A Glossary of Annoying Web Tools and Why You Should Use Them

A Glossary of Annoying Web Tools and Why You Should Use Them

What turns you off when you visit a website? I recently surveyed a group of web designers what to avoid using on a website. Like most people, what  they found the most annoying are unwanted distractions that interrupt what your focus. And almost all of these tools have a commercial intent; they are trying to sell you something.  I thought it might be useful to go over them if only you can learn the right name to use when complaining about them. Here is a compilation of the results.


No news here; they were on everyone’s list. A new browser window opening when you visit a site is an unwelcome intrusion. At its most deceptive, they open without  clicking a link and don’t have a close button—or a mislabeled one that takes you to another site, or forces you to “like” them on Facebook.  There is nothing that a pop-up adds to your user experience. Don’t use them

Modal boxes

Maybe you didn’t know what they were called; they are sometimes mistaken for pop-ups. Popups open another,  albeit smaller, browser window, modal boxes open up in your  current browser window. They usually must be closed or dealt with before you  can get to back to where you were on the page.

They have a legitimate uses. Photo galleries often use them; you click on a thumbnail and a larger photo opens up in a  box that overlaps the  page. They can also alert the user to an error in filling out a form or give an define a term.

What  irks web visitors is when they are used to collect emails, e.g., to sign up for a newsletter. Modal boxes have a place but since people often feel frustrated having to deal with them so instead of encouraging a response, they are often ignored. So make sure you offer is relevant and a good one, if you use them.

Modal box
A type of modal box you might want to avoid using, unless, of course, a good part of your audience wants a 180bhp DSG Skoda.

Squeeze page

A squeeze page is a single web page with the sole purpose of capturing information for follow-up marketing. There are NO exit hyperlinks so you are forced to make a decision or leave. Often they feature compelling success stories or videos that promise a “simple trick” that will be revealed if you wait to the end—along with an offer difficult to refuse.

The hard sell tactics are a turn off. If the product was so enticing couldn’t they just tell me what it is and let me make my own decisions? Instead we are pulled into a marketing spiel that we either have to follow to the end to make sense of or bail out.

Auto Play

Videos or audio files that begin to play as soon as you visit the site.  Unless you web visitor specifically came to a site to listen to music or watch a video, there is no reason, ever, to start playing an audio track when you open a website. Especially when I’m sitting in an office next to other people. It’s a little embarrassing.


In the early days of the web, these were so overused, maybe just to show that you could. Seizure-inducing flashing buttons or dancing babies, screaming to attract attention. When everything seeks attention, nothing can be focused on. Even ignoring them is hard, a  page is hard to read when your peripheral vision is distracted. Usually animation used in an advertising are  considered tacky and your don’t see them much anymore. Or they are subtler or more amusing. If you use animation, makes sure there is some fun value in it and not just because something moves. Whee! Not.


Not flash as in “bling” but Flash, as in the animation tool by Adobe that was once the coolest thing. People would build entire sites with navigation bars that expanded and contracted, logos that twinkled, and slideshows of photos.  There is nothing really wrong with Flash but  it does not work on iPad and mobile phones, which have an increasing share as internet devices,  and it gets in the way of search engines so it is generally now passé.

Animation is now mostly being done with the new features  that come with HMTL5, the latest and greatest version of the language that web pages are built on. Animation can be used to great effect, not to distract, but to help visitors navigate your site and deliver your message with a little more fun. Here is a nice example of a integrated use of animation to make a compelling read.  http://youdecide.bridgew.edu/


Another tool often used to create animation and other effects. It is a library of javascript tools that are often used in dropdowns menus, calendars, and forms. Used effectively it can make add some useful features to a page and deliver more content without overwhelming the user.

Crappy Content

Okay, you don’t need a glossary to understand this word. Packing a website with useless, repetitive or purloined information is often a gimmick used to increase  search engine ratings. The thought is that is you get some content and pack a lot of the keywords into it, that  the page will get top ranking with Google. First of all, Google and other search engines have long been on to that and it could easily lead to worse rankings, not better. Also, if people do find your site, how does it help if they immediately leave and never visit again. There is nothing that can replace useful, unique information and the effor spent creating it is always going to pay off in the end.


As long as there is something to sell, there is always going to be the intrusive, sometimes clever, sales pitch that interrupts our daily lives, demanding our attention. And sometimes that intrusion will find  enough interested buyers so the payoff for annoying everyone else might be worth it. With the internet increasingly relying on advertising, and traffic determining to a large part how much that advertising can sell for, there is always going tricks to demand or mislead our attention. But there is a better way. Encourage attention without demanding it, with a product that truly meets people’s need and with content that is informative, entertaining and thought provoking.

You get the idea, anything that interrupts the flow of what the web visitor is trying to get done. But sometimes interruptions can be welcome. An example, of welcome intrusion, someone stopping you on the street to talk to you about the Unification Church, A welcome intrusion, that same person stopping you on the street to let you know you dropped a glove.

4 Responses to A Glossary of Annoying Web Tools and Why You Should Use Them

  1. Right on Tom! I especially hate it when someone forces me to “like” them on Facebook to download someone that the are offering for FREE!

    I highly recommend anyone thinking of designing a website to stop by, read this article and avoid the above mentioned annoying tools.

    Once again, great article Tom

    • Thanks Roma. That “like me on Facebook” is annoying. Just give me the offer and let me decide if I want it! Don’t force me to build your email list.

Anything on your mind?