I’ve been to some sites lately which have some pretty fantastic cursors. You probably know what I’m talking about – cursors that have little balls dangling from them, look like a heart or consist of a string of letters waving as if in the wind.

The first time I saw these cursors I thought, “that’s pretty cool, I wonder how they did that?” The answer was obvious since the cursor required the download of a special plug-in to Internet Explorer.

Now I see them all over the place. I visit a lot of sites, and over twenty percent of them have some strange or not-so-strange cursors running. Some sites even have a different cursor on each and every page!

What’s the problem with this? Well, on a personal home page, nothing. In fact, a nice, cute cursor on someone’s page about his wife or dog is a great touch, adding some special nicety which makes the pages stand out. A little waving flag one someone’s page about their Vietnam War experiences is great, and a heart can make a romantic page really stand out.

But on a professional site these cursors tend to be, well, tacky. They turn away visitors for a number of reasons. These don’t matter that much on a personal site – after all, most people do personal sites for the satisfaction, not to make money or get a high hit count.

Professional sites are different. You want your visitors to stay and read your message, comprehend your data or buy your products. Under these circumstances it is critical that you do nothing to chase anyone away.

Some of the drawbacks of special cursors include the following.

  1. Including special cursors requires the download of a plug-in. This has a tendency to turn away visitors right away. People are afraid, rightly so, of anything that pops up a security alert, and attempting to download an ActiveX control will do exactly that.
  2. Special cursors are not looked upon favorably by professional webmasters. You will find that many of the awards programs on the internet have special clauses in the criteria which disallow sites with these cursors.
  3. Too much moving data on the screen tends to be very annoying to visitors. If you have a strange cursor and a few animated GIFs you are really pushing your visitors tolerance to the limit.
  4. The cursors get in the way of your message. As they move around, the cursors cover text or graphics that you want your visitors to see.
  5. The focus of the cursor is obscured by the animation. On the standard cursor it is obvious where the cursor is pointing because it is an arrow or bar. On a waving flag or a heart, it is not so obvious and tends to be confusing. Confused visitors tend to hit the back button very fast.

For these reasons, my recommendation is to simply avoid strange cursors on all but personal home pages.