Staying on top of the latest trends in technology is important. In our world, web design and SEO are ever-changing and there's never a shortage of new ideas and information to consider when you're trying to best serve your customers. There's always a new "trick" or "hack" to increase engagement, conversions or ranking. There are always cool new web features that you can add to your website that just makes you look darn hip with the youngsters.
We all fall into the trap of reading an article about a new feature somebody added to see an improvement on their website, and then we integrate that feature into our own so we can see the same result. But that doesn’t always happen. There are several reasons why following the latest trends may not be the best for you or your users.
[2018 update: When this blog post was first published in 2015, we set up a number of plugins so that readers of this blog post would experience all the annoying popups, message boxes, and other “features” discussed in the post. However, we found that these plugins slowed down the overall performance of our site so much so that we deactivated those plugins… which says a lot about how harmful those plugins are. So, sadly, you won’t get the full benefit of the original post, but there is still much to be learned from this article. Enjoy!]
One of the cool looking new features we have been seeing pop up recently are video backgrounds (discussed in our last blog post). They look pretty neat but can be problematic due to their inability to work seamlessly on all devices and screen sizes. Here’s an example. Looks cool on your large desktop screen, but when I look at it on my shiny new Samsung Galaxy S5, it doesn’t work, and the text on the page becomes unreadable. If you’re going to incorporate a new feature on your website, make sure it works for all of your users, or you’ll lose out on a large portion of traffic.
Some features are neat when you first visit a website, but if you repeatedly visit, you’ll quickly grow tired of seeing the same thing over and over. Remember the trend of flash intros back in the early 2000’s? If you visited the site more than once per year, it was obnoxious to have to wait for a video to load so you could skip it. Personally, I am trained to immediately leave a website if I have to wait for a presentation to load just so I can find out the difference between baking soda and baking powder – I’ll go to another top result in Google to answer the question. I know what I want and I’ll find the path of least resistance to find it.
With a majority of users spending less than 15 seconds on a web page, you have to pick and choose what you want your users to do. If they have to wait for a slider to load and then pass through slides to get to the latest special or event you want them to see, you might miss out on a large portion of people even seeing the desired content. The “above the fold” content, or rather, the content on the part of the page you initially see, is prime real estate – use it to get your message across immediately, provide a contact form, or whatever else might be of the highest importance for you and your user. Most people don’t even spend very long looking at the top of the page.
Another trend I’ve seen grow exponentially lately is the popup conversion form. Articles like this one have been examining the benefits to popup subscriptions, and inadvertently telling webmasters everywhere that this trend is a good thing. What marketing department wouldn’t want to see an increase in their newsletter subscribers? I contend that as more and more people do it, the effectiveness will decrease. Look at banner ads for example. The top of the web page used to be prime real estate – when a company paid for banner space, they’d see huge gains. Nowadays, a majority of the time spent on web pages is below the 1st third – we’ve been trained to skip right past those banner ads (note: it’s only my assertion that this is the reason, I haven’t found a quality source to back this up). If everybody is putting popups on their web pages, we’ll be trained to completely ignore them.
When you’re deciding whether or not a new feature is something you should add to your website, are you deciding because it’s something that’s neat and new, or are you trying to best serve your users? When a client asks me about adding a chat-window on the website, or a new parallax-styled template, or one of a bajillion new features to come out, I always ask that question. More often than not, the answer hasn’t been thought-out but the idea was a result of seeing the feature on another website.
When you’re designing your website, or considering making changes, always remember that the most important thing is to keep the path from visitor to conversion as simple as possible. If users have to jump through hoops (and auto-play videos) to actually contact you, they’re less likely to do so.