read something badly, I’ll grudgingly slog through the slides, but…

    Heidi | May 17, 2011 | Reply

  3. I’ve noticed those stupid slide shows. Drives me insane. Just write the damned article — You don’t have to break it up into illustrated sentences for me. It’s not a friggin’ children’s book, CNN.

    Johnny Virgil | May 18, 2011 | Reply

  4. What I hate are the popup ads actually embedded on the page that slide out and obscure the text you’re trying to read. Then you have to find the close button, which 9 times out of 10 just redirects you to another page.

    Good list though. I remember reading an AMA on Reddit or something where a web developer was saying how he had a customer who INSISTED on having background music on his website. The developer explained to him repeatedly that it would only drive people away from his product, but he refused to listen and, since he was the paying customer, the developer put it on there.

    I think most developers who put music on websites are well aware of the sins they’re committing, but, they’re also getting paid to do it, and have the choice simply not to promote themselves on that particular site.

    Brian | May 19, 2011 | Reply

  5. I’ve discovered that if you want to read a long slideshow article – hit the print preview button and you get to read the whole thing in one window.

    Molly | May 23, 2011 | Reply

  6. Ooo, cool trick. Thanks!

    Hittman | May 23, 2011 | Reply

  7. The sites that always drive me away are the ones made entirely of PDF files. Nothing sucks worse than checking out a restaurants menu and finding out I actually have to DOWNLOAD it to my PC if I want to look at it. No. Thanks.

    Brian | May 27, 2011 | Reply

  8. Dave,

    Love your site. Been on it for several years and we have even exchanged a few emails, but you really come off as one of those crotchy, picky, middle-aged fuckers who throw a hissy fit over everything.

    When I read that waiting for a 15 second ad is enough to make you never visit the site again, it makes me wonder about if all the self-righteous Baby Boomer drivel about Gen X and Gen Y being soiled is merely projection.

    Harley | Jun 5, 2011 | Reply

  9. Harly, I’m only middle aged if I’m going to live to 110. I only plan to live to 100.

    You’re just now figuring out I’m a crotchety old fart? That should have been obvious immediately.

    I consider forcing an ad as misrepresenting what the author is claiming to offer. If someone says, for instance, that I should check out a video of a monkey washing a cat, I’m expecting to see a video of a monkey washing a cat, not a too-long ad for tampons. Show me your video, then follow it with a advertisement if you like, and if it appeals to me I’ll watch it. Try to force me to watch it first, though, and I’m gone for good.

    Hey, I’m just one guy, but I’m guessing there are a lot of other people who feel the same way, and all of them are bolting from sites before the author gets their message across.

    BTW, He’s a video of a monkey washing a cat. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M6JB3riPJu8

    (And to anyone tempted to reply “it’s not a monkey; chimpanzees are apes,” – nobody likes you.)

    Hittman | Jun 5, 2011 | Reply

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