opinion

Surfers Reject Stuff They Think They Don’t Need

Stephen Yagielowicz

Within the entertainment and media industries, online adult or otherwise, you will commonly hear the phrase, “content sells.” While this statement is undoubtedly true, having a marketable product is only the starting point — getting it to the customer is an uphill battle that not only involves identifying and directing those prospects to the point of purchase (sending traffic to your website), but of reassuring and guiding them through the sales process (such as moving surfers from a warning page, through a tour, on to the join page and then successfully into your members area).

Sadly, much can (and does) go wrong with this procedure — including problems that you may have no control over — or even be aware of; such as surfers abandoning a site simply because of the design techniques it employs.

Once users reject a design technique due to repeated bad experiences it’s almost impossible to use it for good because people will avoid it every time.

In “Can Hated Design Elements Be Made to Work?” (www.useit.com/alertbox/hated-design.html), Internet usability guru Jakob Nielsen recently pondered whether or not the often poor execution of common design techniques have caused surfers to avoid viewing certain elements altogether.

“Once users reject a design technique due to repeated bad experiences it’s almost impossible to use it for good because people will avoid it every time,” Nielsen stated, noting that PDF files are tolerated, even though they are often not presented properly; using a direct link that causes “PDF shock,” rather than a download or gateway page.

“Unfortunately, even good uses of bad design techniques are usually doomed,” he added. “Users hate these designs so much that they can’t overcome their negative first impressions in the fraction of a second they allocate to stuff they think they don’t need.”

Remember that statement: surfers reject “stuff they think they don’t need.”

According to Nielsen’s report, this “stuff” includes banner ads, splash screens and lightbox overlays, even when they provide relevant, useful information, or contextual navigational links — simply because other designers have executed these elements badly.

“It’s almost impossible for any single website to overcome the cumulative effect of users’ visits to countless other sites,” Nielsen concluded. “Obnoxious abuse of a web design element will ultimately poison the well for decent websites as users start shunning that design element, even when it’s well intentioned.”

The lesson here is that no matter how “cool” you think your design is, or how well you think it will “pull,” if it uses techniques that have annoyed surfers in the past, then it is starting its relationship with the customer with a perceptual disadvantage — and that is never good for content sales.

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