Personalization Gone Wrong: User Enragement and The Wicker Man Website


A dark cloud of poor UX has been gathering across the internet, and web designers are the ones responsible. Recent years have seen more and more awful browsing experiences across business websites of every industry.

It’s not that web designers have suddenly lost all talent, or that the quality of content has plummeted. It’s that the browsing journey itself is being increasingly broken.

The Wicker Man Website

Web designers know that personalization works, 75% of consumers are more likely to buy from a business that knows their name and can recommend products based on their previous purchase history, and they know that data is needed to fuel their personalization efforts.

However, in an attempt to increase their harvest of personal data, web designers are burning alive the sacrificial lamb of UX, inside a wicker man constructed of engagement and personalization tactics.

Far from the desired increased user engagement and conversions, the result is often detachment and frustration as the user has to fight off an onslaught of invasive content – content that is neither helpful or wanted.

Accessing a Website in 2020

Being able to browse uninterrupted is becoming an increasingly rare commodity. The frustrating journey below is a much more likely experience.

  1. Access website
  2. Close interstitial
  3. Okay, I’ll accept cookies
  4. I suppose I can allow you to use my location
  5. No, I don’t want to receive any push notifications
  6. Huh? No, I don’t want to live chat with a member of your team
  7. No, I’m not interested in downloading your free e-book
  8. Nope, I don’t want to follow your company on Twitter
  9. No, I’m not willing to take part in a survey to rate your website
  10. Forget it, I’ll go back to watching videos of cats falling off washing machines

The Intelligence Paradox

Although some designers are more guilty than others, there’s an increasingly common problem: the more intelligent the tools at a web designers disposal, the more unintelligent their application.

The roots of the fragmented modern browsing journey can be traced back to the recent personalization boom. The fuel is consumer demand and advancing smart technology.

Personalized User Experience

There’s no getting away from the fact that tailoring content and marketing to each visitor works. Businesses want to create a personalized online experience that is welcoming and helpful to each individual user. To achieve this, they need smart technology.

Smart Technology

The progression of AI and improved e-commerce software has been instrumental in companies being able to get more personal with their users. Accessing a website now is more akin to entering a physical store than ever before. You’re greeted when you enter and can chat with a salesperson whenever you need assistance.

This isn’t a bad thing. Websites are more intelligent and responsive – they can locate what we are looking for more efficiently than ever before.

The problem is that businesses are going too far. In attempting to create an engaging and personalized user experience, many websites are instead delivering an encroaching and annoying browsing journey.

The Cringey Salesman

Have you ever been inside a mobile phone store? The chain stores where you are immediately pounced on by an intrusive salesperson. Despite your protestations that you’re only looking, they are never more than six feet away, trying to catch your eye at every opportunity, and offering you a deal if you spend more than 25 seconds looking at any phone.

You leave feeling slightly more dirty than when you entered, convince yourself your old Motorola will last another year and vow never to return the store again.

This experience isn’t far removed from the browsing journey of many websites heavily invested in personalization. You are confronted by a series of permission requests, invitations to live chat, and pop-ups. It’s a cacophony of ads and banners that requires ninja-like clicking skills to resume your browsing with minimal interruption.

The Need For Balance

Striking the perfect balance of engagement without overstepping the mark to annoyance is difficult. The benefits of engagement are plain to see. A well-placed pop up can see conversion rates of up to 50.2%, while live chat invitations can offer a high ROI of 105%.

The key is to deliver engagement tactics at the right time, in the proper context, and with relevant content. The danger is that when a tactic delivers results, it’s tempting to implement similar tactics at every opportunity and across your whole website. Targeting user’s every click and scroll.

That’s when the line between engagement and annoyance is crossed.

How to Get Personalization Right

GDPR has brought data protection into the minds of the mainstream and could be hugely beneficial for UX. Consumer data can only be processed if necessary and stored for just as long as is necessary.

This presents an opportunity to overhaul both the permissions you request, and how you go about requesting them.

Users aren’t surprised and put off by personalization techniques if they remember giving you their permission in the first place. Unbundle your permission requests and make it clear what users are agreeing to. People are more likely to agree to your location request if they understand that it means they will receive promotions and offers that are dependent on their location.

Don’t harass users with permission requests and push notifications within seconds of them landing on your site. Prove your value first. The onus is on you to prove you’re worth people’s time before you start pushing your content and promotions.

The Double-edged Sword of Pop-ups

Pop-ups can be incredibly annoying. Ethan Zuckerman, the inventor of the pop-up, has even apologized to the world for his contribution to global web annoyance. That being said, they can also be extremely effective.

The best performing pop-ups appear when a user is already engaging with your content. Schedule pop-ups to appear after 60% of the average user page session duration. This time period allows users to explore your site interruption free and pique their interest – without you delaying too long and losing out on engaged prospects.

A pop up with some random offer or promotion isn’t going offer any value to users. Your content needs to be relevant to the page the user is viewing. If a user is looking at a page of lawnmowers, a pop-up promoting a blender isn’t going to be very helpful.

Live Chat

Live chat is a great way to open up a dialogue with prospects, a dialogue that can be very profitable. Visitors that chat are worth 4.5x more than visitors that don’t. However, you don’t want to be a cringey salesman. Don’t try and force live chat with an invitation pop-up on every page and after every other user click.

People don’t want to be met with the same generic automated chat invitation on every page they visit, especially when they can see your live chat button for themselves at the bottom of the page.

Think like a helpful salesman, not a cringey one. Only offer invitations to live chat when it could help the user. Someone that’s been looking at a product’s specifications for 5 minutes is far more likely to want assistance than a prospect that only landed on a page 10 seconds ago.


Web designers walk a fine line between user engagement and user enragement. Many websites have failed to find the right balance between personalization efforts and UX. The above best practices are a step in the right direction to restoring some equilibrium to your site.

When users spend more time clicking off content they don’t want than clicking on the content they do, the result is frustration. Personalization works, it’s just that you won’t have any users to engage if you keep on annoying them.

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