Every one of us has had a bad website experience. You’ve seen articles about how platforms like WordPress and Bootstrap are making things better and in many ways they are. A lot better in fact, especially for search optimization, properly structured articles (for the most part) and ease of use. But that doesn’t mean they are perfect, or that they are a better user experience. Indeed, many of the current (as of 2015) web design trends are introducing some terrible user experiences—particularly the responsive (mobile-friendly) themes.

HTML5 Video Is Costing You (Mobile) Customers

Let’s talk about HTML5 video backgrounds. Yes, they look gorgeous, but yes, Google will penalize you for increasing your page load time. Did you know that 47% of site visitors expect a page to load in two seconds? Two seconds. That’s worse than the attention span of a goldfish. Add to that, the fact that background video (thankfully) doesn’t work on mobile devices, so why bother? If you need subtle movement, try a Cinemagraph or an SVG animation, which boasts super fast load times.

Popup or page takeovers for email signups.Poor UX kills conversions

We hate these. You visit a page (or try to) and suddenly your screen is blocked by a plea to never miss another post! Wait. I haven’t read a single post yet. How do I know I want to read another one? We hear (anecdotally) that they may convert better than sidebar forms. But we’ll never know personally because we refuse to recommend them to a client. This is one of those tradeoff scenarios. Increased bounce rate and fewer people reading content, for marginally higher conversions? No thanks.

Telling the user to get a quote from the website, but in fact, requiring them to call for a quote.

Bait and switch anyone? This is really irritating to people who want a quote now. Instead, you’ve probably killed a sale by forcing them to call. This causes a temporary cognitive disconnect to the visitor. Instead of lying to them, just tell the truth in your call to action. “Call us for a quote.” At least they have an expectation now. On one large usability project I was on, I watched over two dozen people searching for several minutes “Trying to find where the online quote is,” only to realize that yes, they will have to call—and in all but one case, they reported that they would be too upset to follow through.

Demos need to be online—not scheduled

The same rules for online quotes apply to demos. Don’t make me schedule a demo. Make one that can be viewed online, by anyone. If I’m interested, I’ll call you. No one wants to waste a salesperson’s call, and we certainly don’t want to have our time wasted.

I can’t count how many products (primarily social media tools) I have refused to try because they won’t offer an online demo to play with. Sales lost. Faith in the company damaged.

Do you want to get me excited about your product? Let me play with it. On my own time. Want to make me hate your product? Force me to sit through a rehearsed sales pitch with an overly excited salesperson. Bonus points if I get to ask questions to the sales rep who will slyly wink and say, “Hey, captain, I’ll get back with you on that one.”

Why is “Enterprise-Level Pricing” ALWAYS call for a quote?

No. How about you get off your lazy coder butts and add a pricing calculator to the Enterprise section? Oh wait, right. You bought a Bootstrap theme that included a page with three (and only three) rounded-corner boxes for pricing your product as Single User, Pro, and Enterprise. Adding a usable feature to it—like a pricing calculator—wasn’t an option.

Pro Tip: Hey, WordPress and Bootstrap theme developers? Impress me. Make a pricing page that actually allows customers to price their unique situation. You know, like how every car company in the world has been doing since 1997? It’s not that tough. Add a drop menu (or slider) to choose the number of licenses/seats/employees/bandwidth limits—whatever. Then add a radio button choice for payment (monthly or annual). Then a calculate button to estimate the cost. BONUS: Have the price calculate in real-time as the slider moves. 

Slideshows with ads

No. Just stop. This is one of the stupidest ways to make advertising dollars and I would bet my life that the click-through rate on these ads is near zero. The user experience, if you haven’t been so unlucky, is this. You find an online slideshow. Maybe it’s the Top 20 Deadliest Sea Predators or 19,000+ LOLCats You’ve Never Seen. So you’re clicking through and suddenly—the slide seems to halt. The page refreshes. Then an ad appears. Instead of a slide. Wut.

Now in most cases, you can ignore it and click over to the next slide. It’s a poor user experience, but with a way out. On some, however, the thought seems to be to trap the user on the ad and then confuse them into clicking on it. How? By disguising part of the ad as a Next Slide arrow. What happened to the actual Next Slide arrow? It suddenly moved near below the screen, near the bottom of the page, wedged between two more ads that also resemble Next and Previous arrows. Shady. If your site uses this method, know that we think you are not to be trusted.

Unnecessary plugins and share functionality

This can be a tough concept for many marketers to grasp. You’ve read all these articles about getting more engagement and that often means adding ShareThis buttons everywhere and calls-to-action (CTA) all over the place. Here’s the problem. People can only perform one task at a time, and if you distract them from doing the One Thing you want them to do—they’re likely to forget and not do it.

Do your conversions a favor. Have only one call-to-action per page. If it’s a landing page, that CTA should refer to the conversion path (e.g., “Download our e-Book” or “Subscribe” or whatever you want them to do). If it’s a blog post, then ShareThis functionality is perfectly acceptable. Putting ShareThis buttons on every page of your site is not only pointless—it’s lazy on the developer’s part. A good developer would ask you, “What pages do you want this on?” and would argue against making them universal. Face it. No one is ever going to share your Contact Us page, your Terms & Conditions (unless they are Draconian) or your Cart Checkout page. All you’re doing is adding more things to load and reducing the possibility of a conversion.

In conclusion

Hopefully, these examples of new design trends that are killing conversions will make you look at your own site(s) and rethink some of the issues. Just because something has become a popular trend—like HTML5 video backgrounds—does not mean you should follow the herd. Think about the path your visitor takes. Have you actually gone through your own entire purchase path on your site? And I don’t mean flipping through the pages. I mean visiting the site as an interested customer and going along the path to purchase end-to-end. Take notes on how many details bothered you. It’s likely that these same elements have bothered many others as well.

Are you aware of any other design trends that are cool to look at but probably killing conversions? Let us know in the comments below. We’d love to hate them with you!

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Dave Linabury

Director of Strategy

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