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Tracey S. Roth

Dot Com Commerce

Managing Editor, [email protected] CENTER Solutions

[November 3, 1999]

Like Nails On A Chalkboard: Web Site Irritants

Let's face it: The older we get, the more things tend to irritate us. Yearly, we have new things to find annoying. Lately, my ire has been focused on the practices of clueless, inconsiderate e-commerce providers who design sites that seem to have been specifically architected to get on my nerves. Well aware of my own Web site pet peeves, I asked my co-workers here at TMC -- all skilled and frequent Web surfers and consumers -- for their own personal irritants. The responses I received were swift and decisive, and several recurring issues popped up.

Lack of contact info. This one really irritates most of us. There is nothing more aggravating than visiting a Web site to find a company's telephone number, fax number, e-mail address or even where they're located, and find the only way to contact the company is by filling out a form that includes queries regarding demographic information and survey questions. After you provide the information, you realize the company only uses the form to gather information for its marketing efforts, or, even worse, to sell to other companies so you can be spammed interminably for years to come. The prevailing message with this practice is, "We don't care if you have a question for us…we don't plan on answering it anyway, but we do want your personal information so we can use it to our benefit." You don't want me to be able to contact you in a way that's convenient for me? Don't worry…I won't.

Disabling the "back" button. This is a teeth-grinder. If I'm trying to backtrack on a site and find that the "back" button merely leads me to another site, my response is not going to be "Wow! Look at that! I can get a 10 percent discount on a solar-powered vegetable slicer with an optional sherbet-making attachment!" My first, gut-level response is going to be to kill the site and never return. Never, ever. This is the electronic equivalent of locking your customers into your brick-and-mortar store and not allowing them to leave until they've examined all your products or sat through a sales pitch. They'll probably break the windows to get out.

Lack of intuitive navigation. Many Web sites contain site maps. This is fine if I'm looking for something really obscure, but by and large, I should be able to navigate your site intuitively. If you need to provide me with a map just so I don't get hopelessly lost on your site, you've got some design problems. If common information is buried so deeply on the site that I have to click through nine different windows just to find shipping options for something I'd like to buy, I'm going to see if your competitor's site isn't easier to navigate. Guaranteed.

Flashy, unnecessary graphics that load unto eternity. It's really nice that you have a talented, artistic Webmaster. It's wonderful that he or she decided it would be really cool to put a huge, flashing graphic on the site. But I'm not willing to wait until the middle of next week to see your site designer's artistic flair. (And I've got a T1 connection. How long are people with dial-up modems waiting -- until retirement?) I'm looking for an attractive, well-designed site. Not performance art. If I wanted that, I'd check out www.YokoOno.com.

Pointless entry pages. Can someone explain to me what these are all about? This is the real-world equivalent of putting a front door on your front door. Why? Are you ashamed of your home page? Are you testing my clicking dexterity? Or are you just trying to annoy me to the point where I go looking for your competitor's site? "Click to enter," they proclaim. If I didn't want to enter, would I have gone to your Web site in the first place?

Browser hijacking. Have you ever tried to close a browser and found that this just launches another browser? You've been hijacked. When you try to close the second browser, it launches yet a third. The only thing you can hope for is that you're a fast enough clicker to close the window before the HTML code gets executed. If you're not, tough luck. You're on your way to somewhere you probably don't want to be. One person I talked to here at TMC told me that just on principle, he never reads anything in self-propagating browser windows.

Lack of a search function. This is inexcusable, particularly when a site is large. It's unfortunately an oft-practiced crime on business and e-commerce sites and it frustrates those of us that use Web sites for business purposes. Maybe it makes us stay on your site longer as we fumble to find the information we need without assistance. On the other hand, maybe it makes us just give up in disgust. Liken it to the way grocery stores always put the milk, eggs and staple items at the back of the store so you have to wander through the whole market to find them. The grocery store hopes you'll find other things during your journey to the back. Maybe you will…but going to another supermarket is not nearly as easy as clicking onto your competitor's Web site.

Music and sound effects. These are now beginning to show up on business-related Web sites. I'm not sure why. As one of my co-workers put it, "Save that for the Britney Spears' fan club page."

Other pet peeves of regular Web users I talked to included "stupid, animated GIFs," pop-up windows that make you wait until they load before you can click them away, "flash without content," links that never seem to work, incomplete information and cluttered sites. For more opinions on this subject, read "Your Web Site Stinks!" by TMC's president and group publisher Rich Tehrani in the October 1999 issue of [email protected] CENTER Solutions™.

Something caught my eye this morning. It was an article in an e-mailed newsletter that proclaimed, "Design Your Web Site For Maximum Efficiency!" Interested, I clicked on the link. When I arrived at the site and clicked to take the five-minute tutorial, the site hijacked me and began playing the theme to "Mission: Impossible." Disgusted, I exited the site. Some people will never get it.

So how do you correct these problems? Easy…think from the average surfer's point of view. The reason I'm shopping online or seeking information over the Internet in the first place is to save time. Logic would dictate that I'd like to make the best possible use of my time. You may think the graphics and sounds on your site are more artistic than the entire East Wing of the Louvre, but all I really want is the information I'm seeking off your site. Give me the tools I need…a search function, an easily-navigable site, links that actually work and usable contact information. Don't hijack me. Don't try and trick me. Don't take my surfing control out of my hands. And I'll stay on your site.

Maybe I'll even buy something.

Tracey S. Roth welcomes your comments at troth@tmcnet.com.

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