5 Reasons Your Website Should NEVER Autoplay Sound!

5 Reasons Your Website Should NEVER Autoplay Sound!

Man shouting in frustration


Once upon a time, back in the nineties, when sound on websites was spangly and new and we were still reeling from the discovery that telephones could be portable it could be forgiven that websites might automatically play sound when you arrived.

‘Tada! Check me out I’ve got the latest multimedia skills’, it would declare unprompted, ‘and video too! Look, look see how the pictures move in time to the sound we are playing through your speakers. Truly this is the most cutting edge of websites and you must visit us often & spend all your money with us’. Hello websites which still do this I have news for you: it’s no longer big, or clever, it’s simply annoying & intrusive.

That fella in the photo above, that’s how I am when I land on a website which auto-plays sound (be it a video soundtrack or music or whatever). Guess what? I’m not the only one. Here then is a round-up of 5 reasons why you really shouldn’t do that with your website & this practice should be left back in the nineties with ‘curtain’ haircuts.

1. It is an arrogant abuse of the visitors browser

In the modern day people have certain expectations of websites and browsers, and one of these is that they remain in control of what they do. What, precisely, gives you the right to auto-play a 5 minute video or your selection of music when a visitor arrives? It’s akin to kids on the top of the bus blaring out music on their mobile phone. Unless a visitor has given you explicit permission to, or it’s fair to assume they wish you to, don’t do it!

2. Don’t assume you know that your visitor wants to hear it

On that previous point, it’s incredibly unlikely that there are ever circumstances when it’s fair to assume your visitor wants you to autoplay sound at them. Even if you’re confident they share your taste in music or video because they’re visiting your site doesn’t mean they want to hear it right here right now, because people multitask these days. There is every chance that while browsing they are already listening to their own music through their speakers and do NOT want that messed up. Not to mention that most people will have many browser tabs open at the same time, meaning it can create a frustrated scramble to find the perpetrator & close that window ASAP. There is a sports news website I used to visit a lot, and yes they could presume I like sports. I no longer visit it though because it auto-played video sports news reports every time I arrived there.

3. It is against all the rule books

OK, the internet doesn’t have rule books as such, but it does have established professionals & guiding authorities on ‘best practice’ for websites. One such is the ‘W3C’, who put simply “discourage the practice of automatically starting sounds (especially if they last more than 3 seconds), and encourage that the sound be started by an action initiated by the user after they reach the page” and following on from points 1 & 2 a key reason for this is the ‘User Experience’. Not just in terms of frustrations but also accessibility, what about blind visitors using a Screen Reader to read the text out on pages? The moment you blare out lots of audio you wreck their ability to navigate & experience the page!

4. You’re forcing data down somebody’s connection

I’m sure you don’t need to be told that mobile use of the internet is growing at a phenomenal rate at the moment. As much as the corresponding data connection speeds are also advancing rapidly they are still a long way behind the connection speeds of desktop computers though. That means that if you’re forcing several megabytes (MB) of unrequested audio or video (or simply a lot of it in one go) through a website and connection not optimised for mobile you’re seriously slowing the visitor’s ability to view the page. That’s presuming their browser can play your audio or video, have you checked that? If not you could crash the browser. Oh, and of course there are plenty of people still paying by the MB so you could be costing them money too!

5. You’re driving people away from your website

Finally, the ultimate reason not to do it is simply because it is without a doubt driving people away from your website. There aren’t statistics available that I’ve been able to track down but plenty of people will be closing the window showing your website & leaving the instant you pipe unrequested noise (because that’s what it is) through their headphones or speakers. You do after all want people to visit your site right? If you’re a business that visitor is a potential customer. Even if you’re just blogging or such that person is somebody who could have been ‘listening’ to your online voice but in forcing them to ‘listen’ to your sound you’ve pushed them away. That’s not what you want to be doing is it? No, no I thought not.

In summary:

DON’T FLIPPIN’ DO IT! Really. Ever. Not even if you’re a video playing website or an immersive multimedia ‘experience’. Give the visitor a quick & simple way of choosing to turn audio on only if they want it, it’s really not difficult. You’ll make your visitors happier, your potential customers happier and the web happier as a whole. Mini-rant over.


16 thoughts on “5 Reasons Your Website Should NEVER Autoplay Sound!

  1. Mike


    (no pun intended)

    My nice, quiet morning news and nostalgia surfing suddenly shattered by some stupid freakin’ WHATEVER THE HELL IT WAS through my speakers. Later in the day when I do my work, I like to listen to music and sometimes a little bit loud. Yeah, blame me for not turning the volume down after my music stops but…..I should be able to say when sound starts and stops on MY computer, not the site admin.

    1. Geoff Moss Post author

      You’re positive there wasn’t a pun intended? 😉

      I know, the inconsiderate arrogance right? I had another good example of this happen to me the other day actually – I’d accidentally left the sound on on my phone & whilst browsing the internet, to distract myself while my 5 month old slept on my chest, a website I visited decided to blurt out sound (from an advert no less!) & almost woke her! it’s just downright not on in this day & age.

  2. Una

    Great – thanks for the article. I was unsure whether or not to autoplay videos on some of my posts but your article put the matter firmly to rest. Cheers!

    1. Geoff Moss Post author

      You’re welcome Una! There have been a few moves towards auto-playing videos, Facebook being a notable example, and I think the jury’s still out on that (I know a lot of people consider it rather invasive, me included) but none of these play with sound as they know that would certainly be very much over-stepping the mark.

  3. Dvvius

    Am I in the right place to ask, ‘What about audio spot-effects?’
    In my mind’s-eye, it might be consistent and unobtrusive, to have certain spot-effects to reinforce the theme and context of a website.
    Do ‘the rules’ also apply, in that case?

    1. Geoff Moss Post author

      It’s less of an intrusion but personally I’d still not use sound in that context without an explicit opt-in from the visitor first, some click or other behaviour from them to say ‘yes, I’d like an audio-enhanced website experience please’.

  4. Nic

    Awwwards and other major web design award sites are NOTORIOUS for promoting this terrible behavior! Stop giving awards to websites that do things we KNOW are vile to the customer base.

  5. Arlin Godwin

    I hate to differ but…When I did not have autoplay ON—on my site I got 33% fewer sign ups to my email list. But what I did was start my autoplay with a track that has a very long slow fade in which does not in any way jar the visitor…it eases them into it. And if they want at any time to kill it they very easily can. And this seems to work great. It immediately gives them something to hear and a beat (albeit a quiet one) to latch on to. Works for me great. A music web site with no music is like turning on your tv and there’s…just…silence…while people move their lips around. I mean really…did people tune in to a tv show expecting no sound? Why would they go to music artist’s web site and be offended by music. Makes no sense.

    1. Geoff Moss Post author

      There are some circumstances when people definitely expect to hear sound Arlin and in those cases playing it is fair enough (as long as it’s very clear and obvious how to stop it). I think they’re very very few and far between though and I’m not convinced that simply having somebody arrive at a website for a musician is sufficient. What if the user is browsing lots of music sites? If standard practice were for music sites to auto-play I’d get a cacophony of noise & would be closing tabs rapidly, peeved at the site owners for autoplaying (& my interest in them & their musis would therefore by cut off pretty prematurely!) I think a better & more responsible approach would be to give a clear, large ‘call to action’ button for somebody to instantly & easily play your music in the background when they first arrive at the site. I’ve no doubt there are circumstances when auto-play statistically gets more sign-ups, but I imagine that would be based on fairly thin comparisons and not an extensive A-B test of auto-play Vs clear-clean-frictionless-user-experience-opt-in-play. There are smart ways to make it effortless to opt-in to hearing music rather than the significant downsides of forcing an opt-out approach on every single visitor.

      1. Geoff Moss Post author

        …and as addendum: I think SoundCloud can be taken as having some extensive research and attention to both the needs of those looking to hear music and to user experience of a website. They don’t auto-play even if you arrive through a Google search taking you to a specific individual track found there.

  6. Nicolas Connault

    I remember the days when I thought websites were audio-challenged and needed some sort of feedback to user interaction. I added little UI sounds for button hover and clicks. Ahh the good old days of the 90s websites…

  7. Paul Allen

    Came here after being bombarded with lou dobnoxious music I couldn’t see how to turn off, from muzeit.com. Awful, just awful.

  8. Hayabusa

    Thank you very much for this. This article should be required reading for all web designers. Sadly, the auto-play phenomenon seems to be becoming more common these days instead of less. Do these folks not grasp how intensely intrusive and obnoxious it is? I have a simple policy: if I open a website, and it begins auto-playing sound, I immediately close that tab and do not return to that website, ever.

    1. Geoff Moss Post author

      You’re welcome, any little I can do to ‘amplify’ this message (…ahem.. 😉 ) I’m happy to! I’m the same, I’ll readily boycott any auto-playing sites and the more people do hopefully the more the message will get through!

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