The Dysfunctional Back Button

A horrifying trip through poor UX design

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Aug 29 · 3 min read

The Dysfunctional Back Button

Visit this website and you’ll be infiltrated by three separate popup modals and two banners urging you to sign up for something. You’ll be forced to sequentially close the popups and banners to actually see the text on the page. One modal, fine - but three of them? And two banners? A bit excessive. The worst is yet to come though - reserved for when you try to hit the back button to return to whatever page you were previously on. No, it’s not an alert box asking you to confirm that you want to leave, or a case of the infinitely-refreshing page. This site decided to opt for a far more bold and dubious infringement of good UX. Potentially the “holy-grail” of annoying website practices: hitting back on this site will scroll you up about a ¼ of a centimeter.

If you clicked on this site from a Google search and were hoping to go back to the results, you can kiss that dream goodbye. You’ll be clicking the back button for at least five minutes, potentially years. If you dare stay on the site in a last-ditch attempt to salvage your tab, you’ll be solicited once again with a popup requesting permission to send you push notifications. Which, I can only assume would lead to never-ending push notifications, too. Either way, the authors of this site have clearly chosen one method of retaining users: through force.

With all jokes aside, this site is a great example of web developers going too far in the name of conversions. Like, way too far. This site is so intrusive I thought I accidentally clicked on a satirical site made to highlight frustrating UX by reddit user /u/GooseRepresentative1: https://how-i-experience-web-today.com/. Ironically, said site is actually easier to leave than the SearchEngineWatch site.

So why am I writing this? First, it’s not to chastise developers/companies that use popup registration forms. After all, this site also makes use of one. We’d be silly not to - it’s a quick and easy way to capture far more leads than otherwise possible. What I do want to bash, though, are purposefully obtrusive mechanisms, like hijacking the back button. And frankly, it’s time for Google to penalize sites that interfere with the browsers default behavior in such a commanding manner.

We all know how Google strives to optimize search results: good results mean people keep using google. Bad results mean users switch to competitors, such as Bing, for their search engine needs. Google’s algorithms are fine-tuned to deliver the best results by monitoring a variety of metrics, one of such is the duration that users spend on a website after clicking on it from a search. Clearly, SearchEngineJournal is manipulating the game to boost their stats, and as far as I can tell, it works! Which is a problem - because as more developers come across this tactic, more and more sites sporting this digital handcuff will pop up.

To Google’s benefit, they historically do fix issues once they become pervasive. So while they’re at it, wouldn’t it be nice if they penalized sites that use any of the biggest UX offenders? Surely, creating a fake browser history to block users from leaving would make the list. Let us know what you think and please, don’t do what they did.

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