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Ethical web design: Don’t annoy your visitors

The modern web can be a horrorshow of cookie popups (that are often breaking GDPR laws by making it difficult to refuse cookies or defaulting to ‘yes’), newsletter popups, browser notification nags, fake ‘notifications’ and other junk that users don’t want to see while looking at a site. This is often in the name of ‘growth hacking’ and trying to maintain invasion of privacy for profit. We believe there’s a better way and these are some of the principles we work with.

GDPR & cookies

Cookies are often used to harvest and share user data with Google, Meta (Facebook/Insta/Whatsapp) and other advertising bastards. Adverts that seem to follow you around use cookies to track what you look at and then allow businesses to target you. Because a lot of businesses are based on this data mining and advertising they desperately want you to accept their cookies and trick or coerce people into accepting them. We don’t work with companies that do this. (If you’re using a cookie popup and STILL breaking GDPR, I don’t even know what to say to you…)

Google Analytics is free and used by countless websites to track their users – which is great info. However Google are probably misusing all this information for their own ends. We recommend paying for cookie free analytics like Plausible, which gives small business owners the data they need with no need for cookies. No cookies means no need for annoying cookie popups for visitors.

example of website covered in popups, ads and other anti-user junk

Most large websites these days. Experience your own popup nightmare at https://how-i-experience-web-today.com

Limiting cookie tracking when you browse

If this all annoys the hell out of you, you can install something like Adblock and uBlock Origin browser extensions to at least partially block this stuff. Extra points for having your IT folks set up something like PiHole ad blocking on your home or office network or using a VPN service with tracking protection included.

Clarity of Navigation & Content

If someone has come to your website to read about blue widgets, then show them the info about blue widgets. No redirects, no overlays, no hiding that info and trying to give them something else. If a page has popups, nags and other junk then it’s near useless to the user. This can affect your ‘bounce rate’ ie how quickly someone presses that ‘back’ button to get away from a mess of a website that feels untrustworthy.

When designing websites for ourselves or clients we try and refine the message so that each page does one thing and has one next step (sometimes referred to as a ‘call to action’). People have the attention span of a goldfish on the internet, so it helps to get straight to the point. This applies to navigation as well – part of our design brief that we work through with clients is to organise your website content so it makes sense to your visitors.

Newsletter popups

Email marketing is a fantastic way of keeping in touch with people interested in what you do. Nagging them to signup to a vague newsletter as soon as they hit your site is a terrible idea however. How do they know if they want to sign up when they haven’t even read anything yet?

We recommend that newsletter signups are unobtrusive, and only pop up after a delay.  A page with a signup form is even better so it’s not covering the content your visitors want to see.

Summary

Here are some points that we keep in mind when designing clear, easy to use websites for ourselves or for clients. The web doesn’t have to be a nightmare of popups and data mining. Treating your users well and respecting their time and intentions will pay off by building trust and attracting people that share your values.

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