Who broke the internet? No, the answer is not Kim Kardashian. The internet has not been broken by celebrity pictures, despite the hype. The internet is being broken by businesses.
Recently, you might have been noticing more and more horrible user experiences online. It is not that website design has taken a downturn, or that content has suddenly deteriorated. It is the journey itself that is increasingly broken – both literally and figuratively.
In a bid to capture and convert their visitors, brands are piling more and more ‘engagement’ tactics into their websites. Far from engagement, the result is often an annoyance. As website visitors, we are getting waylaid with waves of invasive content – content that we neither wanted or needed.
This jarring journey is breaking the internet more than any risqué photoshoot ever could.
Entering a Business Website in 2018
The days of entering a business website and being allowed to browse uninterrupted are over. Today, this kind of journey is all too familiar:
- Enter website
- Immediately close interstitial
- Yes, I accept cookies
- Okay, I suppose I can disable my adblocker
- Yes okay, you can use my location
- No thank you; I do not want to receive push notifications
- No need to chat with an agent, thank you
- Sorry, I do not want to download your e-book
- No, I do not want to subscribe to your newsletter either
- I do not want to rate your site just yet, sorry
And at some point, exit, never to return.
It might be funny to read and write about like this, but that painful user experience is far from funny when you are in the middle of it.
Bringing Online to Life
It is easy to see how our browsing journeys have become so disrupted. Over the past few years, there has been a significant push on streamlining the customer experience both on and offline. 75% of consumers now expect a consistent experience wherever they engage with a brand – whether it is on their website, over the phone or in person. A further 75% of us are more likely to buy from brands that recognise us by name, recommend options based on past purchases, or know our purchase history.
Clearly, bringing the site to life for each user pays off. So, for businesses across the board, a critical area of focus is to match the experience they offer through their website with the experience they would provide face to face. Namely, brands want to engineer online user experiences that are welcoming, helpful, and personal.
Moreover, smart technology has finally put that goal in sight.
The advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and ecommerce tools, in general, has allowed businesses to get up close and personal with website visitors. Now, entering a website is not so dissimilar to entering a physical store. After all, you will often get a greeting, the offer of real-time service at any point in your journey, and selected special offers.
In itself, this is a full step forward. Websites have become interactive and intelligent and can serve us quicker and more effectively than ever before. However, brands have overstepped the mark. In striving to create an engaging user experience for their website visitors, many digitally-invested companies have created an unpleasant, encroaching journey.
The Sofa Store Problem
Most of us are familiar with the woes of sofa shopping. You enter the store, and you are immediately tailed by an ingratiating salesperson. The salesperson proceeds to follow you around the store, despite your insistence that you are just looking. They hover around you, constantly trying to catch your eye, and try to push a fresh deal on you whenever you look at any one sofa for longer than five seconds. Inevitably, you end up leaving faster than you would have done, and in a worse mood than when you entered.
This is not so different from the experience you will get through many modern websites. Instead of the pushy salesperson, though, you get a series of pop-ups, permission requests, chat invitations, slide-in ads and scroll-based interstitials. It is a full-frontal attack of boxes and banners that bombard your browsing session and block you from simply scrolling.
Too Much of a Good Thing
When it comes to web engagement, striking the right balance is easier said than done. After all, a little web engagement can be a wondrous thing. Some pop-ups, for example, see conversion rates as high as 50.2%. Equally, proactive chat invitations on websites can earn as much as 105% ROI.
It is not as though we as website visitors are fundamentally averse to seeing marketing tactics. In fact, the slicker examples often surprise and delight us. The reason the best-performing pop-ups work so well is because they are served in precisely the right context, with precisely the right content, at precisely the right moment to capture our attention. Some just look so good that we forgive their invasion, like this example from Selz.
However, it can be all too easy to get carried away. When you see a conversion tactic generating results, it is natural to want to introduce more, similar methods across your website – and start ‘engaging’ your visitors with every scroll, with every click. That, then, is where the stack of cards falls down.
So, how can websites engage users without invasiveness? There are some simple best practices to follow.
GDPR is bringing user rights into the spotlight, and that can be a blessing for UX. Under the new directive, data controllers (i.e. businesses) must only process necessary consumer data, to a necessary extent, stored just for as long as necessary.
In terms of web UX, this means it is time to review both the permissions you are requesting of users and how you request them. Your permission requests should be unbundled, require an active opt-in, and provide granular options so that users can consent to different opt-ins accordingly.
You should also make it clear why you are requesting permission. A visitor is more likely to give you access to their location, for example, if they know that it will get them relevant offers exclusive to their area. 82% of app users find it valuable to understand why the service is asking for permissions, and that is important to bear in mind for web users, too.
Whatever you do, please do not request permissions to send push notifications five seconds after a user lands on your site. You have to prove your value before you push your content on people.
There is no denying that pop-ups can be effective. However, they can also be unforgivably annoying. (There is a reason Ethan Zuckerman of Tripod literally apologised for inventing them.)
The best pop-ups appear at the least disturbing moment, and only when the user is already invested in the website. A 60-second delay, or a pop-up timed to 60% of the average time spent on site, will be most effective. By this stage, the visitor has shown an adequate amount of interest – without being such a delay that you lose out on engaged prospects.
The best pop-ups have explicit, compelling content that is relevant to the visitor and the page viewed. They do not patronise users into taking action by suggesting that opting out is idiotic. They present a strong offer or service and require minimal information to act on that proposal.
They also look great, without dominating the user’s entire screen or making it difficult for them to click off. (We are looking at you, Forbes, with your giant entry interstitials). Deployed with consideration, a pop-up should be more attractive than intrusive.
Creating a dialogue with website visitors is always desirable. Live chat software can be a fantastic tactic for converting your online window shoppers, and chatters are worth 4.5x as much as website visitors who do not chat. A further 38% of customers have purchased due to a good live chat session itself. However, do not force chat down your user’s throat.
A website visitor does not need to have a live chat invitation pop up on every page they click on, the second they click. They do not want the same generic, automated message to surface whenever they re-enter. After all, they can see the live chat box in the bottom right of your website for themselves.
So, use proactive chat invitations only when the chat is likely to be helpful to the visitor. Someone who has just landed on your site probably does not need help just yet. A visitor who has spent a minute on your FAQ, on the other hand, might well benefit from the offer of support.
The same common-sense approach applies to creating dialogue via feedback forms. A visitor who has been on your site for all of 30 seconds does not want to give it a rating. Someone who is on their fourth web page, or who has just reached the bottom of a long blog article, will be more inclined to provide you with feedback.
Think of creating a dialogue with your visitors as like online dating. If you rush in too keenly, too soon, you will put them off right away. If, however, you allow a basis of interest to form, you are more likely to spark a meaningful interaction.
Breaking the Internet
Our beloved internet is being broken. Forget celebrities and their assets – companies and their aggressive engagement tactics are wreaking the damage.
When it comes to our online user experience, there is a delicate balance between personalisation and pestering; between engagement and irritation. Many websites are yet to have found that all-important equilibrium.
Brands, take note: when navigating a website requires more clicks off content you do not want than clicks on content you do want, the journey is profoundly broken.
Want to learn more?
Want to get an industry-recognized Course Certificate in UX Design, Design Thinking, UI Design, or another related design topic? Online UX courses from the Interaction Design Foundation can provide you with industry-relevant skills to advance your UX career. For example, Design Thinking, Become a UX Designer from Scratch, Conducting Usability Testing or User Research – Methods and Best Practices are some of the most popular courses. Good luck on your learning journey!