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Chris Lake wrote about 50 ways to annoy web users on Monday, which included things like pop-up ads, slow loading pages, unreadable text, and other terrible crimes against usability.

One of the biggest offences for me is the automatic playing of audio when you arrive at a webpage, and I've found a pretty sorry example of this on the Next homepage today.

If you happen to have the volume turned up on your computer when you click onto the Next homepage (careful now), you're in for a shock, as you're suddenly greeted with a burst of unidentified music (Shazam can't tell me what it is) that you didn't ask for.

Next homepage

If you haven't decided to immediately hit the back button and look for a site that doesn't bombard you with sound, then finding the source of the audio is the next challenge, as it isn't obvious at first.

The source of the audio is under the heading jeans shop, and it turns out to be the soundtrack for a video promoting its latest collection of denimwear. You have to go below the fold to find this out though:

Next intrusive audio

Most video ads that play audio have a mute button which does at least allow users to quickly turn off the sound, but Next has decided not to bother with this, meaning that users have to either put up with it or find the volume control on their PCs.

Having audio on automatically is bad enough, but not even giving users the chance to turn it off takes the biscuit.

Audio is an intrusion, especially when the user is not expecting it. For instance, some people may be doing a spot of clandestine surfing at work, so sudden audio can be pretty embarrassing. Or I could be on Spotify or Last.fm and have my listening pleasure interrupted by this unwelcome intrusion. It's just plain wrong.

I've seen intrusive video / audio on publishers' websites and it is irritating enough there, but on an e-commerce site it seems particularly stupid to risk annoying customers like this when you want them to buy something from you.

Perhaps Next has a good reason for playing the audio like this, but I certainly can't think of one. Any benefits in terms of drawing attention to the new jeans collections are surely outweighed by the risks of annoying customers so much that they simply leave the site.

Graham Charlton

Published 25 March, 2009 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

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RichSpalding

Wow, this is web design 101. Thanks for the article, in agreement with all points made, and I can't believe a corporate website would consider doing this.

Having said that Next have a habit of unwanted nasty surprises, what with 1000 page catelogues turning up on doorsteps with an invoice - akin to asking me to pay to browse their website.

over 7 years ago

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Lena

Bet they thought it'd really work with the "catwalk" video... yakes that's bad.

over 7 years ago

Stephen Morris

Stephen Morris, SEO Manager at TSB

There is much that I don't like about the Next online experience, but agree that this recent musical development is particularly annoying.  It scared the living daylights out of me when I first experienced it!

over 7 years ago

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Rachel Burkot

I agree with your post. More than once I have been startled by music on a home page. While it is nice in theory to have soft background music welcome potential customers to a site and get them in a soothing mind frame, chances are it won't work out as planned. Either the sound will be off and never heard, or too loud, causing an initial reaction in the visitor to close out the site completely or at least go back to the SERP and find a less annoying site.

over 7 years ago

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Rachael Beale, Web Manager at London Review of Books

And amen to all of that. I HATE music on web pages. The worst offenders for me are in-page ads on newspaper sites - I think I'm going to read an article on eBooks but in fact I'm about to assault the audience with a growling rock track supporting some piece of car advertising, which - as you say - I then can't find to turn it off.

over 7 years ago

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Richard Clark

I am amazed a brand like Next would opt for this route.

Whilst I am no web developer or expert in usability, a lesson in common sense needs to take place.  Imagine people are surfing in work (not that any of us would surf for non-work related info in work), all of a sudden dodgy music comes on - they get a shock and possibly so do their work colleagues.

I agree that its best not to load a video automatically with audio.  However if the video needs audio to get the message across, a mute button should be easily visible.

Video can be a very powerful tool.  When I was at Nationwide we trialled dynamic video with RTC, the impact on conversion was amazing.  Sometimes quadrupling the conversion rates of homepage ads.  This was against the back drop of a largely sceptical internal audience.

I think the other points made about pop-ups and slow loading pages also mean you should use complex flash and video sparingly.  Only when the improve the customer experience, not just for the sake of it.

over 7 years ago

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LillyLyle

I think it would be GREAT if they would also stop playing loud, obnoxious music in their retail outlets as well. I've taken to shopping almost exclusively at John Lewis because I can at least be at peace while I am spending my hard-earned cash.

Those who want music while shopping can provide their own by wearing an ipod. As it is, those who are already wearing ipods while shopping get annoyed at in-store music interfering with what they WANT to listen to.

And for those like me who like quiet shopping,  you can't get that any other way than by avoiding certain stores when shopping. Don't they want our money?

over 7 years ago

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