Annoying Web Pages

For those of you who are too young to know, back at the very beginning of the World Wide Web, there were mountains of web pages which were set up this way: a black fake-looking star field, with white serif fonts of varying sizes, and menu and text all hugging the left side of the browser window (no CSS). Hard to read. Intending to look cosmic or kewl, but not really. Huge number of sites just like that. The only good thing about this was that they loaded almost instantly. Very annoying.

Flash forward to today. Mountains of web pages set up this way: Huge half-page rotating banners with big flashy images of merchandise or whatever, below which are laid out menus on the left, and text contact and images on the right, marching down to the end of the page. Big pop-ups to grab your attention about this or that part of the business. All of which load slowly. Very annoying.

Brief shallow analysis: The former pages had no real styling, no Javascript, no nothing. The pages were ugly as hell, but they rendered like lightning. The latter pages have huge CSS stylesheets with every little thing specified, the pages are absolutely stuffed with Javascript that talks to Google and various other sites, etc. And pop-ups galore. Slow as hell to paint.

Both kinds of page are annoying. I would argue that today’s sites are more annoying than yesterday’s. If only because it was easier on earlier sites to get to the data you wanted. After all, you typically visit websites to get information about the company or the products, etc.

And this is a particularly important point to outline. Why do you go to a website? You want to know their office hours. You want to know where the closest location. You want to find out if they sell X. You want to know X’s price. Do they have them in stock? Put more succinctly, you want information about the company or the products they carry. If it’s a blog, you want to find out if they have posts on a given topic. Or you want to read what they had to say on a given day. What do you not want, most likely. You don’t want to be marketed to. And what are all these pop-ups and sliding banners meant to do? Exactly what you don’t particularly want– market to you.

Let’s be clear about something else. Marketers rarely know how to do their job. How many commercials do you see, where five minutes later you have no idea what they were selling or who was trying to sell it to you? I don’t particularly need to stress or prove this point, since it’s well known and long lamented among marketeers. Marketeers frequently try to put this down to the idea that people are oversold or overly marketed to all the time. This is undoubtedly true, but it’s just finger pointing. It doesn’t solve the problem, so it’s not the answer. The fact is that marketeers simply don’t know how to do their jobs most of the time. In fact, a lot of commercial time and real estate is simply taken up trying to keep the name of the customer in front the consumer’s mind, not actually sell anything. Again, because they don’t know how to do their jobs.

Back to websites. I (and my company) have built a lot of sites for customers. We have typically offered the company several versions and then asked them to pick which they like. We template that and then pour their content into web pages which more or less look similar across the whole site. At some point, they will call us back and want a slide show (the latest trend) across the front of their site which takes up half the screen. Finally, they call us, saying they either want to take full control of their site (at which point we recomment Wordpress), or they’ve found some expensive SEO company who’s convinced them they need a slicker site which does everything but sign the contract for the customer, along with all kinds of nifty SEO (search engine optimization) stuff. At that point, we lose control of the site.

Let me step back here and mention that most SEO companies are scam artists who have no idea whatsoever what they’re doing. They sell you the moon and deliver a pebble. I have for years listened to the advice of Google’s own engineers, who will tell you flat out that the most important SEO aspect of your site by a large margin is content. Does your site talk about what you sell? Most everything else is only marginally important. It may tweak things a bit for a short time, but content is king. And when they find out someone is trying to game their algorithm, and make changes to it. Content is still king. But SEO companies don’t want you to know that. It would put them out of business. (Don’t get me wrong here. There are other important aspect of SEO which are very worth paying attention. Chief among them is probably the number of other sites which link into your site one way or another. It’s called popularity and it, too, is important to your rankings in search.)

Let me also point out another important aspect of websites and SEO. If you’re one of 50 Ford (automobile) dealers in a city, just skip the idea of being tops in the search pages. I don’t know how many customers I’ve had to try and convince that there simply isn’t a silver bullet which will significanly change your ranking in search. If your content is all about the cars you sell and how well inexpensively, and how meticulously you service them, your site is linked to by other websites on the web, and various other minor areas are covered, you’re set. If the Google brain perceives your site as obsessed with what you sell, and a bunch of other people agree you’re pretty good by linking to your site and mentioning it in glowing terms on social media, you’re set. But if the other Ford dealers in town are doing just as good a job with their websites as you are, you’re going to rank right along side them. And if all 50 are doing just as good a job, then you’re one of 50. And that doesn’t put you on top, and nothing I can do as a web designer or an SEO company can do to change that. It may be that if you advertise on Google (in addition to simply having a site), you’ll get a boost, though Google denies this. I don’t know.

And I still get irate calls from customers who can’t understand why they spent all this money (and I’m not that expensive) getting this site up and running only to find they don’t rank #1 in the search rankings for “Ford (car) dealers in Dallas, TX”. I eventually lose these companies' business, as they go on to spend much more money with some lying SEO company which gives them some slicker looking but less informative site which doesn’t rank any higher.

You’ll notice I don’t mention blogs much here. Your ranking as a blog is based on the same things. But it probably is influenced more by how it fares on social media sites. And usually your blog’s “success” is less due to Google and more due to the number of people who like what you have to say and talk it up on the web.

In any case, there have been lots of trends in websites througout the years, starting with the fake starfield backgrounds and continuing through huge slide shows (a current trend). But one thing you have to remember. Your website doesn’t market itself, and if you try to load it up with a lot of marketing crap, all you’re going to do is annoy people. You market your website the way you market anything else. You talk it up here, there and everywhere. Your website is a repository of information about who you are and what you’re peddling (and this includes blogs). Really no more and no less. You web site more or less answers the phone for you when you’re not there, and knows a whole lot more than your receptionist about the company and its wares. It is not there to market you or your goods. It’s a brochure or catalog that you market elsewhere. Yes, you can talk about how comfortable your waiting room is, which is a piece of marketing, but that’s not primarily what your website is going to talk about.

And by the way, your website may or may not lead to a greater number of sales for you. Companies get into this one too. They want to see that this supposedly expensive website is sending them lots of business. They want to see stats and somehow know how may of their sales come from their websites. Good luck. There’s only one good way to know that, and that’s to ask your customers when they walk in how they heard about you, etc. If your website doesn’t represent a brick-and-mortar store, (i.e. you sell your stuff online), then it’s pretty easy to see how well your site’s doing, since most people came to buy from you based on your website advertising something they wanted at a reasonable price.

Also, let me clue you in to something else. How you handle your internal relations and how you relate to customers has a lot to do with how well you get along in business. You can do everything else right, and blow it with a crappy phone-answerer. I have one particular website customer up in the Northeast (we’re in the South) which represents the worst cliches about people in the Northeast. You talk to their office personnel on the phone and they’re curt, rude and mannerless as they can be. I don’t know if they realize this, but it’s a fact I’ve noticed every time I call them. Ugh.

Back to your annoying website.

Consider that I’m probably your typical website visitor. You want to sell me something (including your opinion if you run a blog)? Don’t annoy me. Simplify your CSS. Dig out all that Javascript that doesn’t do anything but tell the Google Uberbrain who you are and where you come from. Don’t use web fonts (your browser has to ask for the web font from wherever it is on the web and wait for it to download, etc.). Toss that silly slideshow; it just takes up webpage real estate and I’m not going to pay it much attention. Don’t dare put up a floating box that tells me you have people standing by to “chat” with me. The last thing I want to do with you is chat. I’d here doing research or to buy something. Pack your website full of relevant information. Show me each item and make sure the picture for it is accurate. Tell me how it’s sold (e.g. by the dozen? each?), and how much you’re selling it for. Show me customer reviews of the item if you have them.

I honestly don’t really care how “homely” your pages look. I’m not there to write a review of your web pages. I’m there looking for info or to buy something. And I don’t want to spend a lot of time doing it. I’ve got better things to do. Like play World of Warcraft.