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Five things visitors don't want from your website... and five things they do


There is no shortage of available advice on how to improve your website. Some of it will help you improve your conversion rates, some of it will help you optimise your content marketing's effectiveness and some of it is focussed on SEO and elevating your search ranking.


This is all valuable to learn - your website is unlikely to succeed without doing well on these three fronts. However, large amounts of commonly-shared advice neglects to think about the visitor - the sole reason for having a website in the first place - and what they want your site to deliver. The reality is that your visitor doesn't care about many of the things that you care about; they care about themselves, their time and their experience.


To help keep the visitor and their desires at the forefront of your design process, here is a top list of things that your visitor does and doesn't want from your website, and advice and tips for what you should be doing about it.



1 - They DON'T want to be inundated with pop-ups

Pop-ups are the perfect example of where your interests and the interests of your visitors are misaligned. As a tool, they can be incredibly powerful at driving positive business outcomes such as conversion and email collection rates (here are some interesting stats) so it is easy to see why they are so used so widely. But visitors hate them (as a semi-recent survey has shown), and pop-up blocking is not uncommon.


There are lots of reasons why visitors don't want to be shown pop-ups:

  • They don't want their journey to be delayed.

  • They don't want to be sold to before they know anything about you.

  • They don't want to feel coerced into doing something without good reason.

  • They don't want to give up their personal data.

  • They don't want to be continually pestered.

Action: If you're going to use pop-ups, try and use them in a way that overcomes the underlying reasons why visitors are against them:

  • Don't display them too early in the journey, and certainly not as the first thing your visitor sees - they don't know enough about you and this sets a terrible first impression, which can lead to a high bounce rate.

  • Limit their usage to relevant pages and serve messages that are specifically relevant to visitors on those pages.

  • Make it easy to close the pop-up down.

  • Don't ask for personal data without providing a strong benefit in return.

  • Don’t display pop-ups on pages where the visitor is clearly trying to complete their mission (for example basket, checkout, or contact pages).

  • Keep language neutral and not aggressive or overly forceful.

  • Don’t repeatedly serve the same visitor multiple pop-ups; either within, or across, sessions.


2 - They DON'T want to have to read more than is necessary

One of the most common errors I see designers making is thinking that more means more - that walls of text are good and the visitor should be given information until it is coming out of their ears.


The reality is that visitors don't want to exert energy and effort when visiting a website, and forcing them to read through paragraphs of text is going to lead many to give up before they have even started. This often occurs on the homepage - with designers mistakenly thinking that writing longer paragraphs means there is more chance the visitor will find something of value to them.


If you would be pungent, be brief; for it is with words as with sunbeams -- the more they are condensed, the deeper they burn. (Robert Southey - poet)

Of course, that's not the case. Not all content is equal, and so the more that is written, the more diluted the most important and impactful content is going to become.


Action: Take the time to both write more concisely and filter out things that don't need to be communicated at all, or could be communicated on other pages. Use bullet points, section headers, imagery and colour to draw attention to your key parts of content.



3 - They DON'T want to waste any time

We are all impatient and don't like waiting for things that we want. Online that is doubly true - the internet is where we go for fast, on-demand service and problem resolution. There aren't (normally) any queues and there aren't opening times to keep us away.


There has been some highly popularised research that shows the extent of our impatience. It is claimed we don't like to wait for more than two seconds for a website to load, with many choosing to leave if it takes longer to load than that. In addition to encouraging visitors to leave your site (driving up your bounce rate), a slow loading page can also impact on things such as search ranking.


Depending on how you've built your website, some changes can be out of your control (such as technicalities around the order things load or when scripts run). But there are usually a good number of relatively small changes you can make to speed things up.


Action: run a speed test, like this one, and implement whatever recommended improvements you can. Common things to work on include better optimising images, reducing the amount of content on a page (images in particular), disabling scripts and evaluating your web hosting.



4 - They DON'T want to have to think

In a recent blog, I wrote how this singular visitor ethos should inform everything you do and all elements of your website design.


Don't make me think. (From Steve Krug)

This is important because thinking is hard, and thinking is slow. If you're asking your visitors to do it then you're introducing friction into their journeys and making it harder for them to get to where they want to be. This results in, at best, frustrated visitors or, at worst, visitors leaving your site.


Action: remember this rule when adding anything to your site. Keep things simple - from website navigation to the content you write. If having to make a choice between asking visitors a large number of easy decisions over a smaller number of more complex ones, always opt for the former. And remember that something simple to you might not be simple to your visitors. Put yourself in their shoes, and ask someone else to test and feed back on your site.



5 - They DON'T want your stuff...

In honesty, I should have put this one much higher up the list - but I feel I've been banging on about it a lot recently. I don't do this without good reason - it is so easy a mistake to make - you have something you want to sell, then you should talk about what that thing is, right?


These two clips from the Wolf of Wall Street evidence how it should really be done.


In the first clip (above), some aspiring salespeople fail to impress Wolfie by trying to sell up 'the thing' - the pen, focussing on why it's such a great pen. In the second, the experts show how it's done.


The take-out is that functional descriptions aren't interesting - the job or goal (being able to write, at a time when you need to write) is key. They've fully understood the customer problem (in fact they've created this problem) and they are speaking to that problem by selling the ability to write, rather than selling the stuff that simply enables that to happen (the pen).



6 - ...but they DO want the benefit of that stuff


People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole. (Theodore Levitt)

To reiterate - visitors don't want your stuff, they want what it helps them achieve. This is a subtle difference. Visitors want to know you can solve a problem, meet a need, or help achieve an ambition. Your stuff (the details of how that is done) is less important - at least initially.


This is a relatively straightforward idea, but the challenge comes in identify what the visitor problem or ambition is. Consider a visitor whose lawnmower just broke - they now have a problem. But what is that problem? In its simplest form its that they have a broken lawnmower and need a new one. But the real issue is that their grass keeps growing and they need it to be shorter. This is what they're really trying to achieve - so this is what you should be talking to them about. Focus predominantly on how your lawnmower delivers a tidier cut, enables the job to be done x% quicker and not just things that you think are cool about the lawnmower.


This also helps you win in areas you might not expect to. My iPhone lightening to headphone converter broke the other day. I went into an Apple dealer wanting to buy a new one and came out with a pair of wireless earphones because the guy in the shop recognised that my real need wasn't 'not having enough converters' but instead 'not being able to listen to music using my old earphones'. (He also managed this because I'm a sucker and he was good at up-selling.)


Action: consider what the visitor is trying to achieve at a very high level and communicate how your products and services help them realise that. Move away from functional descriptors to benefit-led and customer-focussed messaging and content.



7 - They DO want to be able to visit on any device or browser

Mobile usage is higher than ever, with one in two visits now likely to come through those devices. Internet Explorer no longer has a monopoly on internet browsing - now Google’s Chrome browser has the largest share.


But this is always going to be liable to change - and you need to keep up. Mobile optimisation is no longer a nice-to-have - it's expected. Visitors want to browse on their own terms, using whatever means is available to them, and if your site doesn't allow them to do this then they will simply go elsewhere (to a better prepared rival).


Action: The actions you need to take differ depending on how you've built your site - but this is one key benefit of using a website builder. Most (or all if the provider is any good) of the templates will be already optimised to serve all the biggest devices and browsers. But this doesn't mean you have nothing to do - your design needs to consider the huge popularity of mobile and ensure your site provides a good journey on smaller devices. This includes (but is definitely not limited to):


  • Making content even tighter and more concise.

  • Strongly considering the importance of your different pieces of content and ordering them accordingly.

  • Being additionally stringent on delivering a fast loading speed.

  • Keeping images optimised and avoiding superfluous usage.

  • Keeping UI elements large and away from the sides of the screen.


8 - They DO want to be convinced

When a visitor lands on a new site for the first time, a lot of things might be going through their head. They will be quickly trying to suss our what the site is about and what benefits it can offer. They will be looking out for their next step - a navigation menu, relevant content or some other way to continue their journey. And in many cases, even if they don't know they are specifically doing this, they'll be looking for evidence to support the site’s credibility, and to make themselves believe this is a reputable and reliable source of content, service provider or merchant.


That's where social proof comes in. It is defined by Wikipedia as:


A psychological and social phenomenon wherein people copy the actions of others in an attempt to undertake behavior in a given situation.

It is incredibly powerful because people don't want to think they are acting alone or having to risk time and money. Providing evidence of other people’s usage of, and satisfaction with, your service or product helps overcome any initial concerns that visitors have about committing to something they've not yet used themselves. There are lots of ways that this can be provided - whether that is a review or testimonial, communication of an award, or even expert endorsement - but all of it will add reassurance and encourage the visitor to continue their visit.


Action: assess what elements of social proof your site can credibly promote, and ensure it is displayed prominently on key pages.



9 - They DO want to feel safe

The internet can be a scary place. Most of the time we are interacting with something, or someone, that we can't prove the credibility of, or someone we are yet to have an established reason to trust.


In recent times concerns over the usage and storage of personal data have been escalated and popularised thanks to the conversation around GDPR, adding another thing you need to re-assure visitors on. To fully understand what this means for your website, it is worth doing your own research (here is a starting point), but the need for visitors to feel safe on your website is more multi-faceted to be solved through simple adherence to this legislation.


Action: look for ways to communicate to the visitor that they are in safe hands. Here are just a few (beyond GDPR compliance and social proof):


  • Look legitimate - avoid anything that might make visitors question how you operate (for example overly aggressive pop-up usage, or advertising).

  • Don’t be too pushy in collecting personal data such as email addresses, or ask too much of your visitor straight away (for example by overselling on the homepage).

  • Ensure your site uses the https protocol.

  • If selling products, display trust seals to communicate your site’s encryption and data security.

  • Use softer colours (there's lots of research that shows how colour usage can impact brand perceptions) and imagery.



10 - They DO want to reach out if they need/want it


If the experience has gone really well for someone, they might want to get in touch with you to begin a conversation around what you have to offer. If the experience has gone badly, they might need to reach out for help. In both scenarios, your website needs to make this as quick and easy as possible.


Visitors will typically look in a few places - firstly, in the top right hand side of your page (if you are using a horizontal navigation bar), or at the bottom of your navigation bar if it's vertical. Make sure you have a link here and that it clearly stands out as the contact link (‘contact us’, ‘get in touch').


They might also look in the footer of your web page - the expectation being that this is where lots of useful links are placed, and where your social media details will most likely be found. This is one of the most commonly searched links in a footer, so be sure to give it strong prominence against the other links you have down there.


Finally, whilst less actively sought out, there is an opportunity to provide the opportunity to connect at the bottom of a content piece, through use of call to action buttons. To maximise your chances of this being clicked, make this call to action as relevant to that content as possible - as to almost be continuing the conversation you've just started.


Action: make sure your visitor is not having to jump through hoops to get in touch, providing clear links to your contact details in at least a couple of these key places.


Did you find this article helpful? If so, take a look at some other ways we can help you build a better website.

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