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Posted 12 Oct 2012
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How to Combat Web Browsing Zombies

, 12 Oct 2012
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Curing web zombies can be a challenge but it is a worthy cause.
The web browsing zombie apocalypse is happening right now. A plethora of users visit websites each day with a highly focused purpose. Some are looking for a specific product, others look to review the top stories of the day. Although the purpose for these visits vary, the results are undeniable. They create web browsing zombies. These individuals are creatures of habit that arrive with a purpose, are not easily distracted, avoid their surroundings, and go into auto-pilot mode. The depth of the problem is directly correlated to repeated visitation. This condition is similar to banner blindness where advertisements on websites are consciously/unconsciously ignored by visitors.

Some believe their websites are immune to this problem. They use rationalizations such as having highly relevant content, sophisticated users, or customer purchased services. This is untrue. As previously stated, the key catalyst is return visits. As users familiarize themselves with a website's layout and format, they increasingly become immune to minor changes. This problem is similar to inattentional blindness. This is why businesses that receive high foot-traffic such as convenience stores, retail chains, and supermarkets change the placement of products and store layout. They are attempting to cure a zombie's avoidance to explore. Although success rates vary, sometimes it further enrages them.

Curing web zombies can be a challenge but it is a worthy cause. The key to the cure is finding ways to re-engage users. The following section outlines a few tips:
  • Encourage minor changes to a website's layout. Be aware of the frequency of these changes. Also, do not dramatically change functionality at the same time. Too many changes at once will anger users.
  • Avoid placing too many competing advertisements on a web page. Surrounding or grouping advertisements will reverse their intended effect.
  • Allow users to customize their experience with a website. Highly personalized sites increase users' personal engagement.
  • Avoid overly cluttered layouts and design. They are bad for user experience and encourage the zombie mentality due to their perceived complexity.
  • Determine a hierarchy of importance for content on a website. Provide more prominence for areas higher on the list. Many websites place their most important content in the center of a web page.
  • Utilize subtle animation such as minor shaking or bouncing of an element to grab a user's attention. Avoid distracting animation such as blinking text. There is a reason the <blink> tag is no longer supported.
  • Animation is a very powerful way to garner a user's attention, but avoid competing animations as they will cancel each other out.
  • Focus content areas on a single point of interest. Proper targeting increases the chance of connecting with users.
  • Inform users about features they are not using or new areas of a website. This can be performed with an web page overlay or an email to the user, if possible.
Final Thoughts
The zombie effect is relevant to websites of all shapes and sizes. Websites such as Amazon, Apple, and Dell continuously work hard to keep a fresh appearance. They don't limit their designs to a single solution to grab a user's attention; they always make sure to double-tap.


This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)


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Article Copyright 2012 by Zac Gery
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