Usability is one of the most important factors in web design. For any website to be useful (or used at all) it has to contain suitable content, but if the site isn’t easy to navigate and if the content is difficult to find, the content won’t matter anyway.
YouTube regularly tries my patience. I can usually wait 5 seconds for the SKIP AD button to appear on advertising at the beginning of a video*, but when a channel expects me to wait a whole minute before watching what I clicked that link for, I am usually tempted to go somewhere else.
YouTube is already plagued with too much advertising, but now news sites are making it difficult for readers to even find the news story amidst the visual noise that crams their pages. Here are a couple of examples.
I read the news online. I don’t get a paper. But I tend to visit a number of different news sources to get different angles and to sidestep biases of the news editors. One way I find the news is to follow various newspapers on Twitter. Let’s take a look at one story that The Cambridge News published.
But first a word from our sponsors.
Immediately, the browser window was filled with this ad from Vodafone. This isn’t even subtle. I can’t ignore it. But to make it worse, I’m also hit with a video, centre stage. What do I do now? I’ve seen YouTube videos often enough that I know exactly what to do, and they make the Skip Ad button pretty prominent, but this ad hides their Skip video button in three lines of text. There’s no X in the corner, just two small words. Thankfully that does the trick and I can go on to read the article (I’m not in the market for a phone of any kind anyway…)
The article is easy to spot and easy to read, but half way down is a small black box, but no ordinary box. It’s an advertisement in hiding, waiting for you to mouse over. Since my mouse is in the middle of the screen anyway (I had just clicked Skip video to get rid of that ugly dog bit) I accidentally activated the advertisement.
Another irrelevant intrusion into the usability of the site. With all these interruptions, it’s a surprise if anyone manages to get to the articles and learn anything at all.
Graphic Design Junction
Somebody did something right on Twitter and made the link to an article on branding and visual identity enticing enough to make me want to click it. You would think that the battle had been won, because the Tweet worked. Somebody actually clicked it and the website actually got traffic! Wow! But wait… once Safari had opened the page, I was faced with this.
Where’s the article? Two bright and ugly GoDaddy ads grab my attention, but that’s not why I’m here. The heading looks OK – yes, I am in the right place. There’s a large graphic confirming that this really is where I can read about branding (even though the very first word in the image is spelled incorrectly – INSPRING?). But where is that article I was looking for?
If you look beyond the ads, which incidentally take up as much space as the article header image, you can see the three lines of text that begin the article. More spelling mistakes, so perhaps I don’t want to bother reading this anyway. But one of the most important rules of web usability is Don’t Make Me Think. If I have to work at it, or spend time looking for something, my attention is already gone and I’m more likely to go shopping for a new domain name, a USB Flash Drive or… wait a minute, business cards…plastic cards… I like the look of that ad, let’s check that out…
Advertising is meant to be enticing, but it’s not meant to replace the content on a site. If you really need to monetise your site, make sure you keep in mind what your website is really all about. Is it content you share, or is it just a glorified billboard?
*Why is it that very few advertisers make use of those magic five seconds? Typically, I’ve clicked Skip Ad without having a clue what the ad was about. Riffmaster get it – they show the product and the product name right away. Skip or not, you’ve seen the ad. Google just let you enjoy watching someone toss pizza in the air for a few seconds. I still have no idea why…