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Herd Mentality: 7 Web design Trends that could be Bad for Business and how to Avoid them

Herd Mentality. What is it? How does it impact on our everyday lives? Why we need to be vigilant of it when designing successful websites and the rules everyone should follow when considering whether to follow a trend.

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Stampedes. They’re triggered either by a genuine threat, such as hyenas on the attack, or the result of one animal responding to a false alarm. Either way it sends shockwaves of panic throughout the herd sending them all running.

The Human Herd

It may not come as a shock to you that humans are herd animals. Herd mentality is a phrase used to explain how people can be influenced by their peers to adopt certain behaviours or ‘follow the crowd’. It can take many different forms. Here are three examples:

1) Stampede

In 2010, a human ‘stampede’ on a Cambodian bridge, sadly caused hundreds of fatalities.

There are many theories around the true cause, one being rural people didn’t realise it was normal for a hanging bridge to sway slightly. Whatever the true cause, it was the panic that spread throughout the crowd that resulted in the stampede.

However, Edwin Galea hastens to point out that calling it a stampede is inaccurate as it implies a mindless act. She believes that:

“where there is room to move, there is room to think”.

2) Propaganda

Throughout history there have been many examples of how herd mentality has dictated otherwise rational human beings to undertake all sorts of horrendous things. The Holocaust, Tutsi genocide, slavery, witch-hunting, The Stolen Generations, just to name a few.

How some people can be persuaded to perform such horrific acts is testament to the power of conformity and herd mentality. We are after all, conformist creatures.

3) Day to day herd mentality

In terms of the every day decisions we make, conformity can offer an easy way out for those that may find they have better things to do or not enough time. Rather than asking questions, or spending time learning about products or alternatives, we instead opt for the “social default.”

Of course there are some positives to this behaviour. Compromise and education can solve many larger problems, but on the every day issues, especially when it comes to business, it can also pose many problems.

“When we don’t stop and take the time to consider our options, we go through the motions as if we’re on auto-pilot. Instead of conducting our own research, we’ll look around at what others are doing and simply copy what we see.” Amy Morin

Our behaviour is aligned so tightly with those who surround us because all we want is to be accepted and fit in.

We aren’t always aware when we’re conforming but it’s obvious why we do – it provides us with comfort, reassurance and social approval. It’s human instinct.

Herd Mentality and the Internet

9-icebucket-ap

Fads like the ice bucket challenge, selfies or more recently Pokemon GO, show us just how quickly people can jump on a bandwagon.

The more people who do it, the more likely you are to do it yourself, even if your instincts are telling you to avoid. Thanks to social media, a comment or video can spread like wildfire.

If we’re so easily swayed to conform to our peers, it’s easy to see how one bad decision or action can lead many astray.

The effects of herd mentality or conformity can be positive or negative depending on the situation but here I want to explore how certain fads, if followed blindly, can have a negative effect on your website by inadvertently scaring your visitors away.

We’ll then look at how you can assess new fads before implementing them.

Conversion Killers

You only have to have a quick glance around the web to see how certain features have been shared by many websites. But who’s to say what works for one also works for another?

Where an uplift of 1% in conversion rate could equate to thousands of pounds, you should avoid conforming until you know for certain it works for your audience.

Here are 7 fads that have swept the design and website world which demonstrate just how important it is to do your research before adopting them.

1) Sliders

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Otherwise known as carousels, banner ads or rotating banners, they are a prime example of herd mentality. They’re used on hundreds of thousands, if not millions of websites. It’s a fad that many have adopted, and still are.

Unfortunately, in most cases they’ve been added to websites without consideration to visitors and whether it could actually benefit them.

“These days so many ecommerce sites use rotating offers – and I think it’s not because they tested it, but due to herd mentality – “others have it, so should we”.” Peep Laja

Another suggestion is that they’re an effective way of keeping several departments happy by telling them their latest idea is on the home page. The negative impact it has on conversions is unlikely to make anyone happy.

“Almost all of the testing I’ve managed has proven content delivered via carousels to be missed by users. Few interact with them and many comment that they look like adverts and so we’ve witnessed the banner blindness concept in full effect.”Adam Fellows

There’s no denying that sometimes they can look great. From a design point of view, people can be wowed by them, but if your goals are to get sales, this shouldn’t be your priority.

2) Please-don’t-go Popups

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Otherwise known as exit-intents, exit popups or lead-generation popups. It feels like every website has one of these annoying popups nowadays.

They appear when you’re just about to leave the site or your cursor drifts off-browser or you’ve been on the page a certain length of time.

The vast uptake of this fad is certainly evidence of herd mentality. But we urge caution. Not much evidence has been gathered on the impact they have on returning visitors or sales or whether they indeed help in lead generation.

“Needy patterns like the please-don’t-go popover … chip away at the presentation of a professional, confident website. Are you really desperate for attention, is that an angle you want to portray of your brand?”

Nobody likes a needy website.

3) Social media accounts

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These are the buttons you tend to see placed in a website footer or header. It’s one of those fads that’s generally gone under the radar due to the fact they’re not necessarily intrusive or annoying. However they serve very little purpose other than to distract from the main goals of the site.

Paul Boag has been particularly vocal on this subject and I tend to agree:

“Social media buttons are ineffective, damage site performance and distract from primary actions.”

By arbitrarily adding them to your site header or footer, you’re not explaining to your visitors why they should click on them or why they should follow you. The visitor has no context and no real call-to-action. They clutter up the site and distract from the primary call to action.

Website owners need to establish just how important it is to get people to like and follow them on each account. Find the most appropriate location for them on the site and place them in context, with explanation and away from other primary call-to-actions.

Paul Boag does this well by adding ‘tweet this’ buttons alongside snippets of text. Users know exactly what will happen when they click on the button and provides them with more incentive to do so. It’s safe to assume the integration is also closely aligned with his overall goals, which may be increasing readership.

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4) Parallax Scrolling websites

This is a popular trend that sees the background (often a picture) moving at a slower rate to the foreground, thereby creating a multi-dimensional effect as you scroll down the page. Here’s an example:

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There’s no denying that parallax websites have a place, but it really does depend on the site goals.

They can look great and create a ‘wow factor’ so if that’s your main goal then by all means have a parallax website, but if your goals are to sell products or increase signups / enquiries, then this isn’t the right solution for you.

Why? Well the very nature of a parallax site means it’s more suitable for story-telling as it creates a narrative with interlinked sections rather than focusing on conversions. Sites like The Boat illustrate this well.

“Parallax isn’t the best choice if users are looking to accomplish clear-cut tasks (like online shopping). Imagine for instance, how frustrating Amazon would become if you had to scroll through 8 sections of unrelated products to find the hard drive you want.”Jerry Cao

5) Hamburger menus

The hamburger menu was adopted by web designers as a way of displaying a website’s navigation when viewing a site on a mobile or tablet device, without compromising the rest of the page content or overwhelming it. Their solution was to create an icon which signifies a menu, which when clicked / tapped, displays the menu in full.

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The three lines are meant to represent a list but have instead been likened to a hamburger, hence the name.

This little icon has caused controversy due to how just how much web designers are pushing it as a solution, compared with it’s acceptance and understanding amongst users.

The not-so-internet-savvy users still have problems understanding it and will often just ignore it when used on it’s own.

Norman Nielsen’s research backs this up: “Users are still unfamiliar with newer icons, including the three-line menu icon and the map-marker icon”.

Peep Laja ran tests to determine the hamburger’s effect on conversions. He found that if the hamburger icon was accompanied by the word ‘menu’, it brought in more revenue than when used on it’s own.

7) Websites in general

Controversial I know! But true. I’ve had many new businesses come to us saying they need a website.

After delving deeper many believe they just have to have one, no reasoning behind it, no specific outcome of having one. Just that they need one.

Probably because everyone else has one.

They’re following the crowd rather than bothering to give any more thought to it.

So do they really need one? Well the answer is probably yes (90% of the time). So they’re right. But they shouldn’t just assume this particular marketing tool is best for them.

This mentality is a clear indication to us that they have no strategy and haven’t given it that much thought. As a result, their website won’t be as successful as it could be and their return on investment mediocre.

Rules you should follow when a website trend comes your way

Everyday we’re faced with new trends, fads and sparkly things. Here are some tips to help you step back and consider properly whether they’re worth pursuing on your or your client’s websites.

  • Identify your goals first. Are your goals to wow and outstand? Build up brand advocates? Or are they to maximise sales and enquiries? Does the fad complement your goals?
  • Take a close look at your target audience:
    • What are their browsing / buying habits?
    • What standards are they used to?
    • What is it they value most from you as a brand? Is it customer service / cutting edge technology / ability to make purchases easily?
  • Ask yourself what your first impression of the trend was, then ask if this is what you want for your customers too.
  • Imagine being questioned by someone about why you’ve chosen to implement that trend. Can you justify it? If not, don’t use it!
  • Test. Test. Before committing an fad-like element to your site, make sure you carry out surveys and thorough A/B testing to be sure your users accept it. This way your bottom line won’t be affected on a whim.

Trends that stick and have longevity are the ones where research, testing, analysis has gone into their development and execution.

Final thought

It’s worth remembering, successful people don’t make it in life by sticking with the crowd and following others. They dare to stand out and do things differently. Rather than following any trend, try to make your own way.

What other examples of web herd mentality have you seen? Do you think they’re here to say, or will they eventually have their day?

 

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