This Simple Consideration Can Seriously Boost Your Site’s Usability

This might sound like an odd statement, but many of today’s websites are just plain rude.

You and other rational human beings may be wondering, “how on earth can a website be considered ‘rude?’”

That’s a valid question—let me explain.

I was scanning a few news articles recently when I re-noticed a trend I’ve seen worsening over the years: auto-playing videos. The scenario typically plays out something like this:

You hit the page, scan the headline and begin reading down the article. Before reaching the third paragraph, a video somewhere on the page starts automatically playing. Naturally, the computer’s speakers are moderately high in volume, so begins a rapid hunt up and down to find where the video and its pause button so disruption to others in the room is kept to a minimum. After scrolling past numerous non-playing videos in the sidebar and in the article content, you find the one at the top of the page that’s moving and frantically click stop.

After averting that crisis, you begin hunting for the part of the article from which you left off before being so rudely interrupted. Then, in perfect timing, just as you find your spot and carry on reading, yet another video begins playing.

Scrolling back to the top, each of the three (yes, it’s not atypical for three videos to sit at the top of a single page) are still motionless. Upon this realization, you scroll clear to the bottom of the page to find yet another video that has begun its own autoplay extravaganza, just as loud and obnoxious as the one that preceded it.

Autoplaying videos: Boost Your Site’s Usability
A news website that has placed at least four videos on a single page.

I’ve even experienced two of these unwanted videos playing at once.

If you’re like me at this point, you close the window and either A.) find another article on the same topic, or B.) give up entirely and move on to something else.

The Take Away from This Example

Whether you’ve lived the tale described above, or one similar, it’s likely you too have experienced one of today’s user-unfriendly websites, or as I like to call them, rude websites.

When referring to the example of the auto-playing video, there’s two main things communicated to a user experiencing these interruptions, neither of which are pleasant. Either 1.) the website owner has concluded the average user isn’t intelligent enough to click the “play” button on the video he or she wishes to watch or 2.) the site owner simply hasn’t considered (or doesn’t care about) the user’s goals and experience in reaching them.

Again, neither of these scenarios are good and both of which only give people reasons to leave the site.

This isn’t to say we should make a broad, sweeping rule forbidding the use of auto-playing videos. YouTube often serves videos in an auto-play format. The difference, however, is a singular video is the sole reason for visiting that page. This is vastly different from a news article littered with ads and a variety of videos interlaced within. The focus in the YouTube example is convenience for the user.

For website owners, there’s a couple of lessons to learn here:

  1. Put yourself in their shoes. For your website, consider what it’s like to go through your site to read or consume various types of content. Is it easy? Could it be easier? Are there roadblocks in the user’s way of getting to why the user entered the site in the first place?
  2. Make the user’s goal’s the focus. This point piggy-backs the previous, however it’s important to shift the focus from “what do I want the user to do?” to “how can I make it easier for the user to do what he or she wants to do?” This may seem slight, but makes all the difference in creating a good user experience.
  3. Place the important elements prominently. In the video example, the site owner cluttered the article and sidebar with what he or she wants you to view. For our sites, it’s important to make the article (or singular focus) of the page as the easiest thing to find. Everything else needs to be an aside or something that’s clearly secondary to the main focus of the content.

This is just a brief look at how website usability can play a major role in not repelling (as well as attracting) new website visitors. If content is king, then consider usability the queen.

Which Usability Site Issues Have You Experienced?

It’s likely you’ve experienced a “rude” website or two. Feel free to leave a comment with your experiences and insights for keeping websites clean, readable, and clutter-free.

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Thomas is a Graphic Designer, Web Developer, and founder of Rightly & Co. For over a decade, he’s had the privilege of working with a wide variety of individuals and organizations on a wide variety of projects.

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