Imagine, for a moment, that you were invited over to a friends house to watch a movie or catch up on their news. However, instead of giving you what you went for, they bombarded you with advertisements you didn’t want, practically shoving them in your voice and begging you to read them.
Then, when you get past the ads, they start annoying you with irritating sounds and distracting movement, anything to get your attention away from whatever it is you visited for. Then, when you finally turn to leave, your friend does everything they can to prevent you from going. This includes locking doors, rearranging the furniture and everything short of handcuffing you to a wall.
This person, almost certainly, would not be your friend much longer and it is even more unlikely you’d ever go back to their house. At the very least you’d consider this a bad experience and, at worst, it would feel like a form of kidnapping.
However, as extreme as this example sounds, it’s exactly how many websites treat their visitors. Sadly, many webmasters don’t see their visitors as guests in their virtual home, but rather, like sheep meant to be shorn and exploited as much as possible.
But while we can all recount the terrible experiences that we’ve had with sites that have tried to trap and bombard us, there are other, more subtle ways a webmaster can impose on a visitor and they can be just as deadly to earning trust.
Unfortunately, many webmasters fail to realize that they are doing it and some are left wondering as to why so few of their visitors ever come back.
When a visitor comes to your site, they have a series of preconceived notions about what they will find there and how they will access it. These notions come from a variety of sources ranging from the name of your site, the queries they searched for to find it and experiences they’ve had on other sites across the Web.
Any time that you deviate from those expectations or desires, you’re imposing, at least slightly, on your visitor. These impositions range from a small, out of the way ad that is barely noticeable, to major annoyances like background music or popup ads.
Most visitors will tolerate a decent amount of imposition. Most sites have extraneous design elements, for example, and visitors might even attribute some imposition to improving variety on the Web. After all, if one knew exactly what to expect at every site they went to, the Web would be a boring place.
However, there comes a point where the site is actively getting in the way of the visitor. It’s often times a gray area, such as the point where ads become a distraction from the content and other times it’s pretty clear cut, such as pop up ads prohibiting the visitor from leaving.
But there are smaller impositions as well, these include things such as having to register or pass a CAPTCHA to leave a comment, scripts that accidentally block user’s normal surfing practices or plugins that the user either doesn’t have or has disabled by default.
These impositions, no matter how seemingly minor discourage people from interacting with, staying long on or coming back to your site. The more you impose on your visitor, the less likely they are to return and the harder it will be to build a loyal audience.
That makes it critical to give your visitors what they want as soon as possible, but that is often no simple task, especially when we’re looking at our sites through rose-colored glasses.
How to Avoid it
Avoiding this pitfall, more than anything, requires thinking about your visitors in a different light. You can’t simply look at them as readers of your content but, instead, look at them as guests in your virtual home.
Rather than thinking solely about what might attract more visitors, pay some though to what your visitors want when they arrive and what you can best to do to provide it.
In short, ask yourself the very simple question, “If I were a visitor to my site, what would I want and what obstacles are there to getting it?”
Bloggers often unwittingly put up these obstacles, usually in the pursuit of other noble goals. While there are too many possible hurdles to count, here are seven of the more common ones that bloggers seems to fall into regularly.
- Excessive Advertising: As mentioned above, one of the most common impositions is excessive advertising, especially ads that create popups or popunders. Most visitors tolerate reasonable advertising well, but when they distract from the content the ads become a problem.
- Forced Registration: If your visitor wants to leave a comment or get updates from your site, forcing them to register for an account is another hurdle you can put in front of them. While this can be a good way to limit spam, most visitors don’t want to register for another site, especially if they just want to comment once. You can mitigate this some of this by integrating your site with Facebook, Twitter and other services your visitors already use.
- Inconsistent Design: If your site design is unfamiliar or unusual compared to other sites, especially in terms of where your links are, you may be forcing your visitors to re-learn how to use your site, making it more difficult for them to get to what they need.
- Slow Loading Times: If your site takes more than a few seconds to load, you may want to take steps to speed it up. Slow sites are a hassle for visitors and cause many of them to turn away.
- Manipulative Scripts: No right click scripts don’t do much to prevent image theft but frustrate those who use their right click to navigate around the Web. Likewise, scripts that manipulate the copy and paste functionality, such as Tynt, can frustrate those trying to search for additional information about a story.
- Missing Features: Is your site missing an “About” page? What about a contact page? Do you have clear way to view the archives? If you are missing features on your site that your users expect, you are forcing them to work around your limitations. This can also include things such as Twitter buttons and Facebook “Like” icons.
- Multiple Pages: Though breaking a post across multiple pages may increase the page views you get, most visitors hate it unless there is some good reason to break it up. Every click that isn’t necessary is an imposition you can easily avoid.
All in all, these are just some of the ways that a site can impose on its visitors, usually without realizing it. However, when one is confronted with these problems while surfing the Web, they usually recognize the imposition immediately and loathe it.
It’s just that many aren’t able to see their site in the light they see others’.
Being objective about one’s site is almost impossible. Your site is, in many ways, your child. It’s a fruit of your labor and, regardless of how much/little traffic it gets or how great it actually is, it is a part of you.
That makes it hard to be honest with ourselves about the ways our sites might be imposing on our visitors. Even when an imposition might send us into a rage elsewhere, we might look at it as a necessary evil or a great feature on our site.
However, without an objective view, our site’s can’t grow and improve. So, it may be wise to solicit opinions from others and learn what they see as the limitations of your site are. If you do that, you may get a new perspective and get some ideas you can build upon to take your site to the next level.