stop distracting people on your website

Narrative IndustriesThoughts

Before we start take a look at those cute jumping cats.

You’re not so interested in what we have to say now are you? In fact some people may have left this page altogether and are now happily searching on Google for more cat photos.

You wouldn’t pepper an article with completely irrelevant and distracting images and comments – so why are so many web pages making this mistake?

It’s still all too common for organisations to focus on a website’s visual presentation to the detriment of a far more fundamental concern. It’s vitally important that you remember that the pages on your website ultimately have only a single purpose; to convert. What it means to convert will vary, it could be an actual purchase, a sign-up to a newsletter or merely an enquiry to your call centre, but it’s essential that your web pages are planned and designed to maximise conversion. Even the sections of your website with no obvious call to action (information, privacy, terms and conditions, etc) are still an important step on a journey that leads to a conversion, and should be treated accordingly.

Improving conversion rates (Conversion Rate Optimisation) involves the consideration of a number of factors such as clarity, relevance and urgency. Right now however we are going to focus on just one simple concept.


There are two primary ways in which a web page can distract the user from the action you wish them to make.

(1) Visual distraction

However appealing and current some visual devices may seem, many of them can lower conversion rates by taking the user’s attention away from the matter in hand.

The following aren’t all inherently bad in and of themselves but they should be treated with caution: background textures, rotating images, skewed graphics (which add clutter), daunting amounts of text (especially in small font sizes), complex graphics, an overload of featured products, lots of content all crammed above the fold, many small columns, large page headers, low-contrast buttons, lots of logos, lots of images. Even the eyes of a person in an image on the page can sometimes seem to be locked onto the user, which can distract them from something important.

This doesn’t mean that you should immediately reduce all of your web pages to text only. There is no reason why your site can’t be engaging and beautiful and use some cutting-edge animation. What matters is that these things should always work towards the overall goal of conversion.

(2) Message distraction

It’s important that the message you wish the page to impart is stated clearly and concisely. There should be no redundant or irrelevant copy. In addition, the action you wish the user to make should be obvious to them at a glance.

It’s vital that you don’t overwhelm the user with too much choice. Decision paralysis, where a person faced with too many options ends up taking none of them, is easy to induce. Even something as simple as showing related products in the wrong place or at the wrong moment can reduce the likelihood of someone clicking that ‘Add to Cart’ button. It’s no accident that related products are often shown after the purchase button and safely out-of-sight below the fold.

Often the problem is not one of obvious distractions but a more serious issue where there are multiple messages and calls to action all competing for the user’s attention. This is distraction on a grand scale. As Oli Gardner succinctly put it: “One Page. One Purpose. Period.”

It’s important to remember that the only way to really know whether a change to a web page results in a higher conversion rate is to run some A/B or Multi-variate tests, and Narrative Industries always recommend such an approach, but there’s a lot to be said for designing and assessing your website with the simple principle of reducing distraction in mind and it’s very likely to lead to higher conversion rates and an improved user experience.

We’ll leave you with a final thought from Frank Pick:

“The test of the goodness of a thing is its fitness for use. If it fails on this first test, no amount of ornamentation or finish will make it any better; it will only make it more expensive, more foolish.”