Are you using online advertising techniques that annoy your users?

If you knew that you were driving away new visitors to your website or annoying existing users, would you do it?

Too often websites employ advertising techniques that have the exact opposite effect of what was intended. Users hate advertising that flashes, pops-up, or in any way interrupts what they were doing. This is true for both 3rd-party advertising and a website's own content that is being promoted. 

A recent study by the Norman Nielsen Group showed the most-hated advertising techniques was a tie between these 4 irritating methods:

  • Modal ads (more commonly known as pop-ups)
  • Autoplay video ads
  • Intracontent ads which shuffle page content as they load, and
  • Deceptive links that look like content but are ads

A search through international sporting organisations websites show examples where some of these agencies might be turning off their members/fans/sponsors or any of their existing constituents not to mention annoying potential new recruits before they've even had a chance to engage with the organisation.

On entering the UK Athletics website, a newsletter sign-up pops-up and covers the entire homepage. A user wanting to check results or join a club, for instance, has their goal interrupted before they've even started. The intent may have been to help users find their way to the newsletter, but arguably the majority of users weren't visiting the website to sign-up to the newsletter.  This approach feels like a pushy assumption from this organisation that they know what I want more than I do. With the 2017 World Championships being hosted in London approaching, a time where more eyeballs will be on the host nation, sadly they have used a technique that rated 5.82 on a scale of 1 to 7 (1= strong like, 7 = strong dislike) in the Norman Nielsen Group study. Worse still, the technique was used on mobile and rated a whopping 5.94.

A modal window showing a newsletter sign-up appears as soon as you enter the UK Athletics website. This approach is likely to annoy users especially if their main goal was not signing up to a newsletter.

A modal window showing a newsletter sign-up appears as soon as you enter the UK Athletics website. This approach is likely to annoy users especially if their main goal was not signing up to a newsletter.

There are better ways to get users to sign-up to newsletters anyway. In the UK Athletics example, they could have tried a few different methods, such as:

  • Present a sign-up link at the end of a news article. Norman Nielsen's study showed that users find related link advertising that appears at the bottom of an article, a much more palatable form of online advertising
  • Add a newsletter signup in the footer so that it appears on every page. Because it appears at the bottom of a page it doesn't interrupt the users' intent, or
  • Delay the modal window message until, say 10 minutes into the users' browsing session. At least then it's more likely a user has already started to engage with you and is considering engaging with you more. You might still annoy them, but way less than doing so as soon as you load their website. This technique can be a little creepy though, so use with caution. 

One of fundamental conventions of the web is to allow users to achieve their goals. Whether, they come to your website to buy a product, check news, sign-up for a service or subscribe to a newsletter, users should be able to achieve their goals with minimal distraction or annoyance. 

So what can you do as the CEO, Digital Manager, Operations Chief, CIO or Communications and Marketing Exec? First of all, go to your website and check some of the common goals of your users?

Find a club, enter for a competition, check news, look for anti-doping information, call someone to talk to. Was it easy? Did something unexpected happen? Did a window pop up interrupting your initial goal? A video started playing and you didn't initiate it? Annoying isn't it.

Pat Birgan