First, do not annoy
Ok, Recently I posted on the virtues of enhancing the user experience with media like Animation, Audio and Video and it occurs to me that I may need to qualify that a bit. As my title suggests, the first tenet of any webocratic oath should be First, Do NOT Annoy! So even though I am a proponent of adding media to your site and even though I DID specify judicious use, I just wanted to follow-up with a few “Best Practices” where these and other things are involved.
Lets start with the biggest offender. And although I am a believer in Flash (Sorry, Steve) there is a place for everything (you may start to see a pattern as you read these). The non-gratuitous use of Flash is obviously the preferred implementation. Sites that hit you in the face with annoying animation over and over and over are just that…annoying. If you are going to use it, like everything else you do on your site, you should think it through. Adding some movement to capture attention is great but as with most things in my opinion less is more. Just because a little does a little good, does not mean that a lot will have the same effect..if fact it, like say opiates for instance, can have the opposite effect in high doses. Just let it do its work and then fade into the background. Make them try to find it again if it was so cool they need to watch it again, don’t assume that it is so awesome that your intrepid site goers need to see it over and over and over again.
Although not nearly as bad as flash, there are some practices with audio and video that can can drive traffic away rather than helping draw it in further. The worst of the worst in my opinion is Auto Play! There is nothing more annoying than being in a quiet house after everyone has gone to bed, quietly researching your latest obsession when suddenly, without warning, the loudest most irritating techno-trash music starts echoing off of every hard surface in your house accompanied by Robyn Leach talking about the Champaign Wishes and Caviar Dreams of this fantastic product. The initial reaction (assuming that you are not now incontinent) is to get away from the sound as quickly as possible and the easiest way to do that (even if there is a “sound off” switch) is to leave the site and I can’t tell you how many times I have done just that. It is so disturbing that it totally puts you off the company or product they are offering. Even if it is the best, most perfect version of what you are looking for and the price would make you cry with joy, you wont be there long enough to find out and you will consciously choose not to return to the scene of the crime. I am all for the audio or video, but make it your customer’s choice to view to content. You can make it compelling simply by placement and they will watch or listen to the wonders that is your product simply for that reason. Assault (even on your senses) is a crime and smash and grab tactics do not work out well for anyone.
The most subtle of the annoyances can be found (or not in some cases) in a sites navigation. In the case of navigation issues it is not so much seeing too much (although too much of anything can be harmful, I am sure vegetables in sufficient quantities will give you cancer..but I digress ), but seeing too little or not seeing it at all. The key here is to think logically about it. Having your navigation at the bottom of the screen below the fold may be awesome for the design but it is ridiculous for a website. People expect to find menu items in a few main places. First and foremost, the top of the screen (I know..the hell you say, right), followed closely by the top left side and then the right.
The key here is to pick one (and I am talking main navigation, I am not saying not to have links throughout and an interesting magazine like layout (especially on the home page) and stick with it. Don’t have some items on the top and them some on the left or the right or any mix in-between. The goal is for people to find what they are looking for so how about helping them out. Here is a thought, wherever your main navigation is, keep it consistent throughout the site, try not to go too deep (you get much beyond 2 levels and people are going to feel like they are in a hedge maze). Drop-down/Flyout menus are great for consistency but not always necessary. Just think it through logically and consider for a moment WWJD – What Would Joe-Customer Do? If you put yourself in a lowest common denominator mindset when building out the navigation you will be sure to have something everyone can follow.
Just remember, you learned everything you need to now about your website in Kindergarten. Whether it was K.I.S.S. ( Keep It Simple Stupid) or Chris’ Razor (The simplest idea is usually the Best), the less annoying your site is, the more effective it will be in getting your message across. Put yourself in your visitors place. Assume you are in a quiet room full of sleeping babies, your headphones are in the next room, you have had only 3 hours of sleep and you have a huge headache (but somehow surfing the web still seems like a good idea..work with me here…). You don’t want to experience the cacophony of crying babies caused by the music/video that played automatically or your own expletive deleted screaming from the Flash that would not go away or the navigation you could not wade through. Making a conscious effort not to annoy your site visitors by allowing them a say in their own web experience will only serve to better your relationship with current and potential customers.