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How To Frustrate Web Surfers Right Off Your Web Site, And Other Tips
[August 25, 2006]

How To Frustrate Web Surfers Right Off Your Web Site, And Other Tips

Editorial Director,
Customer Inter@ction Solutions magazine
I have just tried to register to view an article on a Dell (News - Alert) call center that recently opened in Alberta. The article apparently shows up in a regional Alberta newspaper…the Google (News - Alert) alert said so…but I'm not sure I'll ever find out about the new call center.

I understand newspapers want to make it worth their while to allow people to read them on the Web. I understand that many of them think that "something has to be in it for them" before they allow non-paying subscribers to read their publication (beyond the online advertising revenue, which increases with high readership). High readership, however, is seriously curtailed when a newspaper makes its "log in to read this article" process more difficult than passing the exams to become a board-certified gastroenterologist.

I don't mean to single out this regional Canadian newspaper. Most regional newspapers fall foul of this short-sighted practice. My own hometown newspaper does the same thing. The only time I log onto my hometown newspaper's Web site is when I want to find out local news: a traffic accident, a road closure, weather, the date and time of the Fourth of July fireworks. I do not go to my hometown paper for national and international news. Sorry, but I'm more likely to trust the reporters at the New York Times, CNN or the BBC if I want to know the results of the latest cease-fire in the Middle East. The fact that I (and many others, undoubtedly) use the paper for local news means exactly that…I'm local…as in, I live nearby. As in, I'm a potential customer for local businesses. Ergo, local businesses ought to be advertising on the paper's Web site so I can see the ads and buy their stuff. Advertising from local businesses is a great source of revenue, rather than expecting infrequent readers to pay $20 or $50 per year for the honor of logging on. Few people from Tokyo or Azerbaijan are logging onto the Web sites of regional town newspapers in Connecticut to get the local news, unless they suddenly wake up with a burning desire to find out why one lane was closed on Route 7 at rush hour the previous evening.
One article. That's all I'm usually looking for. I want to read it. I may tell my friends about it. I may use it in a blog or a column. But what are we usually faced with when we try to reach these types of papers? A dizzying array of membership options: Become a platinum member! Become a gold member! Buy a membership that will allow you to read one article every other Tuesday when the moon is full! Were your ancestors subscribers? Get a discount on membership through our ancestral program! Not a member yet? Click here! And here! Then here! Almost there! One more click!
If there's a "fill out this brief form to read this one article by clicking here" option, I can never find it. I find myself creating yet another user name and password and filling out basic e-mail and address information, only to be told my chosen password is no good. It must contain a numeral from 1 to 9. I add a number. No good. Sorry! Your password must meet the following criteria: a combination of letters of numerals as follows:
An initial capital letter, followed by a number, then a lower case letter that is not "q". After that, a Greek letter that appears in the latter half of the Greek alphabet, followed by a prime number, followed by the latitude and longitude coordinates of your mother's birth city. After that, an ancient Sumerian character, another number from 1 to 9, then one lower case and one upper case letter. Finally, the representative symbol of your astrological birth sign, and you're good to go.
Next, they'd like to ask you just a few questions to get to know you better. "Check this box if you don't think that you'd like to not receive our newsletters and valuable information from our partners unless they don't come out every week so we can not send them to you." By the time I finish unraveling the double-negatives to figure out what the hell they're asking me, twenty minutes have passed.
I have created what I think is a temporary account. I fill in my username and newly created password, a collection of characters of such complexity Dan Brown could probably find the mysteries of the Universe contained within it for his next bestseller. I hit "enter". Nothing. It takes me back to the welcome page, and politely asks if I'd like to register for my platinum-ancestral-only-on-Tuesdays-during-the-full-moon membership for the low price of $39.95 per year. (In case in the future, I'd like to find out whether there's a tie up in rush-hour traffic on a road 2,750 miles from my home and workplace.)
And the article I wanted to read in the first place? Who knows…I've given up.
The author can be contacted at

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