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Mike Essex

18 Things That Are Ruining The Internet

19th Apr 2011 Brand, Reputation Management, SEO 10 minutes to read

Alongside “SEO is dead” posts (we’ll get to them another day) the other thing I hear constantly is that SEO ruined the Internet. Their argument for this is that through the pursuit of adding keywords, gathering links and leaving web footprints, that the online environment is worse because of SEO. In reality SEO has helped the web in a lot of ways, and you don’t have to look far to find the real offenders who are damaging the Internet, with the term digital marketing being dragged through the mud in so many places. In this article I share the worst offenders in my opinion.

Unreadable Captcha codes
The concept behind Captcha codes is sound, cut down on spam by establishing users are human. Most Captcha codes are fine, but an increasing number are almost impossible to read, causing even people with 20/20 vision extreme difficulties. There are also Captchas where the box isn’t big enough to type all the characters, or that have letters within letters. We are trying to make the web easier to access, and yet making it difficult for people with visual impairments to even fill in forms. As a general rule if your Gran couldn’t complete the form, then it’s too hard.

Google Captcha Code

Solutions: There’s a great list of ideas at Web Designer Ledger including Javascript hidden fields or just simpler Captcha like the one on our contact page.

Unreadable colour schemes
As with Captcha codes there is a complete lack of awareness for colour blind people online. It’s common sense not to put a colour of text on the same colour background. It doesn’t matter if it’s light blue text on a dark blue background, if a percentage of your readers can’t view it, then you’ve failed as a web designer.

Major Nelson

Solution: Don’t put light text on light backgrounds. Job. Done.

Rubbish Automated tools
The web exists to make our jobs easier, but people have taken this to extreme with ridiculous automated tools that let you spam the world in seconds. ‘Submit blog comments in minutes’, ‘Create 100 eBooks in 5 minutes’, ‘Get 10,000 twitter followers in seconds’. These tools forget what the web is about and attempt to game it in ridiculous ways, leaving horrible web footprints.

Solution: The websites these tools manipulate need to buy the tools and setup blocks to stop them.

An over focus on numbers
Remember when everyone reported on hits? “Your website has had 100,000 hits today?”. Although those days are over, some people are still obsessed with numbers and data and not with actually finding proactive solutions. In a brick and mortar store if 100 people arrived and bought nothing you’d do all you could to find out why. On the web it’s easy to end up doing backflips when you get your 100th visitor, even if they do nothing at all.

Solution: Numbers are great if you can compare them to another metric such as sales or conversions. Having a large number without a reason isn’t enough.

False information
To get someone to talk about your product you just need to ask them and maybe provide a free sample. Ask enough and you’ll get people talking about you online.However the issue here is that there people who set up exact match domains on brand terms and then write fake information about the company (be that overly negative, or overly positive just to make some affiliate sales). People who run around leaving fake information are misleading customers, often to make a small bit on money. eConsultancy did a great spoof of how stupid this has gotten.

Solution: Ask everyone who leaves a product review to enter a barcode first. Setup automated checks to spot patterns in fake information.

Spam email
It’s the Internet problem that just won’t go away. Alongside the typical ‘pill selling’ spammers, it’s become a point that even major retailers seem unable to stop sending emails. Although retailers can ask you to moderate email frequency, this seems to get disregarded if they have a promotion. Sure you can unsubscribe, but if you like some emails a company sends and not others, you’re stuck in spam limbo.

Solution: Always give customers the option of setting frequency (and sticking to it). If you’re not happy with an email then add them to a black list, or report them to their email provider.

Logins to unsubscribe
If I click the unsubscribe button on an email that’s what I want to happen. Asking people to login to leave an email list is just plain cruel, and it just means I’ll have to add the company to a black list to remove them from my email. A negative signal that goes to ISP’s and works against them in the long run.

Solution: Let people unsubscribe in one click. Unhappy customers will block you in other ways.

Password rules
“Your password must be 8-15 characters long, contain a number and none of these characters.” Why? If I want my password to be ‘password’ then isn’t that my own stupid fault? Customers should be free to set their own passwords, why can’t we be in complete control? Rules like the above mean we end up having different password variants based on the site, and these rules are never repeated to use when we come to login. Forgotten password forms, are no excuse for having daft rules.

Solution: Let me set my own password. Thanks.

Content Farms
Less of a problem now the Panda update is here, but there is still a lot of very bad content online, written simply for the purpose of earning a few dollars in AdSense revenue. Places for writers to share good information are still making the net better, content farms full of rubbish content are dragging it down. To see how stupid Content Farms have become visit The Content Farm.net for a humorous take.

Solution: Sites need to have better checks for poor content and ensure they follow the Google webmaster guidelines.

PLR Content
Sadly content farms are not gone for good, and have been replaced by Private Label Rights (PLR) content. You pay a fee, get loads of pre made articles and then can chop them up in to your own content. Horrible stuff and a real issue if you want to read good content online. It’s killing eBooks too.

Solution: Like with the automated software, platform holders have to buy these tools then put algorithms in place to block it being added to their sites.

Advert overload
Whilst the tactic of advert blindness has meant we are less receptive to adverts, that doesn’t give advertisers an excuse to stick adverts in the middle of page content, or where you expect navigational links to be. We aren’t clicking those adverts because we want to, they’re accidental clicks, costing real businesses their online budget for nothing.

Fake Navigation

Solution: Google just helped a lot by hitting sites hard who do this in the Panda update. The other solution is to never visit those sites again. Find somewhere without pointless adverts.

Whilst people are out to keep forums safe, there are some moderators who have an elitist view of the web. They trawl the boards, banning anyone slightly out of line, and turning on new readers when they are sometimes only trying to help. Almost all of the forums I used to enjoy have been ruined by flame wars, and battles between moderators and their users. It’s also incredibly hard for a new person to join Wikipedia and get involved due to excessive moderation.

Solution: Let the site users decide. Use vote up and down buttons so people can report negative content easily. Don’t give power to a handful of people who don’t actually work for your website.

Counterfeit Goods
I talked a lot about this last week, but the fact is “1 in 4 active Internet users visit piracy sites once a month” (Irfan Salim – Evolving brand protection landscape). It takes GHD seven people working full time just to stop counterfeits of their goods online, and that’s for a company with one product type. Shopping online is a great Internet benefit, but user trust has to be there for it to work.

Solution: More police involvement is needed and there’s lots of tips on what brands, customers and providers can do in my other article.

Dangerous Views
The Internet has the power to make a dangerous minority feel like their views are more valid as they can easily find other people who share their views. This turns views that may have faded away in to full blown beliefs. So terrorists and other unsavoury characters find information that strengthens their resolve and beliefs. Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing, but this is a worrying trend.

Solution: One for the police. Monitor online conversations and step in. I know people will see this as a violation but 99.99% of all conversations would be read by a computer and I would rather this was done for safety.

Facelessness / Anonymity
Tied in with the above is the ability to hide behind a user name and pretend to be someone else online. Even people acting as themselves can say things they never would online because they are hidden behind a user name. Just look at the fallout when Blizzard were to reveal forum posters real names in their forum.

Solution: Use your real name where you post online (if not in your username then have it as your name on your profile). Don’t write things you wouldn’t normally say.

Pop Up Windows
We can block most pop-up windows with our browsers, but most annoying of all are the questions that appear on leaving some sites. E.g. – are you sure you want to leave ‘Ok’ ‘Cancel’. Then this can be followed by another question, or a switching of responses to encourage you to stay. A pointless waste of time, as who would buy a product after being tricked to stay on a page?

Solution: Build a system in to browsers that blocks this type of pop-up.

Malware / viruses
Horrible in every way. From the code that attaches itself to pages, to Trojans that record keystrokes, and programs that destroy machines. Even with daily updated virus scanners and a technical mind it’s still really easy to be caught out.

Solution: Update your virus scanner as often as possible and run Google Webmaster Tools on your site as often as possible to spot hidden Malware.

Domain Variations
That’s enough domain name types now. In fact there were enough years ago, but yet new types are launched all the time. Why do we need a co.uk and a .uk domain? Plus having Colombia as .co and not .col only confuses things further. Then there’s the .gTLD domains which will make entire domains as https://www.brand just to confuse things further. Or the ability for pornographic websites to buy .xxx domains, but lets face it who would want the .com names this would free up? Plus it creates another set of domains brands must protect such as McDonalds.xxx.

Solution: The internet authorities should not make any more domain types, we have enough. If you’re a UK business stick to .com and .co.uk. If someone is using your brand name already then get a trademark and claim it back, don’t got for obscure domains.

The internet is a great tool, but I wonder how accessible it is for a first time user. If we explained all the problems above they’d probably never use it. Whilst most of these problems are a battle between scam artists, spammers and the businesses who try to stop them, if we used all of the solutions above the Internet would be better for everyone.

Agree / disagree? Perhaps there’s something I’ve missed? If so then please leave a comment:

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