The Seven Deadly Sins of Web Design
Written by Diane Aull, © 2005
Is your web site naughty or nice?
Let’s imagine a town with two stores that sell nearly
identical merchandise, for nearly identical prices. Both stores are
conveniently located in the same safe neighborhood, clean, brightly lit and
But while the sales associates in one store are always
friendly, knowledgeable and eager to help, the salespeople in the other store
are consistently rude, lazy and uninformed.
Which store would you think the townspeople would be most
likely to frequent?
Guess what? It’s the same for Internet consumers and web
How to drive away your site visitors, fast!
In a recent survey, 70% of respondents said that they would
be unlikely to purchase from a web site that annoyed them. In fact, they said they
probably would never even go back to that site.
Even more people (74%, or almost ¾ of the respondents) said
they would also likely unsubscribe from the company’s promotions or messages —
not only will they not be back, they don’t ever want to hear from you again!
So what irritates these survey participants? Here are their
seven biggest pet peeves:
- Pop up
required to install extra software to view site content (89%)
registration to access content (83%)
site search tools (80%)
No news is NOT good news...
I hear you say, “We must be doing okay, or maybe our
customers are different — we haven’t heard many complaints at all!” Not so
fast, my friend. The survey also revealed the following:
- 71% of
the respondents said they would be likely to look negatively upon a
company whose site annoyed them.
half (55%) were likely to complain about the site to their friends and associates.
25% said they would consider complaining directly to the company.
And keep in mind, the percentage of people who consistently
follow through with an actual complaint is probably much lower.
Remember how many times you’ve sworn to give somebody a
piece of your mind, then just never gotten around to it? Just because you don’t
hear from these folks, don’t assume they’re not out there — and don’t assume
they’re not annoyed!
And just as in our fictional town with two nearly identical
stores, on the Web the visitors you irritate into leaving can likely find your
competitors’ sites easily. In fact, they may already have one or more of your
competitors’ sites bookmarked.
Get your web site back on the straight and narrow
The sad part is that so many of these “sins” are easy to
prevent or repair. For instance:
- Bury dead links. Run a
link-checker at least once a month on the links from your site pages, both
to other pages within your site and to external web sites. A number of
alternatives are available to help you with this process. Here are two:
Link Checker (http://validator.w3.org/checklink) is a free online link
link checker software (http://home.snafu.de/tilman/xenulink.html) is free
downloadable link checking software that is often recommended.
- Check your site’s usability. This
can be as simple as bringing in a few friends and relatives and giving
them a simple assignment to complete using your site, then observing them
(without “helping” them!) while they try to accomplish the given task.
There are also many resources on the Web to help you. Two useful sites
- UseIt.com (http://www.useit.com/).
Jakob Nielsen is well-known in usability circles. Numerous free articles
here can provide a useful starting point for your own usability
evaluation and testing.
- User Interface Engineering
(http://www.uie.com/). Jared Spool, one of the principals of UIE, is
another well-known usability guru. This site offers research papers and a free newsletter.
- Speed up your page downloads.
Remember, even now not everyone has a broadband connection. Make sure your
pages aren’t overloaded with superfluous graphics, Flash and scripted
effects, and that the graphics and scripts you do use are optimized for
Rule of thumb: Your page graphics should work hard to earn their keep. If
a page element is nothing but “eye candy,” particularly if it’s large or
slow-loading, consider dropping it entirely. Another solution would be to
offer a “low bandwidth” version of your site for visitors with slower
Of course, some of the “sins” have their legitimate uses. I
can hear you gasp, “Are you saying we’re doomed to failure if we commit any
of these Seven Deadly Sins? We need
the information we get from our visitor registration! And our pop-ups get great
I’m not saying that at all! Certainly, pop-up windows are
sometimes highly effective at getting people to sign up for a newsletter or
take advantage of a special offer. Gathering visitor contact information — say,
before allowing visitors to download a popular white paper — can be a crucial
part of an effective marketing campaign.
There are two secrets to success when using techniques such
Make your offers so compelling
that people will overlook their annoyance in order to get to what you’re
offering. The idea is to get your visitors excited enough to overcome
their initial aggrevation.
Just make sure that you deliver top quality information or product at the
other end of the process, or your visitors will be doubly angry. Making
people jump through hoops, for instance, to download a “white paper”
that’s nothing more than a thinly-disguised sales pitch is just a plain
ole’ bad idea no matter how you slice it.
Use a light touch — for instance,
one small pop up instead of a dozen, and only on the person’s first visit
to your site. Try asking your visitors for only a name and an e-mail
address instead of their whole life history before they download your
Also, you should realize that even when employed with
delicacy and tact these techniques will probably still alienate a portion of
your site’s intended audience. Use them sparingly, and only when necessary.
Sure, you can’t please everyone, but you can make sure
you’re not going out of your way to unduly irritate people. Now, go forth and sin
*More about the survey:
conducted in July 2005 by market research firm TNS on behalf of web site
hosting provider Hostway Inc., the survey questioned 2,500 adult consumers
across the United States about their Web site pet peeves.
Online Marketing Guru, Diane Aull, is a partner in Nine Yards Interactive. She practices what she preaches and she's hoping to meet Brad Pitt when the movie version of this article is made.
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