Clean Up Your Web Experience or Suffer

Experience MeterThe Web is dirty. It’s messy. Think about an average media or shopping website: You have a video you’re watching or an item you’re thinking of buying. On the top part of the page, there is a banner ad. On the right rail, there are a variety of ads plus, likely, a list of “popular items” (popular to whom, however, is a good question). At the bottom of page you might have comments and a list of other items “You might also like” to buy, watch or read. That page is filled with items designed specifically to distract you from the main content.

There are four reasons for this mess:

  1. The Web is old. Even if your site is new or recently redesigned, the underlying core design principles have not changed.
  2. Developers have a relatively large canvas. They can, and do, throw everything up on the page hoping that something will catch a user’s eye and convince that user to stick around. Contrast that canvas to the restrictions on mobile.
  3. Unlike the external Web, powered by Google, developers don’t have good tools to target users. Instead, they guess at what a user wants or use an editor’s “voice” to come up with content (articles, videos, and items to buy).
  4. Web developers and marketers have focused on external discovery (advertising and SEO) and completely neglected internal discovery (“here’s more great content so stick around and enjoy the site!”).

Think about the mess of your website. Compare that mess to Facebook’s Newsfeed — the user’s main focus is on the feed itself, with its infinite scroll and seems filled with quality, engaging content (even engaging ads). YouTube is even cleaner: small search bar, big video content and one right rail to recommend other content. If you finish what you’re watching, YouTube also auto-plays another perfectly targeted video.

Facebook and YouTube focus on the core content and user experience — that’s it. All other sites work hard to distract you from the content you’re on. Why? Because they are so scared they will lose you. It’s as if their confidence in the value of their own content is so low that they will do anything to keep you, which paradoxically pushes you away (see “Ad Blockers”).

Adam Spector is the co-founder and head of business at San Francisco-based LiftIgniter, who are using data science to help publishers and retailers personalize high-traffic websites and mobile apps in realtime