Four Ways Digital Marketers Are Distracting From Their Own Content

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.

pollMid-Content Prompts

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.

hrefExtraneous Links

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.

playvideoAutomatically Playing Videos

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.

wordsworstConfusing UI Elements

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.

Using Predictive User Behavior to Improve and Analyze Website Design

Not everyone can afford an eye tracking test for their website, but most developers, designers and small business owners can benefit from the general knowledge that user behavior tests provide. While the conclusions drawn from user behavior tests may not necessarily be accurate all the time, the data itself can offer quite a bit of insight.

2Conversion Occurs at the Bottom of the Page

Though above-the-fold content may get more activity, conversion generally occurs at the bottom of the page. It’s easy to understand why. If you see a conversion prompt at the top of the page, you aren’t yet invested. By the time you read the article and wish to convert, the conversion prompt is no longer on the screen. Conversely, if the conversion prompt is at the bottom, it is immediately accessible at the exact time that you need it.

What’s more, “above the fold” content might not mean as much as it once did. For one, “above the fold” now has an entirely different meaning. Mobile users account for a large portion of web activity, and they are used to scrolling downwards for information.

Moral: Always think about how the user will actually use the site and the physical process of conversion.

4Users Get Bored of Similar Elements Pretty Quickly

Observe this EyeQuant study. In this area, EyeQuant noticed that large text didn’t attract additional attention as predicted. But there’s also something more interesting going on here. You can see that EyeQuant predicted that users would linger for a somewhat similar amount of time on each of the three informational boxes presented, reading left to right. In fact, users read the first box, concentrated on the second box and then skipped the third box entirely.

Assumptions are dangerous. But if one wanted to make assumptions, it could be assumed that the user reads the first box and then scans the second box to determine whether each box is actually useful to them. At this point, the user makes an educated decision to skip over the third box entirely, imagining that it does not offer any additional value.

This is seen again, where, when confronted by four similar elements, the users pay significant attention to the first two items of the block and then abruptly drop off in interest.

Moral: Vary your elements and never put important information in a similar array. 

3The Left Side of Your Page Is the Most Important Side

A lot has been said about the “F” shape in reading; users scan the top first and then scan down the left hand side, looking for interesting headlines. But there’s no mystery here: we simply read left to right. Overall, the left hand of the screen accounts for about 70% of the reader’s time.

But studies have also shown that readers can be triggered to move to the left hand screen with a prompt. An image of a person looking towards the right, for instance, can move the viewer’s focus to right side content. So if you do want to vary your content approach, you simply need to be careful with your layout design.

Moral: Either put your most important content on the left side or trigger it from the left with a prompt that points to it. 

4Users Ignore Banner Ads — Unless They’re Tricked

Nearly every eye-tracking study since 2007 has noted that users experience ‘banner blindness’–they simply do not see most ads. There are some exceptions. Ads that are unfamiliar to them or ads that do not look like traditional ads may actually be viewed. An ad that appears to be content could also be lingered on.

But, of course, this is a double-edged sword; any time spent looking at an ad is time that is not spent engaging with the content of the site. Banner ads have become a poor monetization technique for a variety of reasons, banner blindness being only one of them.

Moral: If you have to user banner ads, expect them to be largely ignored. You can encourage users to look at them, but only at the cost of your content.

Of course, as we’ve noted, statistics and studies won’t always present an accurate picture. While you can’t always rely upon external information, what you can do is conduct your own testing. Based on the above principles, you can initiate changes to your website and determine whether they improve your performance. Statistics, in general, should be used as guidelines to make changes rather than taken as hard facts.

Digital Marketing Trends That Inspire Reader Fatigue

For a diverse and global community, the web can sometimes appear startlingly homogeneous. Design and marketing techniques proliferate quickly on the backs of those eager to get in on the next big thing, and once a trend builds momentum, it can become almost impossible to kill. Clients begin asking for the bells and whistles that they’ve seen elsewhere on the web and readers come to expect it. Eventually some trends overstay their welcome and simply have to go.


The Waste Your Time Infinite Scrolling Design

It may be time for us to call it quits on the parallax — at least, other than some very specific applications. Sure, parallax design looks fantastic, but now that it’s been scattered across half of the web, it’s lost much of its initial impact. Worse, it’s encouraging infinite scrolling and one page designs. One page site designs were at first promoted for allowing full control over the chronology of the company’s story, unfolding a tale in front of the eyes of the consumer. While it does achieve that, there are many technical problems holding it back from being a truly effective technique.

  • It obfuscates the UX. While a user can scroll down to slowly reveal the company’s messaging, it makes it very difficult for the user to actually browse through the site and control their own user experience. If the user simply has a direct question or needs specific information, they won’t be able to find it. This can leads to user frustration and site abandonment.
  • It makes analytics difficult to track. With a parallax, infinite scrolling design, you can’t determine where the user is bouncing off of your site or what content the user is revealing beforehand. You also can’t see which areas of your site are more popular because they are all on a single, slowly revealed page.
  • It’s bad for SEO. Having all of your relevant information on a single page is the last thing you want for the purposes of search engine optimization. Infinite scrolling websites also put a premium on concise copy, which is simultaneously more readable but less easily optimized.

Modal Madness: The Pop-Up Advertising of Today

I don’t think I’m alone in this: a modal window is very likely to get me to leave a site entirely. The rest of the website goes dark and a prompt appears at the center of the screen: Buy Our Product! Sign Up for Our Newsletter! Do Something, Anything, to Get Rid of This Ad! Modal windows are very popular today as an aggressive method of capturing leads. But the web already rejected pop-ups –what makes advertisers believe that today’s consumer will be any more forgiving?

  • It breaks the user experience. Whatever the user intended to do — whether it be find more information about your product or just read an article — has now been interrupted and there’s a good chance the user might just leave entirely. The fact that many modal windows can’t be easily closed only adds to this frustration.
  • When it fails, it fails spectacularly. Modal windows do two things: present you with an ad and black out the rest of the site. So when they malfunction — which happens a good 10% of the time — the site often remains blacked out and inaccessible. Sometimes the site may not even come back after the modal window has been closed.
  • It’s too aggressive. When you market things correctly, the consumer wants to get more information from you. A modal window is the sales equivalent of cornering a customer in a store. The dialog will be completely different than it would be if the customer themselves had come up with a question.

likesQuantity Over Quality Social Media Marketing

The inherent difficulty involved in measuring the effectiveness of social media marketing has led many digital marketers to adopt quantity-based metrics. In other words, the effectiveness of campaigns is often measured simply by the quantity of followers. While this is one important metric, it’s not always the best metric; depending on a content marketing campaign, additional traffic may not actually lead to any actual increase in revenue. Aggressively obtaining followers (such as, say, through modal windows) may lead to followers who were not initially invested in the company’s messaging and who will not become invested later on. Worse yet, it may alienate followers by appearing both desperate and pushy.

  • Traffic doesn’t mean conversions. Marketers learned this lesson years ago, but may need to relearn it in the social media context. A local business followed by a tremendous amount of global followers won’t necessarily make any more revenue than another business with a smaller amount of local followers.
  • People don’t take social media that seriously. They may follow you with no real intent to ever interact with your brand or make a purchase from you; being interested in what you have to say by no means guarantees a sale. While more exposure is still good, it shouldn’t be used as the only end goal.
  • Users that don’t engage can actually be harmful. Many online communities gauge the success of your posts based on how many of your followers actually engage with it. If you have a large amount of followers and none of them are paying attention to your posts, your posts won’t gain any traction.

Most digital marketing trends don’t last long; the industry simply moves too fast. New trends are constantly on the horizon and marketers need to remain agile and be willing to abandon old techniques should they become ineffective. Tactics such as infinite scrolling (jazzed up in all that lovely parallax) were effective and marketers were right to use them — but that doesn’t mean they will remain effective forever. Marketers have to be constantly in the process of analyzing and improving if they are to avoid played out and now ineffective conventions.