When you’re building a website, how do you decide what features to include? Here are some things you should strike off your website wish list.

Web designers have inside-jokes about clients approaching them with a shopping list of irrelevant features. That’s slightly unfair on clients, though. If you’re not building websites every day, how are you supposed to know where to start? 

Where to start 

If you’re not sure which feature to add to your website’s wish list, there are three things you should think about: 

  1. Purpose 
  2. How useful it is
  3. The impact on the user

The purpose is obvious: you might choose a popup to drive mailing list signups or a forum to support a community of users.  

But how do you assess how useful it is likely to be? The effectiveness of a website feature can be tricky to predict, it depends on what the feature is.  

Popups are shown to be effective in driving signups, but you may need to do some research (or ask your web designer) about the effectiveness of other features.  

The impact on the user is both the most important and overlooked element of these three. This might be how a feature affects the site’s usability, accessibility or performance. A piece of functionality could even impact the perception of your brand.  

During With Jack’s rebrand, they decided to make their new quote generator present a price before collecting user details. In an industry that traditionally forces users to handover details upfront, this is a move that will increase user trust. 

It’s easy to think about the goals you would like your website to achieve, but you risk alienating your customers if you don’t consider them in the design process. 

“Nobody’s ever said to me ‘help us become more organisation–centric, we are too focused on our customers’. It’s never going to happen. The natural state of things is to get focused on the organisation and the ego of the organisation. It’s a hard thing being customer–centric.” 
– Gerry McGovern on Boagworld 

Is it worth it?

You have to balance these three factors and make a decision about whether a feature is right for you and your users. To get you started, here is a list of features that you don’t need.

Carousels 

Sometimes called sliders. These have been proven to be ineffective and offer poor accessibility. 

In brief: users have become blind to carousels, they’re often misinterpreted as adverts and ignored. 

The Nielsen Norman Group produced a great article on this in 2013, yet carousels are still popular.  If you need more convincing, check out http://shouldiuseacarousel.com

There are certain cases where a carousel is more acceptable, such as an image-only slider. Generally speaking, they should be avoided, particularly if they contain important content. 

Social share icons 

You know, the icons often seen on blogs, often found hovering on the left or right of the screen.  

Well, Moovweb performed a study on these little blighters and it turns out that almost no–one uses them. They discovered that only 0.6% of desktop and 0.4% of mobile users engage with these buttons. 

Don’t forget that most mobile browsers have a native option to share a link to any social app a user has installed, so these buttons duplicate that functionality. 

Page pre-loaders 

Unless your website pages are massive, which they shouldn’t be, these spinning wheels of doom are purely decorative.  

Pre–loaders are designed to make the user think the page is loading quicker than it really is. They often have the opposite effect and can lead to more frustration, especially if the animation hangs around for a while.  

A carefully considered animated page transition performs the same role but does a much better job. If you’re desperate for something like this, opt for a page transition instead. 

Animated favicon 

Remember when websites used to autoplay background music? In an age of multi-tab browsing, this is the modern equivalent. 

There is nothing more distracting than a flickering icon in a browser bar. Designed to grab a user’s attention, it’s probably the quickest way to get your website closed. 

Social media streams 

A carefully styled and positioned Twitter feed might be ok, but embedded social media profiles should be avoided. 

Not only do they stick out like a sore thumb, the performance hit is often huge. I’ve seen sites where a page load times have been increased by 3–4 seconds by embedded social streams. 

Engagement is likely to be low, so stick with social icons in the footer (or header). 

Pop-ups 

It’s well–known that pop-ups can increase sign-up rates, but there is a cost associated with it. For each user that signs up, you’re likely to be pushing several others away.  

This is important at a time when users are being inundated with GDPR compliant cookie acceptance banners, browser push notification requests and ad-blocker warnings.  

Spend time considering when and where pop-ups will be triggered to encourage sign-ups without pushing users away. 

Summing up 

These examples demonstrate how some popular website features can create a poor user experience. There will be exceptions to these rules, so talk to your designer/developer if a feature is likely to have any unintended consequences. 

And don’t forget: always put the needs of your users first.