When it comes to web design, the question of whether or not you should autoplay videos on your website is one that can engender debate. We are mostly in the “against” camp. Of course, if you are a web developer and you have a client you cannot convince otherwise, your stance – whatever it is – will have to be set aside.

Think about it for a moment. Do you really want to spring an unexpected audio surprise on your website’s visitors who may be in a public venue like a library or Starbucks? What if they are at work? Even if they are in the privacy of their own homes, they could already be watching TV, or listening to music or an audiobook.

In general, we suggest that any embedded videos you have on your website should not autoplay. If your content is compelling, your visitors will click on the play button.

What about using a looping background video? Well, if the video doesn’t have a noticeable impact on page load times and you think it adds value, you can use it but with one caveat. If the clip has audio, you should make sure the video is muted when it launches and give your visitors the option of turning the sound on. You also have to make sure that you have an alternate design strategy in place for mobile devices as background videos will generally not play on smartphones and many tablets. We are currently working on a couple of websites that use background video in the homepage banner and definitely, the first order of business is to make the file size as small as possible so your page loads as quickly as possible.

Acceptable exceptions to this rule include websites like Youtube where everyone knows (or should know!) the deal because the primary reason you visit such sites is to watch videos.

Some of the most notable offenders seem to be news websites like CNN. They often compound this offense by having the same content in the video and the text below/surrounding the video. If the plan is to offer the visitor a choice between either watching the video or reading the text, why auto-play the video? Also, often while you are still scrolling down and reading a news story, the video playlist moves from one story to the next with no pause option. Even worse, this video can follow you as you scroll down. The companies that own and operate the offending news sites may think that this is smart technology that generates advertising revenue for them but it comes at the cost of alienating and losing visitors.

There are options like browser add-ons for your visitors to circumvent your best laid autoplay plans. A personal favorite is the mute button that Firefox offers (no add-on needed) that show up on every tab that’s currently playing video or audio content. I have been known to work with over 700 tabs open at once and without this handy feature, I would be Fry.

And finally, if you are going to use embedded Youtube videos on your website, please, please make sure that you turn off the “related videos” option.

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