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Web Design Mistakes: Playing Sounds Automatically

It's still surprisingly common for web pages to automatically start playing sound when the page loads. Except in rare circumstances this is widely considered to be a bad idea. Here's why...

(1) It's not good manners to inflict this on anyone. You have no idea of the situation your users will be in when they open your page. They could be in a public place or at work, and the sudden noise might not go down well. Of course in these cases they should have their speakers turned down but that's not the point—there are times when it's an innocent mistake, and in any case you'll still be seen as the inconsiderate website that annoyed the user.

(2) Many people find music distracting.

(3) No matter how mainstream or popular your style of music is, some of your visitors won't like your choice.

(4) Many people don't want to waste bandwidth on background music.

(5) The sound from your page may conflict with sounds your visitor is already listening to. Many people listen to music as they browse the net. You know how irritating it is to have two different songs playing at the same time. If you think your visitor will enjoy some soothing music while they read your page, imagine how soothing that same music is when it's competing with some other music at the same time.

(6) It's common for people to open multiple web pages simultaneously. Let's say I'm searching for a particular widget to buy. I look down the list of search results and click to open the 6 most promising web pages in new tabs. From there I will browse each of them one at a time (this is a great way to browse search results as there's much less time spent waiting for pages to load). Now imagine that one of those pages starts making a noise that I want to stop. I have to frantically open each tab trying to find the culprit. To make matters worse, there's usually no indication on the offending page to let me know that it's the one making the noise. I have to close every single tab I've just opened, then open them one at a time. The site that made me do this won't be getting my business.

Now imagine that two or more of those tabs are making noises at the same time. That's just plain nasty.

(7) Whether or not you like automatic sounds, it's a fact that it's frowned upon by many (probably most) web designers. If you disagree, go to a reputable web design forum and ask the regulars. Do you really want to do something with questionable benefit that so many people strongly dislike?

Most importantly for you: The trade-off is not worth it. Automatic sounds are extremely unlikely to generate more customers or provide a significantly better user experience, but they will definitely cause your website to lose visitors. So in a nutshell, it's a bad business decision.

If you want to play sounds, make a "Play" button along with a "Stop" button. Your visitors will appreciate it.