When UX Takes a Back Seat to Pageviews

The pressures of the current publishing world are making publishers compromise the standard user experience. A talented designer or user-experience expert would be aghast as some practices employed by marquee brands.

We see it in the form of video autoplays, welcome ads, in-article links or the ubiquitous slideshow. A user experience expert sees such tactics as antithetical to providing people with an enjoyable visit. And yet they’ve become common practice as publishers have grown beholden to the pageview economy, where low ad prices mean the pressure is on to generate more an more clicks. The pressure to squeeze as much revenue out of a single page’s real estate has simply made it too easy to toss some of the most basic user-experience tenets by the wayside.

“When you’re getting pressure from all around and see white space, the urge is to fill with more options but is antithetical to what the user wants,” said Dan Maccarone, co-founder of Charming Robot, a design agency whose current clients include ABC News, Mental Floss and Backstage.

A few of the more offensive tactics:

Video autoplay Nobody likes a video that launches automatically. And yet, from the Washington Post to ABC News, they’re everywhere. “Video is sexy for advertisers, but not for users,” Maccarone said. “Autoplay guarantees you get the ad.” ESPN is one of the worst offenders. Go to any article (here’s one on A-Rod’s suspension) and you’re greeted with a 15-second pre-roll ad followed by a clip, usually of talking heads. Just make sure your volume is down when you visit.

Slideshows Every single article on the Huffington Post has one. This article, which was leading the site Tuesday afternoon, is about the decline of childhood obesity. The piece contains no original HuffPo reporting – it was syndicated from the Associated Press. Below it, a slideshow about obesity rates in 2012 is itself bloated at 23 slides. “If they can convert that one person to going a slideshow of 20 photos, they can count that traffic as 21 pageviews,” said Kevin Kearney, CEO of Hard Candy Shell.”This is getting users to do one more thing before they bail.”

Links between paragraphs Publishers love sticking links to other stories on the site – in some cases before the the reader has even gotten past the second paragraph. These links may get readers to stay on the site longer, but they disrupt the reader’s flow. This eight-paragraph US Weekly story about “Glee” stars contains links to three photo slideshows interspersed throughout. One goes to a slideshow about two of the costars’ relationship, one goes to a slideshow of celebrities who died too soon, and one goes to celebrities who died this year.

These tactics, while theoretically good for the pocketbook, are not fun for the readers. Mike Treff, managing partner at Code and Theory, advises publishers to shift the focus from monetizing the value of the page to the value of the user. When you focus on the page, he argued, you create a design that drives the user nowhere but off the page and off your site. Treff said by putting focus on the user – presenting relevant andor engaging content – it will get the user to stay on your site, which means more pageviews.

“Publishers often focus on making sure that each page is monetized to the fullest, cluttering it up with partner modules, advertisements, sponsored content and unrelated links, essentially shifting the focus off the content and reading experience and onto what surrounds it,” Treff said.


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