Noise pollution

15Nov07

How many times have you done a web search and clicked a few of the results, only to be greeted with blaring music, an unwelcome voice-over, or a series of robotic noises? If your browsing habits are anything like mine, this happens at least once a day, which sets off a mad dash to close the offending page or mute the sound on your computer. I know that sites do this because they think it makes their content more exciting and engaging, but I doubt they realize just how many visitors they’re scaring away in the process.

In a perfect world, there would be a Firefox extension that lets you mute the audio from every website, except the ones that you add to a trusted list. In fact, this could work just like their popup blocker feature. I looked for such a product today and came back empty handed. I’m guessing that it’s actually quite difficult to make this work, since audio can come from all kinds of sources, including Flash and other plugins.

Without a technical solution at hand, our only hope is to make a plea to web developers. Here’s a simple rule: don’t play any sound on your pages unless the customer asks for it. Granted, if your site is an online radio station, maybe you can get away with playing music as soon as visitors enter the page. But for virtually any other site, people aren’t expecting to get blasted with sound effects when the page loads. Even multimedia-oriented sites like YouTube and Yahoo Video open up quietly, letting the user choose when they want the content to play. Still not convinced? Give it a try — I’ll bet your bounce rate goes down, conversions increase, and revenues grow.



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