I recently read a great article by Tristan Harris on how technology hijacks people’s minds. He discusses how companies design their websites and applications to leverage psychological effects that lead us in to bad decisions, either through persuading us to buy from them or simply wasting our time with them. And it got me thinking…
There are some website behaviors I see often that are immediate red flags to me. So bad are these behaviors or “features” that I will close down the website immediately. What’s more, when this happens the sites get placed on a kind of mental blacklist and I will never return to that site again. So if you’re looking to attract me, here’s a list of nine things you probably want to avoid.
- Scrolling or timed subscribe pop-ups.
I’m sure everyone is familiar with this one. You open a page to read an article, news feature, or blogpost. After reading for a set time (like 20 seconds), or when you try to scroll down to see the rest of the piece, the page is overlaid by an obscuring panel/window offering you the chance to “subscribe” to the newsletter.
From a user perspective this is like trying to read a magazine and then the editor jumps round from behind you and slaps you in the face. It’s unpleasant, unwelcome, and a complete turn-off. Sure, I get it, you want to encourage people to sign up for your newsletter–I want the same for my site, but this method is more likely to piss people off than attract them.
- Pay-to-view switcherooney
Another common one. This is where you follow a link to a page that you think will be informative and (somewhat like the first of these sins) as soon as you try to read on, or scroll, up pops a box telling you that you need to pay to continue viewing the content.
I’ve nothing against paying to access content, but this is essentially a bait-and-switch exercise. The site is pretending the content is openly available, but it isn’t. And the reality is, unless the site is covering something very special, it’s probably nothing that isn’t available elsewhere.
- X other people are currently viewing Y
This is a feature I originally saw on Ebay, but is now spreading to other sites. It’s the box that says something along the lines of “12 other people are currently viewing this item.” It carries with it the implication that you better be quick and buy that sucker or else it will be gone! My wife tells me she’s started seeing it now on hotel room booking pages. And yeah, sorry guys, she closes those pages down straight away too.
- No pricing on business websites
This one has to be one of the dumbest decisions I can think of. You go to the site of XZX company looking to buy some self-sealing stem bolts. You use their search or browse and find that they have the size you want (and they’re even the right metric thread!) and…
Wham! How much are the damn things? No price is listed. Anywhere. Oh, but there’s a phone number you can call…
There are a couple of variations on this. There’s the one that won’t show you pricing until you create an account. Why the hell should I have to do that? Would you force people to sign up before you let them look around your store? (Okay, there’s dumb-ass Costco, but I don’t shop there either…) Then there’s the ones that won’t show you pricing until you enter your post/zip code. Why? Do you rip people off depending where they live?
- Commerce sites with no “commerce”
Has everyone seen this one? It has to rank has one of the most pointless web “design” decisions I can think of. In this scenario, you go to a supplier’s site to find out what they have to sell. They list products from a zillion different brand names, but there’s zero information on whether any of these are actually in-stock in their store (and like the previous sin, absolutely no pricing information). When you click on the so-called “product ranges,” instead of getting information on what the place actually sells, you just get redirected to the manufacturer’s site. Once there you can’t actually order anything of course. Instead they tell you to contact your local supplier… which is where you just came from. A never ending cycle of internet non-commerce.
- We’ll just scan our catalog
This business has a full blown print catalog already made, so they take the easiest path going and just scan the paper pages and whack them up on the web for all to see. Bad scanning makes the pages almost illegible of course, not to mention out of date, entirely incompatible with mobile devices, and usually terrible for anyone with any kind of visual impairments. Do the world a favor guys, just take this kind of crap off the web, you’re not attracting anyone.
- I fecking love puce on fuchsia
The designers/owners of these sites have a particular fetish for certain oddball color combinations, or love those really ornate fonts that look like they were created by ants tripping on a bad batch of acid. Not only is it not pretty, it’s virtually unreadable. Visitors stagger away with their collective eyeballs bleeding all over their keyboards or phones as they try to decipher the words on screen. Again, anyone with any kind of vision problems will also run away screaming from sites like this. There’s a reason that great design often looks so very simple. Even if you’re not a “great designer,” keeping it simple will at least not drive people away with melted eyeballs.
- Non-accessible/non-responsive design
It’s not your Daddy’s internet anymore folks. People don’t just browse the web on desktop or laptop computers. In case you missed it, people are now doing it *gasp!* right there on their phones or tablets, on watches, and internet enabled sneakers. Okay maybe I made that last one up, but the point is that now you need to have your website respond to the user’s device. Your design needs to be fluid, to resize itself appropriately to whatever screen dimensions and resolution they are using. It also needs to be not too graphic or video/animation heavy that they can’t find the content, or it takes thirty minutes and half their monthly bandwidth to load.
There’s more to it. The points I made earlier about people with visual impairments? These may not be people who have specific medical problems, they may just be elderly or color-blind. One of the key parts of using responsive accessible design is that it allows me, the user, to zoom in to see the content in a way that suits me best. No more locked layouts, no more fixed fonts, please!
And if that wasn’t enough to persuade you, Google now ranks non-accessible sites lower in its rankings. I mean, you do want to be found, don’t you..?
- Slide-based (Ad) “content”
Another common one. This is where the “Content” is organized into slides, each “slide” often requiring two clicks: one to see the image and then another to see the image and accompanying text. And of course, each “slide” is accompanied by a different ad. In a recent example, my wife spotted a supposed list of easy meal ideas that required her to go through twenty-three different slides! “Content” that only exists for the sake of putting eyeballs on ads isn’t really content. This should be swiftly dispatched to the seventh realm of Hell by hitting that close button.
- Bonus! No content-content
In this scenario we have an article or write-up supposedly based on a specific premise or idea, but it actually says nothing about that idea or premise. Usually a sign that the site owner that doesn’t really have anything to say and believes if they waffle endlessly, no-one will notice. Well, we do. Stop it. Remember the old adage, “It’s better to be quiet and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”
That’s it for the top sins I see. Feel free to highlight any I’ve missed (and I’m sure there are some!) in the comments.