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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Online surfers have many Web site pet peeves

Special to The Spokesman-Review

When surfing the web and stumbling across sites that have pop-ups or are hard to navigate, I am reminded of the lines from the movie “The Holy Grail,” where the knights are confronted by the “most foul, cruel, and bad-tempered” rabbit they ever set their eyes upon: “Run away! Run away!”

And run away I do. But I’m not alone.

According to a survey conducted by Hostway Inc., a web hosting and managed services provider headquartered in Chicago, Ill., up to 76.7 percent of online consumers say they will not return to a Web site after encountering a pet peeve. In fact, a bad Web site experience may actually cause potential customers to view the company negatively and to go so far as to refuse to purchase from the company’s brick and mortar store (if there is one).

Worse yet, many companies don’t even know that customers are fleeing their Web sites. The Hostway survey shows that fewer than 25 percent of a site’s visitors are likely to complain to companies about these online annoyances. Alternatively, 54.9 percent of a site’s visitors who are displeased with their online experience are highly likely to complain about the website to friends and associates.

This means that these inimical website experiences are having a negative impact on e-commerce and e-business that is difficult to discern. In other words, if a customer is displeased with a company’s site and doesn’t inform the company, the company has no way of knowing if someone fled its site and ran into the arms of a competitor.

So what rankles online consumers the most?

Not too surprisinging, the top three pet peeves are pop-up ads, the need to install additional software, or the requirement to register before viewing a site.

In connection with other website quirks, 86 percent of consumers stated that dead links are annoying or extremely annoying, 84 percent stated that confusing navigation is annoying or extremely annoying; 83 percent of consumers stated that slow-loading pages are annoying or extremely annoying; and slightly over 80 percent of consumers stated that ineffective site-search tools are annoying or extremely annoying.

The survey also addressed design characteristics. Those surveyed said that moving text and poor design especially in connection with color, fonts and format are also annoying. Any audio (as well as music) that plays automatically, the inability to use a browser’s “back” button, overdone sites that use unnecessary splash/flash screens or animation, and the opening of a new window for a link were also found to be annoying.

Other more minor annoyances include “under construction” pages and poor spelling or grammar. Today, most Web sites are in a state of flux, updating information, redefining or focusing their content, and to include an under-construction statement or irritating animated graphic is almost redundant. Alternatively, a business-related site that has many misspelled words or poor grammar (including punctuation) quickly loses the respect of the visitor.

Wonder what all this means to you?

First, it means that consumers are demanding more and tolerating less from the sites that they frequent. Since most Internet users are looking for something quite specific, they don’t want to wade through minutiae. They want to find the information and/or product and move on to other activities.

Second, it means that businesses need to be more aware of their sites’ impact on their target audience. Sites can no longer be “vanity” sites or sites that focus on the unique experience of the business owner. Instead, the focus needs to be on visitor usability. You should ask the question, “Why do people come to my website?” When you know the answer, then you should make it easy for them to find it.

Finally, it means that a professional website needs to create a pleasant environment for the customer. For example, if you go shopping, you expect to go into a store that is clean, well designed, easy to walk through, has good customer service, and has the products you would like to have. A Web site should be just like that, a place where the customer wants to spend her time and her money.

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