Where the Web Went Wrong

Where the web went wrong

A few days ago Andy Budd tweeted something that really struck a nerve. I’ll paste in Andy’s tweet:

How it felt when visiting a website in 2022

  1. Figure out how to decline all but essential cookies
  2. Close the support widget asking if I need help
  3. Stop the auto-playing video
  4. Close the “subscribe to our newsletter” pop-up
  5. Try and remember why I came here in the first place

Ouch! The Truth Hurts!

As of writing this post, that tweet has been retweeted over 7,000 8,000 times – so I think it’s safe to say that it resonated with people.

A big proportion of Andy’s audience is from the web design/development background so you can feel the palpable exacerbation here; the people responsible for designing and building the web are pointedly unhappy with the experience the average person has to endure when interacting with websites.

How the hell did it come to this?

As website designers /developers/web agency owners, you might not be surprised to find out that we do not wake up each morning and think ‘how can we make finding and navigating a website a complete and utter misery for your average person?“.

Yet here we are.

So where did it all go wrong?

Well, it’s not straightforward….let’s take Andy’s points one at a time….

‘Figure out how to decline all but essential cookies’

The typical cookie banner is a nightmare.

We don’t always design them into websites (though we often try/suggest it), so they tend to be a bolted-on afterthought*.

(*Partially because many businesses out there don’t want to pay for the requisite legal advice which is outside of the remit of a web designer/agency etc)

The situation is muddied further as different countries/regions have different rullawses and different companies will have their own attitude to risk in terms when faced with any legal issues.

Also: most website users have zero clue what cookies are (which is fair enough).

Yet we present them with incredibly complex technical choices e.g.

Example of cookie banner

Example of cookie banner

Worst still: many websites pay the most rudimentary of lip service to cookie banners: something pops up that the website visitor has to accept. However, it’s just a plugin someone hurriedly installed, it actually doesn’t do anything! The scripts and pixels were tracking you regardless – irrespective of the choice the visitor makes; the cookie banner is a pointless, non-functioning distraction.

I’m torn with the answer here. I simply do not wish to interrogate website visitors as to how they want certain personal data attributes stored and shared before they can fully interact with a website – that’s just daft. So, until web browser standards perhaps reach a point where our privacy profile(?) can be interpreted automatically (or treated less brazenly by default), then I think the answer is to NOT to use privacy impacting scripts and services. Ditch them all. No scripts – no crappy cookie pop-up experience.

Tip: be very, very particular about what scripts etc are added to your site. Put your website on a script/pixel diet. Also, have a process for vetting new script additions, and housekeeping old ones – we tend to find that websites accumulate such scripts like a hairy dog that has tried to eat a box sugar puffs:

….who ate the Sugar Puffs?

….who ate the Sugar Puffs?

‘Close the support widget asking if I need help’

We’ve all seen them, in the bottom right a ‘chat now’ etc. These things then take up even more space on mobile (perhaps even clashing with aforementioned cookie banner).

My gut feel is this: if someone wants to talk to you, they can click one of the many existing contact points on your site. Or even visit your ‘contact us’ page (that’s not to say there isn’t a case ever for live chat).

Why do websites have these? The problem is this: in one sense they do work – i.e. people may well click on them. But does that mean people meant to click on them? And that interacting helped solve their issue? Or did the chat widget get in the way and end up distracting the visitor away from what they wanted to do?

Just because we think that something may add value to a site, does not mean that it does add value.

Tip: with web design, it’s typically the case that less is more.

‘Stop the auto-playing video’

I don’t mind an auto-playing background, silent video which is just there to add tone (rather than content); though we do need to be mindful of file size and website performance here.

However, Andy is talking about talking/content videos here that just start to play when you visit or scroll on a site – yeuch! Not good – you ought to respect the website visitor – give them the option to control the experience.

‘Close the “subscribe to our newsletter” pop-up’

Again, these things get thrown onto websites because, in some logic, they work: stats may show that x people click on them and convert blah blah. But really?! Are we sure that is a useful conversion? Or was the person just trying to bloody get the dialog box out of the way so they could get on with they wanted to do?

By all means, make an offer to website visitors to (say) hand over their email address in exchange for you sending them new articles – but make the offer in the right place at the right time. Don’t be too desperate. And I’m not even going to mention exit-intent, auto-scroll pop-ups etc here.

The art here is in the subtlety – getting the mix right. As an audio producer knows, you can’t have everything blaring out at volume 10 – you need to balance the needs of the listener.

The End

There is always going to be a trade-off between the ideal, and the reality. Perhaps the art now is to take a firmer hand on the tiller and try to steer websites back towards more sensible waters.


P.s. I also came across this incredible demo for how bad visiting websites is

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