Visit our companion site, Problem Websites.
1. Don’t distract your visitors with blinking or scrolling text, animated GIFs, or auto-loading sound.
Animation and sounds are distracting. How can anyone concentrate on reading what’s on your site when there are things flying around the page? It’s like trying to read a newspaper when someone’s poking you in the shoulder repeatedly. Also, isitors who have slow connections may resent that you wasted their time by forcing them to load animations and sound files against their will. Conventional wisdom is that people will be drawn to an animated ad, but it’s actually the opposite: Readers who are assaulted by blinking ads are more likely to leave the site immediately without clicking on anything, and are far less likely to bookmark the site, return to it, link to it, and recommend it. The results don’t lie: When I switched the ads on a friend’s site from animated to static, click-through didn’t suffer at all. (That site pulls in nearly $500,000 in yearly advertising revenue, by the way.) I make my living from ads on my sites, and I won’t run animated ads on them. I prefer to give my readers a good experience, rather than an annoying one.
Let’s talk scrolling text. Besides the fact that it’s annoying, there’s another problem: the reader can’t read it at their own pace. They’re forced to read it at whatever speed you deliver it. They might have preferred to read those two sentences quickly and then move on, but because it’s scrolling they’re forced to sit there and wait for the text to slowly appear.
This brings up an important point: Always keep your visitors’ interests in mind. Make sure you try to please them, not yourself. Scrolling text does nothing to serve the visitor. If it’s on a site it’s because the site owner thought, “Let me show how cool I am.” Do you see the difference? Don’t design the site for yourself, design it for the people who will actually use it.
2. Don’t annoy your visitors with pop-up windows.
Nobody likes popups. Here again, the only reason a site would have popups is because the site owner is thinking of his/her own interests rather than the readers. We all know that when we’re browsing we hate popups, but suddenly when we switch hats and become the site owner, we lose our ability to see through the users’ eyes. So let’s remember to put ourselves in their shoes. Which of these reactions to popups is a visitor is more likely to have?
(a) “A popup window, oh goody! I love sites with popups! I will make certain to bookmark this site and visit often. I will also certainly click the ad or links in the popup because I love them so much.”
(b) “@#&$! Whoever made this website obviously has no respect for me as a visitor. When I leave here I will never come back.”
3. Don’t use image backgrounds.
mage backgrounds scream “amateur”, because it’s mostly amateurish sites that use them. Quick, can you name a single professional, respected site that uses image backgrounds behind the text? Not Google, Yahoo, eBay, Amazon, the New York Times, Webmaster World, or any others.
One reason that backgrounds scream “low quality” is because sites that use them are often user-hostile in many other ways as well. For example, when I visited a site recently and saw that they used an image background, I wasn’t surprised to find that the site also has extremely slow page-loading times, internal links that pop up into brand-new windows, links that are the exact same color as the surrounding text, cheap animated GIFs, blatant keyword stuffing, and numerous embarrassing misspellings. [As further proof, I had to remove my link to that site from this article, because they went out of business.]
Unfortunately, just as people were finally starting to clue in to the fact that background images are cheap and garish, along came MySpace to repopularize a bad idea. It’s not surprising that MySpace is a poster child for bad design in other ways, with obtrusive advertising, force-loading music, distracting animations, and super-slow-loading pages. I’m not the only one who feels that way. Here’s how the world-famous Dan Piraro put it: “Badly designed, impossible to navigate, ugly, loud, depressing, reeking of death. How did this beast that is eating the fabric of our civilization and puking it up on the shoes of our future achieve such popularity?”
But back to image backgrounds, another problem with them is that they take longer to load. One site I checked had a whopping 144k image background. Its home page takes sixteen times as long to load as the one you’re reading now — even though it has far less useful information.
That said, image backgrounds are fine if you know what you’re doing. They can work if you make sure the contrast is very high (e.g. August Marketing), or you don’t put any text over them (e.g., Uncommon Wedding Gifts).