Your content is important, but you palso have a lot of other things going on. Marketing goals, affiliate advertising, content promotions — all of these things may be competing separately for your user’s attention. And when too much is going on at once, the actual goal of your site and your content could get lost in the shuffle. Some of the strategies web marketers are using today to grab their user’s attention may actually be actively working against them.
Have you ever been asked to fill out a poll to reveal a website’s content? Even worse, to reveal the latter half of an article that you were already reading? More to the point: Did you even answer the question honestly? Not only is this method of data collection aggravating, it’s also worse than useless. Most people will just mindlessly click buttons in an effort to get the poll off their screen. Some will undoubtedly just back out of the page entirely out of irritation. Any monetization provided by this method is probably negligible when taking the hit to user engagement into account.
You might also wonder how this is useful at all — after all, it’s not like the website has any of your demographic information. Well, that’s where a more unsavory element comes in. The vast majority of these polls are conducted as part of a monetization scheme from Google Consumer Reports. In other words, they don’t need demographic data because they already have it — through Google. And Google likely doesn’t care that their data is fuzzed because they probably take into account extreme margins for error. Which they can do, because of their extraordinarily large reach and sample size.
In the early days of search engine optimization, outbound links were discouraged entirely. Anything that led a visitor out of your site was discouraged, except for ads. Many webmasters opened necessary outbound links in new windows — weirdly, HubSpot was still suggesting this method in 2012 even though users absolutely abhor it. Regardless, that’s all changed. Today, marketers focus on links with high authority, hoping that sending users to high authority websites will increase their own reputation and will provide a better experience for the user. But extraneous and excessive links can still hurt, if only by sending the user somewhere else entirely when they’re still in the middle of consuming your content.
Some marketers attempt to avoid this issue by adding sources at the bottom of their page rather than linking them naturally within the text. But this method can backfire, too. A curious reader won’t continue reading the article; they will instead scroll down and click on the source link. Having done this, they may or may not resume reading from where they were. They may not even be able to find where they left off. Either way, it’s usually best to limit links to one or two per two hundred words.
Videos are great. Video advertising is great. But video advertising can be harmful if it’s not expected. And it can be even worse if it’s unwanted. The theory behind starting a video automatically is that it grabs the user’s attention, but it is far more likely that it will lead them to closing the window and looking for a less obtrusive link. This is especially true if the video that automatically plays has nothing to do with the content that they’re looking for, or if the video plays too loud.
Some demographics do respond well to an automatically playing video, even if it is a fairly narrow spectrum. But even so, you should at very least make it easy for a user to shut it off. Otherwise they might try, fail and leave. Triggering the video through some action, such as by scrolling down, can also reduce the “irritation” effect of an automatically playing video; at that point, the user is at least certain to be focusing on the content.
Advertisers love packing things into small spaces. After all, you only have a certain amount of time to capture the interest of the user. So why not just throw everything at the screen and see what sticks? But white space is extremely important. A cluttered design with too much going on at once will almost always distract the reader. It may even lead to them failing to convert or being unable to find essential elements such as social sharing buttons. An extremely difficult to navigate user interface could even lead a reader to abandoning the site entirely.
It can be tempting to get clever with website design in order to attract attention. And it does work, to some extent — though there are some trends that need to go. But your content always needs to come first.
There’s really just one golden rule: let the reader read. If the user can’t find the information they want, they’re going to get frustrated and leave. You should always avoid tactics that are going to get in the way of content consumption. A poll is fine — at the end of an article. A video is fine — if the user has the option to play it on their own. Links are great if they don’t get overwhelming and UI elements should always support rather than obfuscate content.