Background Music on Websites

Posted by Eric Bastholm on October 10, 2009
Oct 102009

Today there are a lot of cool things that can be done on a web page. It used to be the case that content on the web was mostly text and pictures; now you can get sites displaying a lot of other content too: games, video, animations, slide shows, virtual worlds, yes, and music.

Background music on your website might seem like a jazzy cool idea. Wrong! Don’t play background music on your website. There are a few good reasons for this.

  • It’s annoying. Anything unexpected is detrimental to the user experience. Imagine you are dining at a fine restaurant, perhaps it’s your wedding anniversery, the lighting is subdued, the decor is simple, but elegant. The waiter approaches to take your order, he pulls out his notebook and pen and then unexpectedly breaks into a rousing rendition of Food, Glorious Food from Oliver fame. Bye bye!
  • It causes user confusion. On multi-tabbed browsers you cannot tell which one it is coming from, especially if you open several tabs in quick succession.
  • It is rude. Why would you think that I want to listen to your music? How do you know if I am not already listening to something else? Maybe I am in an office environment where there are other people nearby. You don’t know. So don’t risk annoying or embarassing users by playing music without permission.
  • It increases bounce rate. This is a search engine term which is a measure of how quickly people click away from your site – without reading anything. Unexpected background music makes me click away virtually instantly, especially if there is not an obvious way to turn it off.
  • It gives the user no choice. Hearing is, largely, a passive sensory experience. I can choose to look at parts of your website, or not. I have the freedom to navigate it as I wish. However, I am forced to listen to your background music because my ears even work when I am asleep!
  • Don’t do it.
  • Don’t do it.
  • Don’t do it.

In case you still need convincing: imagine you are writing a document in a word processor about the 10 worst things to put on a web page. You are typing away, being creative, getting on with it, splendid. Suddenly, a paper clip pops up, grinning insanely. It wiggles and stretches and then exclaims – “It looks like you’re writing a letter. Would you like help?”.

Enough said.

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