Do Visitors Feel We’re Creating Website Traps for Them?

A cage trap

When that door slams shut, the "Back Button" is disabled

The Cracked.com¬†website is well known for hilarious articles and videos. (I frequently revisit my two favorite font videos there, for example.) But a friend just linked to a great article on the site: 5 Things I Can’t Believe Websites Are Still Doing. And as I read it, I realized that much of the writer’s complaint involves feeling like they’ve walked into website traps. That hits close to home, as I try to strike a balance — and help my clients strike a balance — between attracting and trying to force visitors to stick around and attracting people who instead will create a relationship with the site, and who may even become clients at some point.

Driving People Like a Mindless Herd?

In my opinion — and I think I’m a minority here — marketers talk too much in terms of “driving” traffic to sites, as though visitors are so many mindless sheep to be herded into pens where the site owners can profit from them. Granted, there’s also a lot of talk about creating quality information and a good visitor experience. But they still use that “driving” terminology. Some marketers really do manage to create the right balance between finding ways to get people to a site and creating a genuine, quality experience for them. But others seem much more interested in just dragging people over by whatever means, almost against their wills.

Different Types of Website Traps

John Cheese, the writer of the Cracked article, waxes particularly eloquent about sites that get you to the checkout, ready to buy, and then force you to create a new account, wait for email confirmation, and then finally finish your purchase. Apparently, 45% of customers will simply back out of buying, because that tactic makes them feel trapped on the website. Other snares for visitors involve not letting them see the information they’re looking for until they “Like” the site on Facebook, or until they download a PDF, or enter their email addresses or personal information.

Then there’s one of the most literal website traps of all, where somehow the visitor’s “Back” button on their browser is disabled, and they can’t back out of the site at all. Some “back” movement does lead to kind of nonsensical situations where they lose information they just entered into a form or something. But at other times, the disabled “Back” button just seems designed to prevent them from leaving, period. And my own pet peeve in that regard are panels that pop up, yelling, “Wait, before you leave, click here and…!” Those are the ones that make me want to zap those sites out of existence.

Avoid Trapping Website Visitors

These are real concerns that real people have, all our marketing theories aside. Yes, we do need to bring visitors to our sites, and we hope they’ll stay, and we even hope that some of them will pay us for something they value. But that’s the whole point — if they’re not getting something of real value, then all our little marketing tricks designed to try to keep them on the site are not doing us any good. (In the above example, one of those tricks loses 45% of a site’s potential sales! How is that good?)

When we ask a visitor to leave their name and email address for a free report — that report had better be worth the trouble, and be of use to them. Our visitors must be free not¬†to take what we’re offering. And even if we feel like calling after them, “Wait, wait, please don’t leave!” they had better be just as free to walk away from the website. Because human nature, as John Cheese demonstrated, rebels against being forced to do anything. And the last thing anyone will want to do is ask for our services if they come to our site and feel like they’ve walked into one of those odious website traps.