Can You Convert Visitors Without Being Annoying?

Website Annoyances

One aspect of online marketing that probably isn’t discussed enough boils down to this:  How annoying is too annoying?

It’s a problem that few advertisers like discussing but, as it turns out, Google recently took the plunge.  With little fanfare, they released a study about the effectiveness of app download interstitials, where mobile users accessing the website received pop-ups encouraging them to download the app instead.

After implementing these ads for some of their services, Google saw a 9% increase in click-throughs.  Pretty good, right?  Well, the problem is this:  sixty-nine percent of visitors bailed entirely.  

This is something many of us have suspected about intrusive pop-ups, but rarely has it been so spectacularly confirmed.  Google was losing more than two-thirds of the traffic on those pages, due to their popup being too intrusive.  Further, moving the ad to a banner on the content page itself caused an immediate 17% increase in page views!

In short, Google has given us plenty of reason to think seriously about our users’ reactions to our marketing efforts.  So, in the spirit of this study, let’s take a moment to talk about other things commonly seen in web marketing that may well be too annoying to be worth using.

Are These Content Marketing Techniques Doing More Harm Than Good?

To my knowledge, none of these have received substantial research similar to Google’s recent study.  This would be excellent grounds for investigation for marketing companies looking to refine their approach.

1 – Automatically playing video or audio

If there is a universally-hated element in web design, it’s likely auto-playing audio.  A website that automatically starts playing sound of any sort -especially at high volumes- is basically engaging in the most intrusive form of “interruption advertising” possible online.

Furthermore, it shows a total disregard for the user and their environment.  Loud noises can be downright surprising, or wake up babies.  Or the visitor could be watching a movie while browsing.  Or they could already be listening to music on headphones.  And on top of everything else, automatically playing video content can cut into their monthly data allotment.

People want control of their auditory environments.  Don’t take that away.

2 – One-item-per-page lists

This goes in the “You ain’t fooling anyone” bin, and is roundly mocked by most users when they see it.  Some websites try to boost their ad views by breaking up lists across many pages, so that there’s a tiny window of content surrounded by ads on all sides.  Usually, these pages are slow-loading to boot, adding to the annoyance factor.

Such tricks might manage to snare low-information visitors who really are just clicking on whatever looks shiniest at the moment, but they’ll never be widely shared or popular on venues like Facebook or Reddit.

3 – While no [X] might not be 100% user friendly, it forces colloquial

Most popups use a relatively friendly or intuitive way to dismiss the message, like the big [X] in the corner or even closing the box by clicking outside its borders.  However, occasionally I’ve seen popups that force the user to click on a button with no other dismissal options.  It’s usually something like:

Get our newsletter!  [Gosh yes!  Sign me up!] or [Not now, but maybe tomorrow.]

That’s just rude.  It’s forcing the user to say things they don’t mean, and it likely has all the effectiveness of a forced apology.   I can only imagine those using this technique think it’s some sort of psychological programming, but in my experience, it comes off as pushy and insecure.

4 – Last-minute begging

This is one I’ve started to see more often:  There’s a trigger set at the very top of the displayed page, so that mousing over the URL or tab bar causes a popup to appear.  Ie, when a visitor tries to leave the page, it instead throws another ad at them which has to be dismissed before they’re allowed to leave.

As marketers, we acknowledge this can be effective for some sites, primarily in B2C or e-commerce environments, either on a blog page or when a cart is being abandoned.  However, we think it’s only a matter of time until this tactic dies a slow death on B2B websites, and we don’t recommend it on top-level pages.

5 – Forgetting to adjust the size of sticky navigation bars

We’ve all been on sites where the navigation bar conveniently sticks to the top of our browser window as we scroll through the page, but oftentimes it takes up too much real estate – especially on mobile devices.

Sure, you want people to navigate your site without having to scroll all the way back up to the top, and you don’t want those (also annoying) “back to the top” links all over the place, so you employ a sticky nav bar, but for heaven’s sake, shrink it down so we can read what else is on the page!


Are You Building Bridges or Burning Them?

One of my favorite quotes from 60s advertising savant Howard Gossage really sums up the situation:

“The buying of time or space is not the taking out of a hunting license on someone else’s private preserve, but is the renting of a stage on which we may perform.”

Gossage, of course, was referring to things like magazine ads, billboards, and TV adverts.  It only seems more relevant today, since personal computers and mobile devices are truly a more personalized space.  You may be renting ad time from a web provider, but it’s their own hardware displaying your message.

If you’re going to force yourself into a buyer’s life, do it in a way that they’ll appreciate, rather than in a way that merely annoys.


So now that you’ve killed all those irritating pop ups on your website what else are you going to do to get people’s attention?  Check out our guide on what you can do to capture more leads with your website that may not be so annoying for your visitors.

Capturing Leads