Skip to content

How to Escape the Web’s Uncanny Valley and Make Your Site Feel More Human

Taylor Edginton Taylor Edginton
Human-looking robot

Have you ever landed on a website and felt an instinctive urge to retreat, even if you couldn't pinpoint exactly why? That's the digital manifestation of the uncanny valley—a concept borrowed from robotics, describing how nearly-human characteristics can elicit discomfort.

On websites this feeling arises when something about a site feels unsettlingly "off." These subconscious cues can signal our brains to distrust or disengage. To ensure your website warmly welcomes and retains visitors, steer clear of these ten common website mistakes:

Having an unsecured website

“Unsecured website screenshot

Most website visitors will be conscious of this first one, but it’s important enough to make the list anyway. Yes, the dreaded unsecured website message. Nothing drives visitors away from a website faster than security warnings. If your site is unsecured, you can resolve the issues by setting up HTTPS on your domain.

“Empty dilapidated room

Clicking a link only to land on a dead-end 404 page not only frustrates users, but also signals website neglect. Regular audits for broken links are essential in maintaining a trustworthy, informational, user-friendly website. Tools like Screaming Frog SEO Spider include link-checking features if you are looking for a place to get started.

Using meaningless animations

Animations should serve a purpose, enhancing the user experience or drawing attention where it’s needed. Gratuitous animations can distract and annoy, contributing to that uncanny valley feeling of something being not quite right. A lot of animations on a website is also a tell-tale sign it uses a purchased website template, which is itself an indicator that the website might not be of the highest quality and/or customized for the visitor’s specific needs.

Having a poor mobile experience

Mobile phone in a woman’s hands closeup

If managing a website is part of your job, you probably view it on a desktop computer more often than your visitors do, which can make it easy to forget about the mobile experience. With more than 50% of web traffic coming from mobile devices these days, a poor mobile experience on your website can be the difference between a lifetime customer and a new visitor going to look for a competitor instead. Ensure your site is responsive and navigable on all screen sizes to avoid this common pitfall. Polypane is a great tool to check the mobile responsiveness of websites.

Displaying bad stock photos

“Famous Hide the Pain Harold stock photo

While stock photos are a convenient resource, overly generic or irrelevant imagery can detract from the authenticity of your site. These ten most overused stock photos shared by Snappy can help you begin rooting out some of the most flagrant offenders. Ultimately, the best way to avoid this mistake is to not use stock photos at all. Instead, invest in high-quality photos that reflect your brand's identity and values.

Having content written for “SEO” instead of actual people

Knitted robot pointing paint brush at an easel with words on it

Content that's overstuffed with keywords and uses awkward phrasing for the sake of gaining higher SEO rankings tends to alienate readers. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, do a Google search for your favorite recipe and click a link. That mile of text you scrolled past on your way to the actual recipe is an example of content written for SEO rather than website visitors.

To Google’s credit, they are constantly working to stay ahead of the people looking to game their system. The best approach to avoiding this issue altogether is to play the long game by writing for humans first. A natural, engaging approach will ultimately benefit your SEO goals too because this is the kind of content Google is working to surface to searchers.

Having a website with slow load times

Sloth hanging from tree

Patience is a scarce commodity online. Websites that load slowly test a user’s patience and often push them away before they've even seen what you have to offer. Optimize your site's speed with the help of tools like PageSpeed Insights to keep visitors engaged.

Using a default favicon

Browser tabs closeup showing various favicons

This browser tab icon might seem inconsequential, but having a custom one is an example of attention to detail and an opportunity to make a branding impression. A default favicon (or no favicon) suggests a lack of effort, urging users to question the care put into your own products, services, and website content.

Using free email addresses

“Mobile phone showing Gmail sign up screen with an X through it

An email contact that ends in or might work for personal use, but in a business context using free email domains lack professionalism. It subtly suggests your website might not be a legitimate, serious operation.

An old Apple computer and wired mouse on a white background

Another minor detail that can have more serious implications is displaying an outdated or inaccurate copyright year. One wrong digit can make your entire site seem neglected and cast doubt on the relevance and accuracy of your entire website’s information.

Navigating Away from the Digital Uncanny Valley

Each of these mistakes, in isolation, might seem relatively minor or inconsequential. However, cumulatively they contribute to a website that feels disjointed, neglected, or just plain odd. This is the essence of the digital uncanny valley—where visitors are repelled by a vague sense of unease. By addressing these issues, you not only climb out of the uncanny valley, but also elevate your website into a space of trust, engagement, and professionalism.

Remember, the goal is to make your website feel as welcoming, human, and helpful as possible. In the vast digital landscape, the websites that resonate most are those that reflect thoughtfulness, care, and authenticity. Keep these principles in mind; you'll not only avoid turning visitors away but you will also draw users closer and build a loyal audience over time.