8 Ways to Piss Off Your Website Visitors

In a quick break from travel, this is an open letter to website designers, bloggers, and companies with no sense who are wearing me out every day.

I write and and edit travel features, hotel reviews, and travel gear reviews for a living, I do a lot of online research. That means a hours of time surfing new websites, too much of that time wanting to shout random swear words at the walls of my office. Do any of the following if you want to make your visitors grumpy from the start. These steps will ensure that your site seldom gets any repeat visitors.

1) Automatically play music on your site.

Visitors landing on your site especially love it when the’re in a quiet office, in a coffee shop, or on a train/bus/plane when encountering this. If you make the icon really hard to find to turn it off—or don’t include one at all—then bonus points on the irritation scale.

2) Nag us with a pop-up ad

These went out in 1999, right around when we got n0-call lists for telemarketing, but some people didn’t get the memo. Aggressive bloggers and webmasters will say, “But the pop-up converts really well in getting people to sign up for my newsletter.” Yeah, so does dragging people by the arm into a timeshare presentation or knocking on their door to get them to donate money to UNICEF. In the virtual world, those you didn’t “covert” have a handy back button they’ll click instead.

3) Cover up what we’re trying to read.

Related to #2, but sometimes even covering up the entire page or putting an additional page in front before we can get to our destination. (In industry terms, this is an “interstatial ad.”) We have to click on something either way to get to what we were trying to read. This is the equivalent of a roadblock on your route to work that makes you take a slower, roundabout detour, except in this case you’re making people go around a giant billboard instead of highway improvements. How do unexpected detours usually make you feel?

4) Leave out the vital information we came to find.

I can’t top The Oatmeal’s rant on disappointing restaurant websites, but here are other examples that are baffling: hotel or villa websites with no rates, public relations websites with no client listings or contacts, museum websites with no admission info or hours, product sites with no “where to buy” button, blogs with no contact e-mail address or “about me” page, real estate sites that make me fill out a form to e-mail someone, and on it goes. Hey, how’s that whole “air of mystery” thing going for you?

5) Build the whole site with frames and Flash

This way every page of your website has the same URL and we can’t link to anything. Oh well, we probably can’t find you in Google anyway as a result and you don’t show up on Apple mobile devices, so in essence you don’t exist.

6) Build a fancy swirling intro page

This doesn’t give us any information and it takes forever to load, but hey, that designer had to do something that would justify the high fee, right? Hint: for extra points, make sure the “skip intro” button doesn’t come up until after the whole page has loaded, preferably in a tiny font like the example at the top. For triple points, put artsy images or icons on the page to click on instead of real words.

7) Make us click through 20 pages to read one article

Sure, the article is only 1,200 words and would easily fit on one page, but if you make us click on 20 pages instead, that’s 20 times more chances to serve up flashing banner ads about tooth whitening and diet plans. Wow, look at the “increase” we can put into that page view graph for Powerpoint! The suits are going to wet themselves!

8) Make us register to leave a comment or ask a question

Savvy web surfers have a whole bevy of fake names and e-mail addresses for this purpose and there are sites like BugMeNot.com to get around this irritation. But I guess you can say you have thousands of “registered users” this way when the suits ask you for some numbers.

8.5) …your turn in the comments

Comments
  1. Chris Stuart

    Great Article Tim! I especially agree with #7. Seems like every news site nowadays wants to create a 20 page slideshow or story just to get increased pageviews. It’s a joke. Anytime i see it, I click somewhere else.

    On another note. I am the founder of a new travel deals website http://www.insidertrips.com. I would love any sort of feedback and I’m definitely open to any discussion pieces (maybe an interview for your site?). Let me know what you think. I can be reached at info@insidertrips.com Thanks!

  2. Marilyn

    Thank you for posting this. But will anyone listen? With companies like AOL, Huffington Post, and MSN throwing up all these 30-page slideshows and intrusive ad roadblocks, it seems to be getting worse, not better. Idiocracy, here we come!

  3. Sophie

    The automatic high volume music player is a definite way to put off reader, I couldn’t agree more.

  4. DML

    Chris, you personally are guilty of #3 and #8!!!!!! I was interested in checking out your site but found that I couldn’t because there was a huge window “covering up the entire page or putting an additional page in front before we can get to our destination” And what was covering it? #8. Maybe I would have registered, maybe not but I want to look at your website first before I register for it. Because I couldn’t even look at it without registering I left the site. You lost me.

  5. Chris Stuart

    DML, i understand your dis-pleasure with this, but since we are an exclusive community, that’s the way it has to be unfortunately. The way we bring better travel deals to our community is by in turn gaining more subscribers. With more subscribers, we sell more deals, and in turn you get better pricing. Hope this makes sense. Chris

  6. tim

    Sorry Chris, but I don’t buy it. That’s just plain annoying. Even private sites let you look around first before deciding whether to sign up. Otherwise you’re like a store making me sign up for your club before the door gets unlocked. Instead I’ll just turn around and leave, annoyed that I came there in the first place and wasted half a minute of my life.

  7. Carla

    Any site that makes me register is getting an e-mail address I never check. If you bug people before they even get in the door, you had better really wow them with something that has already proven to be amazing—like Groupon. Otherwise, back button. Or in your stats, “bounce.”

  8. Anton

    9. Having a truncated rss feed. Sort it out!

    • tim

      Anton, that’s not a website issue, it’s a feed decision. If you can read a whole RSS feed without clicking through, you never even go to their website. That’s why most publishers trying to make money from a site (rather than doing it as a hobby or for self-promotion as a speaker/author/politician) only publish an abbreviated feed. If you like what you see, go read the rest in its original form, with graphics and comments. You’re supporting their efforts that way so they’ll keep writing. (By the way, I get an average of one complaint every two years about this. Almost nobody reads full feeds in a reader and most probably don’t even have their reader set up to do this.)

  9. matt

    a copy of this should be tacked up on every design school’s wall
    or maybe as a flash intro with really cool music to every online college website

    as a web designer and educator….you’re preaching to the choir
    music, popups/overs and intro pages are the holy trinity of losing traffic

    and i can’t believe it’s necessary
    mandatory opt ins only get you fake addresses and “back” clicks
    if someone appreciates what you’re putting out there
    they’ll opt in because they want the information
    just seems like a way to skew numbers for whoever is paying you for the click

  10. Rob

    Did someone in a business suit hurt your feelings?

  11. Henry Williams

    Great article and I absolutely hate when the music automatically starts so i can relate to that

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