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What do an expensive website and a 5-minute WordPress installation have in common?
If you said “some really bad things that should be flogged and eradicated immediately” you’d get a big grand prize.
Paying a lot of money or spending a lot of time and energy building your site doesn’t always mean it’s stellar. And sometimes the things that can make it un-stellar are small and even common.
In fact, I bet you see these things on sites every day. I bet you see them on most sites.
In fact… true confession… this site had some of these things in the not-too-distant past.
And then we flogged them and eradicated them with prejudice. Here are some of those things and why they need to go.
Ads. All Of Them.
You’re complaining. And disagreeing. I can hear you from here!
But I want you to think about what ads do to your experience on a site.
There are banners that abuse our eyes from headers, often flashing or scrolling or doing some sort of dance for our attention, distracting us from the real content.
There are sidebar ads that get mashed up with links, offers and other content.
There are those infuriatingly deceptive inline ads that look like links but pop up some aggravating little selly-sell-sell box as you attempt to read and explore the content on a page.
Sometimes there are even big graphic ads right in the middle of a page, so you’ll be reading along, reading along and then…
HELLO I AM AN AD!
And you keep reading and…
What the hell was that? Now you’re distracted and trying to figure out what you just read and how it all fits together.
Ah, I hear your justifications, too.
“Eh, but I’ve learned to tune ads out. I just ignore them and read the content.”
To that all I have to say is… exactly.
Ads have one of two effects on your site visitors. They will either (1) Be intrusive or (2) Be ignored completely.
Neither one makes them useful for you, helpful for winning fans or useful for making real sales or getting real leads.
Unless selling ad space is your revenue model then eradicate them immediately.
You have to be making a ship ton of money (that’s right, I said ship) to justify the way they interrupt and diminish your visitor’s experience on your site.
Yes, we ran ads here before. We tried Amazon affiliate ads. We tried Google AdSense ads. Yes, we made a few bucks. Thirteen here. Five there. Enough, at the end of a few months, to go out for a burger.
In the meantime, they looked crummy, took up valuable space that we could have been using to sell our own products or services, occasionally dragged the load time of our page down to crawl-speed and once in a while defied us with an inappropriate ad that we had to scurry to remove.
Managing the ads was more trouble than it was worth. Sometimes they were irrelevant. Sometimes they were oddball. Sometimes they advertised for competitors. The amount of tweaking to moderate those ads was not worth the burger.
So if ads are your sole source of revenue and that’s the way you want it to stay, or if you’re making money hand over fist and laughing all the way to your next Caribbean cruise, then ignore this advice.
Popups. Even The Really Pretty Ones.
Ah, popups, the bane of a website visitor’s existence and the darling of website owners everywhere.
More true confessions… we used a popup subscription box on this site, too. And guess what we got? Subscriptions!
For every person who complained about it, another signed up for our email list. Can’t argue with numbers, can you?
Well, it turned out we could… and so can you.
There’s a reason people complain about popups and that’s because they’re disruptive. And even though they may get you a few subscriptions, I strongly suggest taking the same approach to popups that you do to ads – unless they’re exponentially growing your email list then eradicate them.
Consider the fact that a person can only sign up for your list once. But they can see that popup every single time they visit your site. So you’ve just earned one email address in exchange for disrupting that person over and over and over forever. Is that what you really want to do to your visitors?
Here’s something else we found about growing our list: offering a valuable freebie, sans popup, added far more emails to our list in a single shot than that popup did in its lifetime.
If you’ve got a good offer you don’t need to shout it into someone’s face repeatedly. You can tie it up in a bow and hold it out meekly and people will grab it enthusiastically and then go on to enjoy your content and continue to revisit your site.
But your popup is like that gift that keeps on giving… and not in a good way. After someone has accepted your gift you continue to thrust it at them ignorantly:
TAKE MY GIFT! TAKE IT! TAKE IT NOW!
I find it especially peevy when I have to dismiss a popup by agreeing to some stupid, manipulative statement.
A popup I stumbled across on one particular site screams some offer about a groundbreaking report and if I don’t want it, if I am just too lame to accept such an amazing offer, I have to click the button that says, “No, I do NOT want my marketing to succeed.”
I have actually learned to avoid that site because it bugs me that much.
The solution? Eradicate.
In redesigning this very site we were one day away from launching with a slider on the home page. A slider, if you’re not entirely clear on what that is, is just that rotating image that is so ubiquitous on home pages. You see one graphic, offer, or bit of introductory text and then it whooshes off and another appears in its place with another graphic, offer, or bit of introductory text.
And do you know what else whooshes off with that slide? Your visitor’s attention.
Sliders started out being very cool because they were a way for us to reuse the same bit of real estate on our websites for a bunch of content. We could get all the important stuff out there, up front, “above the fold” and add a bit of drama and flair to our sites, too.
Much like early humans must have been pretty impressed the first time someone made fire, we internet-humans were pretty impressed by the whooshing images.
But then sliders proliferated and as they became more common, they began to blend into the rest of the noise and become a bit of an albatross.
Now, people may ignore them just as much as they ignore ads. In fact, some studies on the impact of sliders have demonstrated that people’s brains interpret them as ads. If you read my section on ads above, you know that means your lovely slider may be either irritating or ignored.
Plus sliders divert your visitor’s attention and can actually decrease conversions – and lose you opportunities. No sooner do your visitors focus on your amazing offer than you whisk it off-screen to be replaced by a bit about your customer service. You’re essentially forcing an oooh-shiny moment on your site visitors and given how short attention spans already are, you want your best offer up front and then you want to be sure it catches – and keeps – your visitor’s attention.
Some sections of a website have become so ubiquitous that it’s essentially a given that your site will include them. Sliders are almost one of those things but some sites do avoid them.
Sidebars are another. It’s rare you see a full-width web page that doesn’t have a left sidebar or a right sidebar or both or maybe even multiple left and/or right sidebars. Those can have a bit more usefulness, but they can also be abused and used “just because”.
But the worst offender is the footer – that last-minute throwaway of a section, the one that sits in a big mashup of leftover or repetitious junk at the bottom of your otherwise perfectly wonderful page.
A footer can provide a website visitor with useful information. Extra links, easy-to-find contact info, maybe even an extra nudge to take action. But mostly we end up filling them with stuff just because there is a section to fill.
Long ago in prehistoric internet days, it was common to repeat navigation links in the footer because the navigation links in the header were often embedded in graphics or fancy menus that search engines could not read. So we repeated those links as text in the footer so search engines would be able to follow them and find our pages. I think that practice has bled through to modern times “just because”. These days there’s no good reason to repeat your entire navigation menu in the footer of your site unless you require people to scroll for about five miles and don’t want them to get lost looking for the next page.
Ask yourself whether your footer is serving a functional purpose or whether you’ve stuffed a bunch of links, ads or text down there because someone gave you a space to fill and you filled it. I bet you’ll be surprised by how much of it can simply be eradicated.
Anything That Does Stuff Without Permission.
When websites became “interactive” we all did a little happy dance. Our pages no longer had to sit there in boring gobs of black-and-white text. Things could move! And be clickable! And sing and do a jig and all manner of exciting things.
For a while we went a little nuts with animations and floaty graphics and scrolly things. And for a while it was cool.
But once the shine wore off we started to realize that all that junk was noise. Now especially, as about a billion trillion zillion websites compete for your visitor’s attention, all that stuff is just wallpaper.
Unless they’re playing Candy Crush, people don’t want to “interact” any more. They want to get to the point. They want to know who you are and what you can do for them, not be impressed by your animations.
They want to find the product or service they’re looking for, not wait for your intro to load (you know, the one they can eventually “skip to enter”).
It’s time to ditch the glitter and get to the point. Your Flash intro has to go. Wipe it out with the same rag you used on that slider.
Video is great but that autoplay one? Eradicate! Those are intrusive and distracting. Your visitors can push the play button if they want to watch, and if they don’t, forcing it upon them won’t win you any fans. Plus, consider people who visit your site from the office or local coffee shop and the moment they find your site it blares out some welcome message or song.
Speaking of songs, please for the love of websites everywhere, eradicate all music from yours. I had this conversation with someone as recently as a few months ago. She wanted music playing in the background so it would create a “peaceful emotional state”. I can tell you one thing with certainty: no matter whether you play Metallica or Yanni, nothing is peaceful at full volume in the dead quiet of an office space when it turns on unexpectedly.
If you’re worried about your visitor’s emotional state then keep your site quiet, clean, simple and direct. Tell people what they need to know. Guide them where they need to go. Give them a reason to trust you and to do business with you based on the quality of your content and your ability to understand their needs – one of which is for a website experience that doesn’t wake the neighbors.
If you’ve got extraneous elements on your site that distract your visitors, startle them, intrude upon them or otherwise interfere with their own goals… say it with me… eradicate!
As For The Rest Of The Story…
Anything on your site that’s there “just because” or that isn’t directly contributing to someone taking action that leads to sales should be duly flogged and eradicated immediately.
You might have something on your site right now that works perfectly for a billion other people… but not for you. The only way to know is to look hard at whether every element contributes to a good experience for your visitors and more sales for you.
In the meantime, you can start by getting rid of the things I’ve mentioned here and finding other – and better – ways to appeal to your visitors.
What do you think? Are you so attached to any of the things I’ve listed that you wouldn’t part with them no matter what? Are there other bits of a website that wreck things for you that we’d all do well to avoid? Let me know!