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.
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.