This is the inaugural post in the Bubble Foundry Blog. In this blog I will regularly comment on web design practices and effective ways to develop businesses online. Therefore it is fitting that this first post ranges widely across Bubble Foundry’s areas of concentration, going aesthetics to usability to advertising.
Many websites have flashy animations or videos automatically playing when you come to them. I find this very ugly and annoying and I am not alone. Most users now have pop-up blockers and some are starting to block Flash. In addition to being annoying, this practice has several other drawbacks. Users are forced to download large media files in order to see the site. This will slow the loading of the site when speed, particularly the first time a user visits a website, is essential to a pleasant experience. It is better to let users explicitly request the videos they wish to view, letting those on slow connections make a conscious choice to download the media. This way users will not erroneously attribute slow speeds to the site. Likewise those in a public environment, such as libraries, often wish minimise sound coming from their computers and will not look kindly on a site that blares music or sound effects without warning. Their initial response is usually to close the offending site, not turn down their speakers.
These annoying site ‘features’ are implemented, I believe, by people that think their sites need eye- and ear-catching elements to bring users to their sites. This is a mistake: users are already at the sites, so the challenge is to keep them there. Web surfers are a notoriously fickle lot and anything that creates an unpleasant experience will cause them to immediately surf elsewhere and never come back.
The best way to encourage users to stay on a site is to create a pleasant experience that quickly gives the user the content they are seeking. If you are writer, the content that users are seeking are examples of your work, in whatever form you chose to share it. If you are a business that is much more physically-based, the content is often your business details: address, opening hours, and contact information. A website should be designed around the main reason users would come to it. For more on this, I encourage you to check out Jyri Engeström’s thinking on social objects (I will post on this in the future).
Don’t make the user hunt or beg for this information! A web surfer looking for a plumber to fix the toilet currently flooding her house is not in the mood for a video about the company’s history and specialities! Instead, she will take one glance on the site, not see a phone number, and go to the next result in Google. Incidentally, web advertising is moving away from pay per click ad sales towards time-based sales, so the incentive is all the stronger for websites to encourage users to linger, rather than scare them away.
But by creating a pleasant and efficient experience on your site, aren’t you reducing the amount of time users spend on your site? For one browsing session, this is may happen. However, a pleasant site will attract repeat visitors. Your goal with your website is ultimately to make money, so you want to turn website visitors into customers. A pleasant website builds relationships with potential and current customers so that they wish to stay in contact with your company and will look favourably on your products and services.
Simply put, happy visitors are repeat visitors and repeat visitors are repeat customers.