If you were present during the 90s and witnessed the surge of internet webpages, you’ve certainly seen the oncoming tsunami of annoying web plug-ins that have haunted developers and consumers for well over a decade.
I’m referring to plug-ins such as flashing marquees, unstoppable background audio and excessive, poor quality GIFs, which also possessed bright colours and no sense of subtlety. These elements were most prominent on blog sites such as Geocities, and eventually passed over to legitimate websites that would try to convince their readers to either believe what they were saying or to purchase what they were selling.
The Blatant Cons of Audio
Several websites have published articles on the pros and cons of adding audio to a web page, and most of them tell the reader bluntly that adding music (especially unstoppable music) to your web page can drive away traffic. It goes on to suggest that adding audio is only a good idea for online game websites (Such as Runescape), web pages dedicated to musical artists for showcasing their work, web forms to indicate errors or confirmation of an action, and lastly, websites that are built especially for entertainment or education to engage young children.
In all those instances, you will note that the audio serves a direct purpose. For example, auto-playing music on a game website could create a pre-existing environment before the user even loads all the information needed to login. Web forms can receive an extra layer of troubleshooting and assistance for users as something not working would be readily evident by either a loud error chime or simply no noise at all.
One consensus, however, is that one should probably not put auto-playing audio on a web page that is dedicated to simple content or selling a product, and should never remove the ability to turn it off besides muting the sound on the browser itself.
But What About The Benefits?
With that said, having audio or video (or both!) on a website can actually do wonders in engaging readers and attracting traffic, be it through video links from a different audience or better search rankings.
One of the easiest ways to increase traffic to a website is through video and audio supplementation, with a study being conducted four years ago demonstrating that very point. The data from this study could be incorrect now and the article has since been updated to make this warning. However, it’s still prudent to work under the impression that well-placed video or audio can help drive the target audience to visit what is offered (be it a product page or a content page).
The Real Meat: When Do You Add Audio?
The golden question that comes now is how does someone put audio or video on their website without it chasing people away?
First, the website needs to be optimized in other ways. No video will make a website a winner if the rest of the page is horribly lacking, and there are several articles around the internet that showcase free, passive plugins for web applications such as WordPress. While the main list with that example doesn’t include anything about audio or video, the secondary list offers a couple suggestions, such as Audio Player and Smart YouTube. A website clogged with plug-ins is not a good idea, so it’s best to apply the ones that a user feels will enhance their ability to work the most.
The Features Your Plug-in Should Have
If the rest of the website is perfect (or at least as close as it can get), then taking a good, long look at incorporating video and audio on certain web pages is now a relevant interest for the developer. Properly incorporated and polite video should include three key factors: A link to the video for those with technical restrictions (some people may not have Flash, for example), an embed code that doesn’t lag the site or auto-play, and of course doesn’t detract from the rest of the site. Here’s an example of a page where it’s been done right.
A video or audio snippet should complement what’s already there, and demonstrate the content being presented rather than lead the user away and change their thought process. Adding a video of a photography event is likely not a good idea when the web page it’s on is about rock stars. The target audience should always be led to where their preferences are catered to. If the people interested in rock stars are also interested in photography, provide the option once they’re at their destination, but hijacking the original content to present it is not a good idea and will, you guessed it, drive traffic away.
A Little Etiquette Goes a Long Way
Lastly, the video or audio should never be disruptive and should be easily managed by anyone viewing the web page. Absurdly loud audio will get the player paused, as the natural instinct is to remove the source rather than reduce it. Additionally, the video or audio should not stray from the objective. A common mistake found in videos is that it simply takes too long to get to the content desired, and people lose interest. Presenting the information that is relevant in a quick, respectable manner ensures that the user’s interest is piqued and then kept until the end.
And of course, always keep the user on their toes. They should be engaged and encouraged to think about what’s being offered, and providing a new spin or perspective on the information presented will help make that happen.