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What makes people press the back button, shortly after visiting your website? Why do they bail out so quickly? And what can you do about it?
I’ve been thinking about this and realised that there are many more negative factors than I’d originally anticipated.
Taken at individual level some of these factors might not be enough to make visitors back out, but when combined together they may give off entirely the wrong impression.
It’s not easy to create a beautiful, brilliant user experience, and the reality is that most sites have issues of one kind or another. But keep an eye open for the following – often avoidable – negative factors and try to eliminate them, to create a stickier website for users.
Let’s start with the truly horrific…
1. Autosound. This drives me nuts. When I visit a website and am instantly bombarded with an unwanted cacophony of nasty sound I tend to leave with immediate effect. Publishers that accept ads that play sound automatically are often the worst offenders (they could say no to these ads, as I do), along with websites in the hospitality sector.
2. Popups. An oldie but a goodie. And yet still we see them. If you want to bombard me with pop-ups then I’m going to want to leave. The sooner you show me the pop-up, the sooner I'll go. That said, I can just about tolerate pop-ups that appear after 30-60 seconds, so long as the content is good.
3. Interstitials. I don’t visit Forbes any more because Forbes simply loves an interstitial. Information Week should be renamed as Interstitial Week. Nobody likes to wait but this is really just about expectations. When I click on a link I expect to be taken straight to that page, rather than being dumped on a page with a big ad on it.
4. Pagination. Do you really need me to load 10 pages to see 10 medium-sized pictures with small captions? Or to read a Top 10 list across 10 pages when it could just as easily be displayed on one page? Pagination is a cheap trick, in my view, to artificially inflate page impressions. It proves that the way online ads are bought and measured is all wrong, and it’s one of the reasons why publishers are so screwed (they pander to CPM / impressions, when they should be in the data / engagement game).
5. Slow load times. Don’t make me wait! I pay a premium for my 50MB home broadband connection and I’ll be damned if your slow-ass pages are going to cause trouble for me. If I really want or need to visit your website then I might wait, but if I’m just curious or have clicked a link on impulse then I’m more likely to leave.
6. Prioritisation of ads vs content. This is the evil twin of slow load times. Some publishers prioritise ads over content (load the ads first and bank the ad money). Some navigation may quickly appear before the whole thing grinds to a halt while we wait for an ad server to kick into life. In this context, a slow ad server adds up to a slow site. It's something publishers need to keep an eye on.
7. Woeful navigation. Badly-designed navigation is one of the few truly mortal sins that you can commit as a web professional. Navigation needs to be intuitive, descriptive and straightforward. Flash-based sites tend to be among the very worst sinners.
8. Poor scent trails. Hey, I just want my questions answered, ok? If I can’t find things easily and quickly then I will look elsewhere. Your job is to help people to sniff out the information they need. This is where optimisation and testing comes in.
9. Key information is AWOL. I visited the Hoxton Hotel website recently to find out how much it costs to stay there. After a couple of minutes of hunting around I realised that there were no details on room rates (well, I couldn't find any). It's bizarre. Just for the record, there is no way I will click a ‘Book A Room’ button just to see how much a hotel room costs. I’ll just book with The Zetter instead. Make sure the basics are all in place.
10. Immediate registration demands. Why? Why now? Aren’t you going to tease me a little first? Timing is everything.
11. Too much flashing, scrolling shit. If I’m browsing the internet then it’s usually a good sign that I’m not in a nightclub, which is the only environment where I personally tolerate lots of flashing lights. Yes, it can grab the attention, but not in a good way. It smacks of desperation and attention seeking, and is incredibly annoying. There is one notable exception to this rule, which is so crazy and personality-driven that it’s hard to dislike!
12. Typos. Typos and poor grammar do not send the right signals to the visitor. There are literally no excuses. This is about attention to detail, as much as anything. If you’re not bothered about that kind of thing then what kind of message does it give out?
13. Rubbish fonts. You’re using Times New Roman? Really? It’s ugly. Still, at least it isn’t Comic Sans. No right minded person would leave a website purely based on font aesthetics, but lame fonts can give off the impression that you’re not trying hard enough. And that, in conjunction with one or two other negative factors, might be the difference between a visitor hanging around and bailing out.
14. Narrow sites. There’s just something about sites designed for 800px monitors that gives me the creeps. Don’t you think?
15. Left-aligned sites. Again - and I can’t really explain why - sites that are aligned to the left (rather than centrally) just seem so 2002, at least to my eye. I don’t know why exactly but I always notice this and I don’t consider it to be a good thing. Talk about the princess and the pea…
16. Cookie cutter websites. Some websites look a little bit me-too for my liking. I actually rather like standardisation (I wish all online checkouts were designed in line with our best practice guidelines), but it can be a turn off as far as web design goes. Who wants to be known as a copycat?
17. Cobwebs. I like to see a ‘news’ or ‘blog’ section on a homepage, to show some signs of life. Headlines and dates are enough. If the last ‘news’ was from ‘January 2004’ then I won’t hang around for long.
18. A lack of clarity. When I visit a website for the first time I need to be able to tell what that company does within seconds. Sometimes I scratch my head for a minute or so, and leave none the wiser. A descriptive, meaningful, plain English strapline is key.
19. PRspeak / jargon. I tend to be of the opinion that you can shove your synergies where the sun doesn’t shine.
20. Browser issues. Up until three days ago Microsoft refused to support Google Chrome, my browser of choice, for Xbox Live's customer services area. So wrong, on so many levels, especially since I'm a paying Xbox Live customer. Browser problems come in all shapes and sizes. Test, test, test, and figure out what your audience likes to use. Try to avoid controlling the browsing experience too (opening up links in new windows, for example).
21. Flash. Sometimes I’ll hang around, much in the same way that people slow down on motorways to gawp at car crashes, but I normally back out faster than you can say "Jumping Jack". I have come to learn that Flash websites, almost without fail, suck, and I only tolerate them in exceptional circumstances. I'm a hardliner in this respect.
22. No ‘About’ page. Many websites are allergic to About pages, for reasons I cannot begin to figure out. I often visit a website simply to find out more information about the company, and whenever the About page is missing I ever so slightly lose the will to live.
23. Video-only homepages. The use of video to explain what the company does, or to talk about specific products and services, is another growing trend, particularly among startups. If I have the time and inclination I might sit through a three minute video, but I think there should always be a text option (much quicker, and let’s not forget about Google / SEO).
24. Boring vs unprofessional. Some sites have no verve, no personality, and are uniformly dull. Others live so far beyond the realms of expectation that you don’t quite know what to make of them. Both can be troublesome, as far as bounce rates are concerned.
25. Contrast fail. Poor colour combinations can make it difficult to read text. And if you cannot read something there's really very little point in hanging around.
There are all kinds of other factors as to why people will leave a website before they've really visited it. So what did I miss? What turns you off?
[Image by Nicholas Smale via Flickr, various rights reserved]