Few Web pundits stir-up as much debate as Jakob Nielsen. His theories on Web usability are sacrosanct to some and anathema to others. For my own part, I’ve at times had to strongly criticize his conclusions at one moment while vociferously defending his theories the next. Indeed, my first book on Web design, published in 1996, was entitled Programming HTML Frames, a technology that Mr. Nielsen more or less killed with an article he wrote entitled “Why Frames Suck (Most of the Time).” Yet, when I teach Web design classes, his book on Web usability is required reading.
I recently interviewedÂ Jakob Nielsen and Kara Pernice about their new book Eyetracking Web Usability (New Riders). I asked them about perceptions and use of eyetracking data, especially by Web designers, but it was his answer to my question about shoveling ads onto pages, something I was forced to do again and again when I was designing for AOL. Nielsen’s argument is one I often tried to use with my managers:
The question is really long-term vs. short-term business goals. If you stuff a page with ads, you may be able to make money today from clueless marketers who donâ€™t recognize that theyâ€™re paying to be displayed but not to be seen. In the long run, a page with too many ads means two things:
- Poor performance of each ad, as they visually compete with too many other ads. Sooner or later, even the most clueless advertising manager will realize that the money is wasted, and they will stop doing business with you.
- Poor user experience because the clutter makes it harder for users to locate the content they care about. Initially, page views wonâ€™t drop, because visitors only get annoyed after loading your pages. But sooner or later they will stop visiting, because each visit is so dissatisfying.
If you think the site wonâ€™t be around next year, then sure, go ahead and smother it under too many ads. But beware that this easily turns into a self-fulfilling prophesy.