You’ve just heard about the latest and greatest website technique. Everyone is doing it you should try it too! Right?
Well, you might or you might not.
Too often, sites pick up a technique just because another site uses it, thinking awesome, that’s cool for me, too!
However, just because someone is doing it, even the biggest, baddest, coolest someone doesn’t always mean you should as well.
Here are some of the most commonly overused site techniques and why they're bad for users, SEO, and conversions.
1. Infinite Scroll
Sure this is a great technique for some sites, just not all sites or even most.
Infinite scroll is great for sites like Facebook where you have linear information that is best delivered in a never-ending story, but is this true for all sites or site pages? Definitely not!
Before you start laying out your page into long-form scrolling bottomless wells, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you have a story to tell?
- Does the scroll make you want to keep going or do you feel tired?
- Does your information naturally lend itself to a listed format?
- Is there a reason your users might be better served by pagination?
- Are you proposing using it where it shouldn’t be used (e.g., your homepage)?
Never use infinite scroll on your homepage! Sorry Mashable this even means you. Your endless scrolling homepage is a nightmare for usability. Why?
- Homepages are used to direct users to information inside the site. Endless scrolling defeats this purpose.
- They are bad for SEO.
- Too much information, no direction.
- They are very heavy and in this case, can overload the browser with a 6 MB download (and that is where I stopped, bailed, and vowed never to return).
2. Sticky Nav
A sticky nav is one that doesn't move with the page. This can be a top nav, a footer or even a side nav.
Can anyone say frames? Maybe you're too young to remember when frames where cool (not) and why they went away. Sticky navs are no different, just a different way of implementing what used to be called frames. If you can bring back the Dodo, do you?
Sure, there are certain types of sites and implementations where it makes sense to take up 125-200 pixels of your top nav screen at all times with a navigation element that never disappears (oh and don’t make it disappear and reappear – just don’t).
However, a really good site search might be an even better method for quick site access. If ecommerce is your site goal, do you really want to lose that much real estate to a nav bar?
There aren't going to be hard and fast rules on when and when not to use a sticky header except that your site content is going to be your best determinant. Rule of thumb: if your users aren't going to use your nav on a regular basis once inside your site, don’t.
So how about a sticky footer? My advice? Don’t. Almost anything you put in a sticky footer bar is only good for your marketing department, not your users, but don’t take my word on it. A/B test.
In the case of the sticky navs, annoyance factors will be dependent on use case and audience.
However, always allow your users the option to disable the feature.
Usability expert Jakob Neilsen just came out with a report on this technique for carousels and accordions. His advice. Just don’t. Well unless annoying your users is your goal, then please do!
4. Auto-Play Anything
Please never auto-play audio, video, or animation when users click on your site. It will only attract the wrong kind of attention from your visitors.
Visitors don’t want to hear the sound of a woman’s voice talking in the background on their computer while they scramble to find it and shut it down because it’s interrupting whatever else they’re doing at the time.
And animation? Well maybe yours is audioless, so you’re thinking you’re cool. Nope! Just don’t.
5. Banner Ads, Promo Boxes, Ads for Ads Sake
Ten or 12 years ago users used to click on those ads and even bought things. Today they are taking up valuable real estate and possibly putting you at risk for a Google ad space penalty.
Unless you're one of the lucky few who are making real revenues from these third-party traffic detours, best to leave them off your site or if you must have them replace them with internal ads to your own pages. This way you keep your visitors on your site and focused on your content.
Remember, for every cent you make for a click, you’re also taking users off your site. Is this really helping you make money in the end?
6. Pop-Up Anything
If it pops up, kill it. Whack that mole!
Seriously, with pop-up blockers almost no one is seeing it and with mobile devices you are just impeding the users ability to access your content. Now this is not referring to lightbox implementation or other styles of layered div techniques, just the actual popover or even pop-under.
Although, really? Is someone going to register to use your site if they have not gotten to the content yet? And have you tried it on a tablet or mobile device? A/B test these and see whether they are helping or impeding.
7. Websites as Apps
Your website is not an app! Repeat, in case your mind was wandering. your website is not an app, stop treating it like it is one.
Website users are a multivariate group with varying user intents, whereas the app user is looking for the app to take them quickly to definitive and finite goals. Don't confuse the two purposes.
Your website should offer all the same content on mobile and tablet that it does on the main desktop site, and your app should have 2-4 main user goals that your site data indicates are desired and needed.
8. Copy For Copy Sake
Yes, copy is all the rage these days. Non-SEO people discovered copy is good for SEO and suddenly 2012 was the year of content marketing and content development and content everything. New? No, but new to some.
So what is wrong with this? Nothing if your content is clear, consistent, and contextual.
But for many, content is about driving metrics such as pageviews and impressions and quality be damned as long as people are visiting. That isn't OK.
This type of content development, search engine trolling, is against Google’s TOS and bad for users. If it is bad for users, it is likely bad for your site. Just ask those who haven’t recovered from their Google “Content Trolling” slapdowns, well if you can find them.
9. Keyword Tagging
Keyword tagging originally started as a way to group content into sets of pre-defined keywords so users could find all articles under one topic. Now authors make up tags on the fly, are given unlimited tagging capability, and create multiple one off pages acting as topics giving the site duplicate content issues.
Your content tagging should be keyword appropriate, but limited, fixed and finite. Don't allow your authors to just make these up as you go along and don't have infinite topic creation. Keyword tagging should help find content, not drive SEO terms and unlimited topic page creation.
10. Vertical Scroll Sites
This site actually does it right. As does this one. These sites eliminate the perception of the page and allow their users to engage with the information at whatever point the page lands. These sites integrate the changes between top and bottom as a seamless flow without the need to stop at exact points.
This one is less successful. I have to try to stop it at the right stop points. This is more annoying than interesting and begins to equate to a negative user experience.
This one is a failed experience. Unless I'm on a tablet where I can easily control the stop points with my fingers or hand the movement of my fingers on my laptop pad or mouse move me past the stop point to awkward “dead spaces”.
When using HTML5 and CS3 for new styles of presentation, do not ask yourselves, why not? Ask yourselves why? If you cannot answer the why with very specific business goals supported by research and user data, then it is best to skip the “cool” and stay with the “what works”.
Oh and one SEO note, these types of sites are really bad for SEO, so if you need to be found in the search engines, don’t. Use this on a landing page or mini-site.
Why Oh Why So Much Bad UI?
Why do so many sites use these techniques if they really shouldn’t? We’ll first usually because someone in marketing or biz dev or even IT person thought hey – “THIS IS COOL! WE MUST DO THIS! PEOPLE WILL LOVE IT!” But herein lies the rub, testing shows, people don’t love it
But… But… It’s Cool!
I was speaking at an internationally recognized conference in Austin, when someone from a Fortune 100 came up to me to ask me why the landing page they just launched was not working. After all, it was so cool! They used HTML5/CSS3, vertical scroll, how could people not love it!
”Easy,” I told him. “Because people don’t care about your cool. They just want to the information and an easy way to buy if they are interested. If you do that, your page will convert.”
He then showed me a page that was converting and they could not figure out why, nothing flashy, some nice graphics, good information and a clear buy button. Well there you go, information and a way to buy, just as I had told him.
So I told him to A/B test and let me know what he found out. He did and every time the info page outdid the “cool” one.
People want to do what they came for, to get info, perhaps buy, and go home – same as if they were in your real world store. Imagine if in a brick and mortar you had to decipher how to get into the store just to get to the shoe section? But Everyone Else Does It!
“Well, Mashable does it, so we must be missing out on some sort of awesome!”
Slow your roll folks; does it seem awesome when you go to Mashable’s 6MB and growing, endless scrolling page? Or do you want to run away as your browser gets overloaded with bytes it slows to a painful crawl and you cannot find that one article you just heard about? Just because someone else does it, does not mean it is right, it is good or it even works.
In fact, just because someone else does it doesn’t mean anything. Too often today these decisions are made by marketing groups and business units, not the people who would tell you why it might be an endlessly bad idea to have an endlessly scrolling homepage.
We often don’t see these ideas perpetuated because they are good, but because we live in the age of resharing, retweeting, regurgitating and repurposing. So next time someone tells you to use what seems like a bad technique on your site, ask them what is the business reason? Where are our metrics? Why would we do this? Show me the A/B tests.
Granted, it may not stop the implementation of another notorious bad idea, but it might slow it down long enough for some other “hot idea of the day” to come take its place and maybe time to move on to something else.
Don’t make it about you; make it about your users. They don’t care about your cool – well most of the time. Unless you’re in the business of cool, but how many of us can say that?
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