5 ways to piss off your web visitors

Companies spend big bucks to bring traffic to their websites and digital campaigns. But what are they doing when they get there?

A poorly thought-out website, ill-advised choices about ads or features, or lack of consideration to user experience can lose your visitors before they even get through the door.

Every day, I’m involved in this kind of thinking in my professional capacity. But sometimes it’s helpful to take a step back and think about these things not as a marketer, but as a user. Nothing crystallizes that more for me than when I am helping my non-tech-savvy mother learn how to do something or other online. And it led to my thinking about some of the worst decisions that digital marketers can make, which are sure to lose them some customers.

Here are 5 of my pet peeves, in no particular order:

1. Too many pop-ins

The ubiquitous Javascript pop-in may be more visually appealing than the pop-up window of the past, but it is no less intrusive. In fact, it’s more intrusive, since pop-up blockers on browsers have pretty much taken care of the latter. It seems like nearly every website these days loads with a pop-in asking for visitors to join, log in, upgrade, visit some sort of ad, or do something other than what they came to do. Pop-ins that are not triggered by a user action, but that show up uninvited, are the number one way to get people good and mad. Use them sparingly.

2. Login required for no good reason

The average web user these days has to remember hundreds of passwords, and is asked to log in to a site no less than 25-30 times a day. To make matters worse, password requirements are increasingly stringent, w ith a dizzying number of letters, numbers, special characters and expiration times. In some cases, such as email or online banking, this is unavoidable, but those passwords are seldom forgotten due to regular use. Other sites requiring login are another story. Most people won’t remember your password, they won’t bother going through the multiple sign-up steps, and they’ll probably just leave. If there’s no good reason to force someone to create a user account to access your content, don’t do it.  And here’s a tip: “We want to track / market to / sell to them” isn’t a good reason — not in the minds of your users, anyway. If you absolutely must require them to log in, consider using a single sign-on, or allowing them to log in via Facebook or Google.

3. Impolite video or audio content

Videos that start without being triggered. Sites that play sounds or music uninvited. Ads that flash up in your face or scrollbars that force unusual browser behaviour. Basically, if you’re doing something that’s going to make noise, make sure the user has to actually press “play”. Providing an option to “stop” or “pause” isn’t good enough; by then, it’s too late, and whoever is on your site is getting dirty looks from anyone around them.

4. Sites that don’t work on my browser or device

Mobile ads that direct people to desktop-optimized sites. Desktop ads that direct people to mobile sites. Tablet or mobile sites that Flash. Sites that work in Chrome but not Firefox, in Firefox but not IE… you get the idea. Develop with as much cross-browser and cross-platform compatibility as possible, make sure whoever is building your site knows the latest standards of design, and test, test, test. There’s nothing worse than sending users to an experience that they can’t see properly.

5. Not available in my region

The two big culprits here are e-commerce sites and content sites — the former because shipping or purchasing may not be available to visitors from outside a designated country or area, and the latter because of content copyright restrictions. Nobody wants to be told “sorry, you can’t have this” when they get to a site. If your content is restricted to certain users, make sure the advertising for the site is as targeted as possible to limit the number of visitors who can’t access it. And provide an alternate path as early as possible in the experience for those users. Forcing someone to run through a dozen steps before they realize that you don’t ship to their region is just plain thoughtless.

All of this can be summed up by one golden rule: Respect your visitors. Their time is valuable, their interest is hard to capture, and their respect needs to be earned. The good news is that sites who get it right will usually win die-hard evangelical fans — and you can’t buy that kind of loyalty.