Let’s face it: We don’t work out at the gym just because we like doing it. We work out, in large part, because we want to see results. Most people feel much the same way about using digital products. We don’t necessarily enjoy using sites or apps, but we do want to get something done.

The Digital Workout

Let’s say we made a New Year’s resolution to run. Now it’s June and we’ve avoided running for six months. We’ve made every excuse not to because we know it’s going to be annoying, frustrating, uncomfortable, painful, time-consuming, and every other negative adjective we can conjure up.

When we use a site or app, we want to finish our tasks and get the heck out of there.

Online, we also put off doing tasks until the last possible second. Like reluctant treadmillers, we expect agony. We’re used to online experiences that are annoying, frustrating, time-consuming, and, yes, painful. And when we finally work up the nerve, or desperation, to use a site or app, we’re focused on getting our tasks done and getting the heck out of there. Just like at the gym.

So when we’ve run out of excuses not to run, we make it a concrete task. We say we’ll jog 30 minutes and that’s it. We pick the least intimidating kind of treadmill and set the timer to exactly 30 minutes. We’re running along, but then something goes wrong. When the run is supposed to be over and our work done, we can’t stop the treadmill. Cue the Twilight Zone theme – we’re trapped on this run without an end in sight.

Users Who Run Away (From Your Business)

When digital products are complicated and hard to use, we go through this trapped-for-eternity feeling in real life. Our tasks take much longer than anticipated. We wonder how long it’s going to take before we’re done. But, unlike the fictional treadmill of doom, we can simply leave a site or app whenever we’d like, never to return to that particular hell again.

That’s bad news for businesses. When sites or apps are so hard to use that people run away or actively avoid using them, it means fewer leads, sales, conversions, sign-ups, and less overall engagement. It means competitors will pull ahead in the marketplace. It means digital product failure and loss of market share.

It’s about keeping your digital products from feeling like work.

Fortunately, you can avoid all of that. Your business can make sites and apps that have people running toward you instead of far, far away. It’s about keeping your digital products from feeling like work.

What Makes Sites or Apps Feel Like Work

So how do you avoid throwing your customers onto digital treadmills to nowhere? If you avoid these six things, you’ll be off to a good start.

1. Mountains of Content
When we started our treadmill run, blissfully unaware of impending doom, we set a time limit. Users also have an idea of how long their tasks should take. But too often they must read more and more content just to get something done. When paragraphs of largely useless content get in the way, it’s like a treadmill refusing to turn off. If we think our legs are tired from running, users’ eyes are just as tired of reading. Soon, they’ll give up, and you’ll lose a potential customer.

How do you fix it? Cut down on the words. Be ruthless. Everything extra goes. Give users only the information they need and came to find. Break larger pieces of content into chunks with clear headings and subheadings. Be as concise as possible.

2. Unwanted Pop-Ups and Modals
Ever had a workout coach who thought encouragement meant yelling angrily in your face? That’s what unwanted pop-ups are like. From “Chat with us now!!” to “Please, please subscribe to our newsletter,” unwanted modals rarely motivate users to act. In fact, they often do the opposite, especially if the pop-up obscures large parts of the screen or key actions. Like most of us when someone gets in our face at the gym, users may just decide they’ve had enough.

Banish all interruptions. Pop-ups and modals should be unobtrusive or only become visible if a user purposefully opens them.

Never put important information inside a promotion or anything that resembles one.

3. Promo Content
Imagine motivational posters arrayed in front of us as we run endlessly. We try not to make eye contact with the sloth promising “Good Things Take Time” or the kitten dangling from a tree reminding you to “Hang In There,” but there is nowhere else to look. We are forced to stare at empty statements that don’t inspire us while sweating on a run we never asked for. Online promotional content is just like this. In real life, users have learned to ignore it, just like most of us ignore trite inspirational posters. Best case, users rarely see promos or ads. Worst case, that content prevents people from seeing and accomplishing tasks. That’s when you get increased phone calls taking up call center time or lose engagement when users give up.

Employ promotional content sparingly and keep it away from important interactions. Never put important information inside a promotion or anything that remotely resembles one.

4. Internally Focused Content
Users don’t care about your mission statement and have no desire to read a message from your CEO – only you do. We all know that person who ostentatiously shares photos of their daily gym routine and progress. Do you ever actually look at those photos? Even if it’s your best friend, you probably jump right over them while rolling your eyes. In the same way, users skip over internally focused content (while also metaphorically rolling their eyes). If that content overwhelms their ability to use your site or app, you’ll lose their interest and their business.

You might say, but our customers care about our mission and values. No, they really don’t. Throw navel-gazing content away or save it for your internal newsletter.

Key actions and priority content should have a prominent position in your site or app.

5. Buried Actions
What if we finally decide to go to the gym and we waste half an hour looking for the treadmills only to learn that they’re hidden away in the basement? Users who can’t find what they’re looking for feel the same way when their task is hidden in the middle of a paragraph or on a third-level page. If it takes too long to find, you can bet they’ll be thinking of ways to not have to interact with your business again.

Ensure key actions and priority content are given clear, prominent position in your site or app. Remove action links from the middle of paragraphs and make sure they look like something users can and should click on.

6. Poor Organization
Even if running on a treadmill is painful, the one thing we can count on is the path will always be straight. A site with poor organization is akin to a treadmill that has twists and turns: confusing, unnecessary, and frustrating. And what do users do when they encounter something that’s confusing, unnecessary, and frustrating? They find ways to avoid it in the future.

Digital products must be simply organized, focused on few things, and always predictable.

Using the Internet Should Not Feel Like a Bad Workout

What would you do if you found yourself on an endless treadmill with no end in sight? You’d probably jump off and run away. And cry. And wonder why such evil exists. Users do the same with hellish digital products. They aren’t on your site or app to do work with no results. They just want to find what they came for. If your digital product can’t help them do that or, worse yet, actively prevents them from doing that, you’re giving away business.

Let’s visit our strange gym one more time. But now, think of yourself as the gym manager who makes sure the treadmills are on a main floor, runners aren’t confronted by horrible posters and loud trainers, and the machines stop when they’re supposed to.

Ensure sites and apps are well-planned and never slapped together.

Oversee your digital products the same way. Ensure sites and apps are well-planned and never slapped together. Cut down content mercilessly, especially the inward-facing kind. Remove promos and pop-ups that get in the way of more important actions.

Do these things and never again will your users be trapped in your interface waiting for the moment they’re set free. Instead of running away from your sites and apps, people will run toward engaging with your business. When that happens, you reap the results: increased visits, more conversions and leads, better competitiveness in your market, and a successful digital product that helps you meet and even exceed your business goals.


About truematter

Our team has been doing the real work of user experience since the earliest days of the commercial web. We’re out to make your digital products a whole lot better.

Let’s make a resolution together: Don’t make users sweat. Give them what they came for and watch them come racing back next time.

Author:  Isabelle Carroll
Illustration: @djosephmachado
Editors: @baileysendsword and @ExperienceDean