Everyone loves to talk about getting more users. Indeed, the mantra of “more users” has become something of a rallying cry in the blogging world. But, relatively few people are talking about their existing users who they are potentially annoying and losing because they are focusing primarily on attracting new users.
Pleasing existing users is a lot more important than you might think because annoyed users don’t just leave, they complain–to their friends, family, and colleagues, who then have a bad impression of your website. Perhaps you should start devoting as much time and energy to keeping your existing users happy as you do to finding new ones.
If your users aren’t complaining already, here are some things that might tick them off in the future:
- Pop-ups, pop-unders, or anything else that pops
If anything has remained constant from the Internet’s dawning day until now, it’s that everyone hates pop-ups. Whether they’re pop-up advertisements, pop-up forms, pop-up reminders, or “helpful” alerts really makes no difference. The fact that they popped up in front of what the user really cares about and was trying to look at has always been, and always will be, annoying. You can try to rationalize it away, but no amount of wishing or hoping will change that fact. If you’re running pop-ups on your website, you can be certain that they are driving users away.
A common objection to this is “but if we don’t pop it in front of them, they wont see what we have to say, or care!” But here’s the reality: if people don’t care about what you’re saying, the problem is with what you’re saying, not how you display it. If users don’t care when it’s written on a sidebar or in a blog post, they most certainly wont respond positively when it interrupts them by popping up in front of their faces.
- Slow load times
Back when AOL and dial-up were the norm, you could get away with a slow-loading website. No one expected visiting a website to be instantaneous. But times have changed–people don’t wait for websites to load anymore. If your site takes too long to load, users will simply visit a similar site with better load times.
There are many ways to make your website load faster. One is to code your HTML in such a way that images load little by little rather than making the user wait until they are fully loaded before they can see the rest of the page (this includes advertising). MLBTradeRumors.com is a textbook example of this. Excellent blog, tons of users, but on many computers, slow load times. Why? The ads don’t let you see the rest of the site until they are fully loaded. Don’t let this happen to your website. Try visiting it from multiple computers and Internet connections to see how it loads on computers other than yours. Then get to work fixing the weak spots.
For more tips on making your website load faster, see 10 Easy Steps to Great Website Optimization.
- Confusing navigation
For all that Web 2.0 has brought in terms of simplicity, it’s amazing how many websites are still hard to navigate. How many times have you gone looking for something on a website (something you knew was there), came up empty, and concluded “ah, screw it! I’ll just Google it and find it that way.” (Trust us, we’ve been there.) Well guess what? You might do that, but most people are not that patient. If they can’t find what they want using the links and buttons on your website, you’ve lost them. There is simply no excuse not to have simple navigation in 2009. Pick up a copy of “Don’t Make Me Think” and make your website easier to navigate.
- Obnoxious, screen-covering ads
It’s tough imagining anything more annoying than pop-ups, but leave it to advertisers to find a way. There is nothing worse than getting absorbed in an article or blog post and scrolling down only to see a massive ad fold out to cover everything you’re reading. As if that weren’t bad enough, many of these ads make you hunt and search for the “Close” box. The worst offenders even play audio as part of the ad. Ugh! Webmasters, listen up–there isn’t a user on the face of the Earth who doesn’t want to throw her monitor out the window when those ads unfold. They annoy everyone. We realize that you need to make money from your website, but there are ways of doing so that don’t completely frustrate the people who go there.
- Intimidating walls of text
It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of writing content. We like to imagine that users will painstakingly read each word, taking their time and spending as long as it takes to extract the meaning we left for them. Unfortunately, our imagination is the only place this ever happens. The Web 2.0 generation is also the quick fix generation, the instant pancake mix generation, the fast food generation, etc. We skim, scan, and glance–anything but read. In that sense, websites are really much more like billboards than books or magazines. Trying to fight this is as pointless as trying to fight gravity. Better to follow Steve Krug’s advice: “If they’re going to treat websites like billboards, then design great billboards.”
In practice, this means dividing up your content into easily digestible, bite-sized chunks. This means lots of subheaders, bulleted lists, short paragraphs, and moderate use of bold and italics to break up the monotony.
- Broken links
Do you want people to see you as unprofessional, lazy, and behind the times? It’s rather easy! Just allow your articles and blog posts to become cluttered with broken links. That way, when your users click on a link they wanted to see and it goes nowhere, you can annoy them when they are most interested. Wait, what’s that? You say you don’t want to annoy your users this way? Good! It’s good practice to manually check links in your blog posts before you push them live, however, there are also several free tools that can help you check for and find broken links much faster. If you’re using Google’s Webmaster Tools, you can use their crawl errors feature to help you locate the source URL for “Not found” errors (these sources can be internal or external). There is also the W3C Link Checker that will crawl your site and report broken links as well as Dead-Links.com that will splits its report up into internal and external links and then provides you with a list of errors.
- Required log-in
No one visits a site because they want to log in–they visit because they’re interested in the content (news, information, video, etc.) of that website. Now, we realize there are exceptions to this rule (Facebook doesn’t seem to be suffering because they force people to log in)–sometimes people need to log in; there may be no other way. However, if you’re just starting out, forcing people to log in is just another source of friction and annoyance. It may not completely kill your website, but it will certainly annoy some people enough to leave.
Now that you’ve read this article, it’s time to take a good, hard, honest look at your website. How many of these things are you currently doing? How many users are you driving into the arms of less-annoying competitors? Don’t let these perfectly correctable mistakes drag your website under–fix them!