This is not your typical tutorial. I’m not teaching you how to do anything. What I am doing is pleading with you. If you are thinking about putting sound on your Web pages, I hope I can convince you (except in special circumstances) not to do it.

Why not?

Let’s start there, with the why nots. We’ll do that by looking at a surfing session by a hypothetical Web surfer, whom we’ll call Erik.

  1. Erik is listening to music while surfing. His iTunes is pumping out the Eels’ masterpiece “Beautiful Freak” when he hits your page. Your page starts pumping out music that clashes horribly with the music Erik loves. Does this make Erik want to continue his visit to your site? Or does it make him close the window and make a note not to return? If you think Erik is still on your site, I have a bridge you might like to purchase.
  2. Erik is at work, doing some sneaky personal surfing. He hits your page, your sound starts blaring, and Erik is busted. While standing on the unemployment line, is Erik thinking about returning to your site?
  3. Your site is one of the top ten results for Erik’s Google search. There are others in the list, but yours looks good and he clicks it. You’ve kindly put a MIDI version of Air Supply’s “Making Love Out of Nothing At All” on your site. Does Erik share your taste for crappy music? Or does he hit the back button and go to one of the other links, finding the information he seeks in more silent pastures?

Okay, enough of that imaginary guy Erik. But he does sound like the kind of guy you want visiting your site with his suave, urbane and handsome presence. Also, he spends lots of money on sites he likes. And being hit with unwanted sound makes his wallet slam shut harder than a screen door in a Kansas tornado.

By the way, I’m also thinking of those sites where you hear beeps, boops or clanks when mousing over a button. I hate that. Some people may not mind it, but I doubt they visit silent sites and wish that the buttons made a “ping” when they moved their mouse around.

Okay, let’s be a bit more serious. There are many sites I’ve visited and been confronted by unnecessary and unwanted sound. I honestly do make a note never to return. And I have a pretty good memory for this sort of thing. If you’re putting sound on your site because you think it’s a cool thing to do, I’m certainly not the only person who would decide not to stick around. I never visit MySpace. I’m guessing you haven’t visited MySpace in a while, either. Despite an option to prevent auto-play on page entry, many MySpace pages seem to overcome this and play sound automatically anyway. So I’m one of the many many people who no longer visit MySpace.

So when is it okay to put sound on your site? Here are some possibilities:

  • You are in a band and promoting your work
  • You are a voice-over actor looking for work
  • You are a radio station
  • You have sound content that is relevant and necessary to your visitors

Did you notice that “because it’s cool” did not make that list?

And if you do have the need to put sound on your site? Please make it an opt-in listening experience. Allow people to push a Play button to hear your aural masterpiece if they so desire. And give them a Stop button for when they’ve heard enough.

Avoid Web Design Mistakes

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2 thoughts on “Putting Sound on Your Web Pages

  1. Thank you for putting this out there. I’ve noticed a trend on blogs to have some kind of “radio” playing–so I stop looking/reading to hunt for the off button or just click away.

  2. Thanks for the heads up!
    I was about to put Kid Rock on my myspace page,
    but you make alot of sense here.
    I feel the same way you do and appreciate the hand over mine telling me
    “please don’t”.

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