Strategies for Identifying and Removing Website Highways

Highways and interstates have destroyed city neighborhoods. They cut off natural flow and connectedness in community life (businesses, residential buildings, parks, etc.) by creating a barrier, wasteland, or obstacle to the movement and interactions of people who live there.

The introduction of highways had negatively impacted communities they ran through just as railroads did earlier in the 20th century. You’re probably familiar with the phrase, “growing up on the wrong side of the tracks” or “the other side of the tracks” used to stratify economic and class communities and experiences. These neighborhoods were once a continuous flow of community until railroads divided them. Highways have followed a similar path as the railroads and with an equally devastating impact on city communities.

Originally built to efficiently connect automobile driving, increasingly affluent, suburban workers to their city center workplaces in the 1950s, large highway systems sucked the very soul out of many city neighborhoods, quite a lot of were minority neighborhoods. These mostly white suburban workers in some cities like Birmingham, Alabama where I grew up, fled the city (look up “white flight”) for greener pastures and in part to avoid desegregation laws and the “encroachment” of minorities in their neighborhoods, education, and government systems. “White men’s roads through black men’s homes” as the saying went. Thankfully, some cities are recognizing and correcting the impact of highways through their communities.

This got me thinking about the “highways” that destroy the connection between you and your client on your website. What are they? Why are they there? What second-order consequences do they have on your “community” of clients visiting your website?

I am defining a website “highway” here as something that you intended in one way to help clients on your website but has dividing, second-order, unintentional consequences for both you and them. Website highways that divide could be visual, functional, branding, marketing, or content-focused. Here are some examples:

  • A pop-over enewsletter sign-up announcement on the homepage or slide-up cookie declaration that must be “closed” when they visit your website.
  • An overly complex contact form created to gather client information about a simple problem.
  • A hero image slideshow area at the top of your homepage that was supposed to encourage brand connection, and instead must be traversed by customers to connect with the info they really need to find on your website.
  • Excessive empty space between content sections or even between the lines of copy which cause visitors to slow down and stumble. (I’m looking at you, email newsletters)
  • Integrated ads within long-form content intended to generate revenue for you but cause the user to hop over. Same with images and related articles links within content.
  • Multiple pages on a site when content could be on a single page.

It is important to distinguish between “highways” that divide on a website, and things that create friction. Friction isn’t all bad in communities. We want speedbumps in neighborhoods where kids play. We appreciate the driving warning to slow down that comes with a “yellow” traffic light (imagine the chaos of traffic lights going from green directly to red!).

And friction isn’t all bad on websites. When you are reading, bold text helps people understand what is important. Images can greatly enhance your visitor connection when strategically selected and thoughtfully employed on a website. Same with video and even forms. About sections can increase trust and familiarity with your company, etc.

Website highways can be in multiple areas which, when combined, keep your clients from connecting. And highways are hard to identify when you are so familiar with your site. You can start by listing what may be a highway in each of these areas: design, functionality, content, brand, and marketing. Then consider why they are there and whether or not they are effective and should stay.

If you need some assistance, I have a website evaluation service that may help.

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