In Web-Design

What Makes Someone Leave a Website?

A fresh perspective on why some websites are immensely popular, remain the darlings of visitors, and become household names—while other portals never emerge, are ignored by the public, or fall into online oblivion from the get-go.

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Before We Get to the Nitty-Gritty…

When a visitor lands on your webpage, the first thing he or she typically asks is: “Am I in the right place?” And if not, “How the heck did I get here?” And then “How long is this thing going to take?” People visiting your website seek relevant or helpful content about a product, a service or tidbits of information about something in particular. Don’t disappoint passers-by with boring or incorrect content, thus lowering your site’s SEO rank, traffic and conversion rate.

Sure, the Web comprises a few elements that could cripple your business, as Harvard professor Jonathan Zittrain put it in his seminal bookThe Future of the Internet and How to Stop It. But overall, the Internet is your ally in this economy, and you should deploy a site that is catchy, informative and easy to navigate—attributes that increase your portal’s popularity over time.

Don’t get us wrong, though. You can still make millions of dollars with an “ugly” website, such as eBay or CraigList, as long as your customers don’t care about aesthetics and graphics but rather heed content and data accessibility.

Overall, here are top things that chase a visitor from your website (forever).

Infrequent Updates

A website that is old or rarely updated tells visitors that the site owner may be out of business. Nobody likes perished food or expired medication, right? Likewise, guests are more likely to exit if your portal appears as if it hadn’t been “webmastered” in years.

How to fix it? Sprinkle your website with as much fresh content as possible to keep visitors coming back. Sign a content-production contract with freelancers if you need updated and well-sourced content that your staff can’t create on time. Implement a few key procedures to ensure automatic curation of your web content. Deploy RSS feeds if you can’t produce unique material but want to redirect readers towards other sites.

Under Construction 

In the Internet’s era, people’s attention span is shrinking by the day, and an incomplete portal never gets a second chance. The “Under construction” sign conveys unpreparedness, the kind of confusing and unwelcome impermanence that customers hate.

How to fix it? Don’t show visitors an in-progress page unless the completion date is near. If your portal isn’t ready to go live, just put a “Coming soon” sign. For a web page, just hide it until it’s complete before displaying it. Meanwhile, create buzz around your website through social media. Do all these things, but remember that your brand may suffer if the website or a specific web page remains “in progress” for an unreasonably long time.

Mediocre Legibility

You trigger poor user experience by deploying a site that’s not legible. That means your portal is replete with typos and other linguistic embarrassments, contains mediocre typography choices, and features harsh colors or hues that curb visitor excitement.

How to fix it? Hire a designer if your budget so permits. Seek also the assistance of a web copywriter or someone well-versed in the subtleties of the English lexicon and grammar as well as your industry’s jargon. Use typefaces, a color palette, and an overall portal tone that fit perfectly with your brand, industry and visitor habits. Avoid fluorescent and bright colors, such as indigo, green and turquoise—they can be distracting to visitors.

Boring Content 

People visiting your site seek relevant information, sometimes buzz or pizzazz. Don’t let guests yawn at your content and spend countless minutes figuring out what your site is about, what your products/services are, and why they should conduct business with your organization.

How to fix it? Create content your potential visitors would want to read.Visit your rivals’ blogs and portals along with other popular platforms to figure out material that works, content that bores readers, and information that could become viral. Outsource the content production if your staff cannot handle the workload or cannot produce snappy content over time—all the time.

Uncatchy Design

Don’t display a portal that lacks creativity or exudes amateurism. Even if you can’t afford a professional web designer or graphic designer, you should try to lure visitors with attractive content. Take advantage of the many website templates available online, some of which are free.

How to fix it? Study popular portals in your industry, and benchmark some of the best practices your rivals have already implemented. Choose a ready-to-use design template that fits your brand and target audience. Embed multimedia content that appeals to visitors. Don’t underestimate the power of flash animation in boosting traffic to your portal.

Registration Required

Nothing annoys consumers more than a mandatory email login—or worse, a complete registration—before entering a website. Unless your company is well-established or in a sensitive industry (banking, for example), visitors wouldn’t bother signing up. Recent industry research has shown that “9 out 10 sites agree that requiring a login is whack.”

How to fix it? Remove the login requirement altogether. To lure visitors to your website—and get their private information ultimately—create witty promotional campaigns (rebate or discount program, for example) for which login information would be necessary. At all times, tell consumers their data is safe and secure.

Obtrusive Audio/Video

Audio and video files enhance your website and boost its search rank—but don’t push it too far. Having multiple pieces of audio/video content can be annoying, especially if they don’t serve a clear purpose. Worse-case scenario: Visitor access your website and then hear ear-splitting music out of nowhere—some odd tune they can’t turn off.

How to fix it? Find balance between written, audio, video and infographic content on your website. Don’t force visitors; give them the option to turn the sound on or off. Apply tunes that are in sync with your site, brand, product and service. (For example, don’t embed a hardrock, fast-paced MP3 file on a funeral-service website.)

Poor Data Structure 

What is your website about? Make it clear from the get-go, letting visitors know what your product or service is; how they can benefit from it; and how to contact you for further questions. Simple as that! Anything else could curb visitor interest and confuse consumers—both of which are bad for your conversion rates and retention metrics.

How to fix it? Use the 5Ws to delineate content on your website: what, who, where, when and why—but don’t forget the how. Categorize similar content clearly and concisely. Have an introductory statement on your homepage, something crisp, brief and clear about what your portal stands for. Make the “Contact Us” information as visible as possible. Highlight key words or phrases that visitors may be looking for.

Too Many Ads/Popups


Too many ads and popups suffocate your visitors and tell them your website doesn’t care about user experience, ergonomics and consumer privacy. Particularly unnerving are ads that pop and fill the entire browser, forcing visitors to find the little cross sign to close the ad window. What’s worse: apopup that asks users: “Are you sure you want to leave before reading this post?”

How to fix it? Be mindful of your audience’s likes and dislikes when displaying ads. Do it in a discreet, tasteful way. Notify users beforehand if your website has popups, explaining why you have them and how they can improve user experience.

Slow-Loading Pages 

Remember what we said earlier? When a visitor lands on your webpage, the first thing he or she typically asks is: “Am I in the right place?” And if not, “How the heck did I get here?” And then “How long is this thing going to take?” If your website doesn’t load by the time visitors are done pondering these three things, they will leave. Remember that speed is a killer, and that decreasing page load time can drastically increase conversions.

How to fix it? We have our own webpage-boosting tips, but we prefer Yahoo!’s comprehensive resource. It comprises tips like: Don’t scale images in HTML; Make favicon.ico small and cacheable; Use GET for AJAX requests; Make Ajax cacheable; Avoid redirects; Add an expires or a cache-control header; and Minimize HTTP requests.

Painful Site Navigation

Effective site navigation must mesh nicely with perfect content structure. Remember: Stellar but inaccessible content is as deplorable and ineffective as mediocre but easily accessible content. Don’t frustrate visitors with a site that’s difficult to navigate, leaving them helpless, confused and desperate to exit…and head to a rival’s portal.

How to fix it? First and foremost, add a sitemap, something you can do free of charge with Google Webmaster Tools. Categorize your menu properly, lumping items by topic or interest area. Use internal links, which are especially helpful if you want to elaborate on a specific topic elsewhere on your website. Insert breadcrumbs to your pages, redirecting users back to a main page, such as your site’s homepage. For example, say your company provides marketing services. A breadcrumb can be: Homepage > Online Marketing > Social Media OR Our Services > Marketing > Online Marketing > Email Marketing.

(Too) Many CAPTCHAs  

Captchas help siphon spammers out of your website, but they also can irritate visitors if there are many captchas or the codes are confusing or difficult to crack. The Official CAPTCHA site (Yes, there’s such a thing!) suggests that webmasters use captchas carefully and when it’s absolutely necessary, such as in online polls, to prevent comment spam in blogs, to protect website registration, and to protect email addresses from scrapers.

How to fix it? Use captchas only if necessary, and limit how often they’re displayed on your website. Give users the option to refresh the captcha or hear the code instead. Explain to users why a captcha is required (a good explanation would convey something along the lines of “We value users’ information and therefore require you to enter the code embedded in this captcha…”).

Browsing Error

Someone leaves a website if he or she is lost and inadvertently landed on the portal—simple as that. Case closed, right? Wait a minute… Not that quickly. The visitor may have landed accidentally on your site—but why let him or her exit that easily? After all, he or she may never come back to your portal, so you’d better retain the guest a little bit longer than…the 5 or 10 seconds that a typical bounce lasts.

What to do? Have a popup inform visitors that there’s, for example, an interesting discount campaign going on, or that they may benefit by, say, referring someone or entering their emails. The idea is to astutely and discreetly retain users as long as possible and make them visit other pages. (Through research, we’ve uncovered other sophisticated ways to retain “lost” website visitors that we can share with readers, if needed.)

No “Live Chat” Option 

Sometimes a visitor needs help to clarify pricing information on a product or service, to better understand a topic, or before making a purchase decision. And having a Live Chat Option often makes the difference between a botched or missed sale and a true conversion event. Think of the tool as your website’s online toll-free number, a service that allows customers and prospects to receive real-time assistance as they normally would via a 1-800 number.

How to fix it? Don’t reinvent the wheel: contact a provider of live chat software and find the settings and customization that fits your industry, brand, product and service. A quick Google search will yield plenty of reputable providers.

Suspicious Site

We couldn’t clearly define what a “fishy” website is, but to paraphrase what U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart quipped about hardcore erotica, you know a fishy website when you see it. What makes a portal suspicious? Well, it’s everything from design to content to domain name to value proposition… you name it. For more information, read 9 tips for avoiding suspicious Web sites, a helpful compilation provided by CNET Senior Editor Jessica Dolcourt.

How to fix it? Make sure your site looks professional. Heed things like grammar, content structure, ergonomics and multimedia material. Give your company’s complete physical address as well as phone and email information. Include third-party trust seals, such as Verisign, BBBOnline or Hackersafe, to increase credibility. Tell visitors you value their privacy greatly. Include unsubscribe options with every email, and a link to your privacy policy on your subscription form.

Visitor’s Main Concern Unanswered

Visitors are more likely to “bounce” swiftly if your website doesn’t address their main concern. And how do you find that concern? By carefully studying your users’ preferences and presenting data that clearly encapsulates those elements. Ideally, your website should display clearly the most important information that your prospects need, preferably on the homepage or a landing page. In other words, the visitor’s main concern should be reformatted as your value proposition, highlighting why your product, service or brand is better than competitors’. Netflix’s landing page does an excellent job showing how a website can address visitors’ main concerns in a clear, colorful and helpful way.

No Strong, Convincing Landing Page

Similar to a content-rich page that answers visitors’ main concerns, a strong and convincing landing page hooks prospects and prevents them from (ever) leaving your website. A snappy landing page typically is concise, precise and straightforward. It makes the case about your product or service, showing visitors how they can benefit from your company and what they need to provide to kickoff the process. An effective landing page isn’t too obtrusive, doesn’t ask too much private information, and tells visitors upfront what they will gain by signing up. See GEICO’s landing page for what a stellar landing page looks like.

Our Take-Away

You can create an attractive, easy-to-navigate and helpful website by avoiding the above-mentioned elements that unnerve visitors. By methodically packing your portal with rich, multimedia content, you can boost traffic, conversions and sales. Pay attention to things like landing page, content structure and information security as you jump on the web design bandwagon.

Infographics credit: KissMetrics
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Vianney Derville
Executive Vice-President, Western Europe Zone, L’Oréal