Posted by Phil Sharp
This post was originally in YouMoz, and was promoted to the main blog because it provides great value and interest to our community. The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of Moz, Inc.
It happens all the time.
People get confused, frustrated, and angry while using websites. They sigh, they groan, and sometimes they even shout. I see it happen with my own eyes each and every day.
Over the years at UserTesting.com weâ€™ve literally watched hundreds of thousands of usability studies, which gives us a unique perspective into some of the most common issues that impact users. Iâ€™d like to share five of those insights with you.
1) Avoid multi-level navs
The person in the video below is struggling to move her mouse through multiple levels of navigation. Just when she thinks she’s made it to the item she’s looking for, the entire navigation disappears. We see this every day on many different sites and it always frustrates the users.
This person is having a hard time using the site’s navigation.
A fix to consider
One possible alternative to this type of navigation is to take an approach similar to Amazon.com, and have an entire section pop out.
On Amazon.com, the entire section pops out.
This approach makes life much easier for your visitors. Not only does it remove the need for them to delicately maneuver their mouses, but it also lets them see all of their options at once. Plus, it gives you the freedom to add images and other styling to your nav.
For other possible solutions, and a more in-depth look into creating easy-to-use navigation, check out these resources:
2) Your categories might be confusing users
As the video below illustrates, the way we categorize things on our websites might be confusing our visitors. In fact, it’s one of the most common things we see in all of our user tests.
A person looking for a small vacuum for under $50.
In this particular study, it took our participant 48 seconds to find the category for a small vacuum. She started her search by looking in “electronics,” then browsed for something called “household,” and finally made her way over to “Home & Garden.”
At this point you’re likely thinking one of two things:
- Either, “Silly person, it’s obvious that a vacuum would be in the ‘Home & Garden’ section.”
- Or, “Silly designer, it’s obvious that ‘Home & Garden’ is a confusing category.”
That’s why I need to introduce you to the “Matt-Damon-and-Good-Will-Hunting-Can-Do-No-Wrong” principle.
The principle is simple: it’s not your fault. (Side note: if you don’t understand this reference, then do yourself a favor and watch this video.)
It’s not your fault. It’s not the user’s fault. It’s not the designer’s fault. In fact, it’s nobody’s fault. What’s crystal clear to you might be confusing to me, and no one is to blame for that. It’s just something we have to work with.
So, what do we do about it?
One of the best ways to test out your site categorization is to sit someone down in front of your site and ask them to find a specific item without using internal search. This is simple, fast, powerful, and very painful to watch.
You’re bound to see people struggle to find things that seem obvious to you. When this happens, remember the “Matt-Damon-and-Good-Will-Hunting-Can-Do-No-Wrong” principle, make some changes to your categories, and then test again.
Another way to improve your categories is to use a tool like OptimalSort or TreeJack. OptimalSort is an online card sorting tool that makes it easy to find out how people think your content should be organized. Then, once you think you have everything organized nicely, TreeJack helps you prove that this site structure will work.
3) Internal search is crucial (and frustrating)
There’s a good chance that 10% of your site visitors are using your internal search. When they search for your most popular items, do you know what the results look like?
From all our studies, we’ve found four common types of problems with internal search:
- Search results that don’t account for typos, plurals, hyphenations, or other variants
- A search box that isn’t long enough
- Search results that simply don’t make any sense
- Search results that aren’t sorted by priority
To see an example of #4 in action, let’s watch yet another person looking for a vacuum:
When results aren’t sorted by relevance, people are bound to see some weird things.
Because the search results are automatically sorted by “Most Popular,” the first results are for replacement batteries and filtration paper bags! Yikes! Or, as my 10th-grade Spanish teacher would say, “que barbaridad!”
If you do only one thing
If you do only one thing, look at your internal search logs and find the top 10-20 keywords that people are searching for on your site. Search for each of these items yourself to see if you’re happy with the results.
Then, search for your company’s 10 most important products. How do those results look?
Lastly, look for some generic, non-product terms. For example, if you’re an e-commerce store, search for “returns,” “contact,” and “hours.” Looking good?
If you can perfect these searches, and change your search results to automatically sort by relevance, you’re most of the way there!
4) Links should look like links
As obvious as it sounds, there are many times when links actually don’t look like links. And, as you probably guessed, this means users don’t know they can click on them.
In the video below, this person is requesting a link to the “basic uploader” without realizing that “basic uploader” is already a link:
“Okay, that’s frustrating. It would make more sense to me that you’d have a link that I could just click on.”
What does a link look like?
This won’t come as a big surprise, but to make your visitors happy, links should be colored and underlined. And, ideally, there should be different colors for links that have been visited and unvisited.
5) Engage your visitors (in other words, don’t be boring)
Sometimes websites are perfectly usable â€” they have great navigation, clear categories, helpful internal search, and links that look links â€” but they suffer from a major problem: They’re boring.
Or, put a nicer way, they’re not engaging their visitors. People use the site, and they could easily buy something if they wanted, but they don’t feel a connection to the brand or the product. Frankly, they just don’t care.
In the video below, a person is trying out a mobile app for the first time ever. Listen to the deep sigh she makes and the tone of her voice:
The sound of boredom.
That’s the benefit of watching someone use your website, app or product. You can hear their tone of voice and pick up on things like boredom that you’d miss if you were just looking at standard analytics data.
It’s tempting to always get wrapped up in analytics or usability, but don’t lose sight of engaging your visitors and building your brand.
These are only five of the issues that we see pop up often, but really there are countless ways that our websites can be turning off our visitors.
Thanks to the amount of time we spend on our own sites, we’re blind to many of the issues that are confusing or frustrating our users. We have tunnel vision.
This is what we look like. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t this adorable.
That’s why it’s so important for us to get our sites in front of real people with fresh eyes who can give us unbiased feedback. While this feedback is probably going to be painful to hear, it’s going to help us all improve our sites and make the web a better place.
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