They still haven't found what they're looking for
Feature: Users Continue After Category Links
Importance of website design features when
A survey conducted by Knowledge Systems and Research Inc. found that Web
surfers are easily frustrated:
Users Average only four clicks on a site without finding what they seek
before they abandon it, and 83 percent then move on to another site instead
of using a search function or calling customer service. Nearly 80 percent
of users rate ease of use the most important feature in website design.
Over the last year, we’ve been looking at how to get users to find valuable
content that they aren't aware of when they first come to the site.
This is an important problem when dealing with large sites. The sites are
constantly adding content. E-commerce sites add new products. Product support
sites add hints for successful use. Intranets add new information to help
employees be more efficient. How does a user find out about this?
Our research has shown that users are three times more likely to find this surprise
content if they use the category links off of the home page instead of going
straight to the search engine. We wanted to understand more about why this was
happening, so we dug a little deeper into our data.
It turns out that one main reason is what people do *after* they find their
Target content is the information that people come looking for on the site.
Studies show that most site visitors have a purpose to be on the site. For example,
few people will go to www.ups.com just to see what UPS is all about. Instead,
they go when they have a specific need, such as tracking a package, finding
the nearest dropoff box, or opening a new account.
So, users come to the site with a purpose and they do their best to achieve
that purpose. The question is: what happens after they've achieved it? How do
we get them to that valuable content that they didn't know was there?
Well, our recent studies have turned up some surprising statistics. Apparently,
the way you get to the target content affects whether you'll continue looking
In a recent study of 30 users, we found that if the users used Search to locate
their target content on the site, only 20% of them continued looking at other
content after they found the target content.
But if the users used the category links to find their target, 62% continued
browsing the site. Users who started with the category links ended up looking
at almost 10 times as many non-target content pages as those who started with
Search, even when designed well, only lets users see what they are looking for.
You ask for shoes, you get shoes. But category links seem to mimic what happens
in real life. In a study we conducted watching people shop in the mall (with
their permission — otherwise it's considered stalking!), we saw users
who went into stores specifically to buy shoes but ended up purchasing other
products, like sweaters.
When users are exposed to the categories, they become unknowingly educated in
the other content available on the site. Many users in our study told us they
were making mental notes to "go back and see" the other content, as they were
locating their target content.
Whereas with Search, there is no opportunity to see what else the site has to
offer, unless Search is broken (and gives you all sorts of content you didn't
If your site has lots of content you'd like users to discover, then these results
suggest that focusing on getting your users to use the category links is a design
Erik Ojakaar and Jared Spool discuss the best practices
for designing sites that encourage category link usage in our report, Getting
Them to What They Want. See http://world.std.com/~uieWeb/what_they_want.htm
for more info.