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Myth of the three-click rule

If you design web sites, you probably heard this statement: "I should be able to find everything on a site in just three clicks".

After hearing about the three-click rule for many years and having it as a requirement in some client projects, UIE decided to find out if the rule was true. By analyzing data from a study of 44 users attempting 620 tasks, UIE found that:

- There was no correlation between the number of times users clicked and their success in finding the content they sought.
- There wasn't any more likelihood of a user quitting after three clicks than after 12 clicks.
- An 80% task completion rate was seen after an average of 15 clicks.
- There was no correlation between the number of times users clicked and their reported satisfaction with the site.

UIE concludes that "The number of clicks isn't what is important to users, but whether or not they're successful at finding what they're seeking."


  • The article Testing the Three-Click Rule

Henrik Olsen - November 27, 2003

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See also: Navigation (46) 



The ten most violated Jakob Nielsen design guidelines

Jakob Nielsen has made a top ten on usability principles from his book Homepage Usability which are most frequently violated:

1. Emphasize what your site offers that's of value to users and how your services differ from those of key competitors.
2. Use a liquid layout that lets users adjust the homepage size.
3. Use color to distinguish visited and unvisited links.
4. Use graphics to show real content, not just to decorate your homepage.
5. Include a tag line that explicitly summarizes what the site or company does.
6. Make it easy to access anything recently featured on your homepage.
7. Include a short site description in the window title.
8. Don't use a heading to label the search area; instead use a "Search" button to the right of the box.
9. With stock quotes, give the percentage of change, not just the points gained or lost
10. Don't include an active link to the homepage on the homepage.


  • The article The Ten Most Violated Homepage Design Guidelines

Henrik Olsen - November 15, 2003

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See also: Home pages (2)  Site design (8)  Guidelines and Standards (10) 



How people experience About Us sections

Web sites should have a strong About Us section, since users often wonder who's behind it, and whether it's credible.

The Nielsen Norman Group conducted a usability study of fifteen organisations to find out how users find and interpret information about companies on websites.

Some major findings:
- The overall success rate of finding information was 70%
- Users had particular difficulty finding basic company facts, such as the organisation's tops executive or official (59%), contact information (62%), the organization's philosophy (59%), and company history (58%)
- Users had trouble locating the company information when the link had a nonstandard name or was placed near graphical elements that looked like advertisements
- Users were fairly successful at answering what the companies does (90%)
- Government agencies was often the worst offenders


  • The article "About Us" -- Presenting Information About an Organization on Its Website

Henrik Olsen - October 27, 2003

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See also: Sections (5) 



How people scan web pages

The usability consultancy UIE conducted an eye-tracking study to find out how people scan a typical three column web page layout.

Some major findings:
- The users usually scanned in the centre area first, then the left area and then the right column
- The users would only investigate the left and right column when looking for additional information
- The users quickly learned to look where they would expect to find relevant content and avoid areas which was unimportant to their current task, such as banner ads
- The users would only re-evaluate their scan strategies when they detected changes in the layout of pages
- The users where able to determine if surrounding content was relevant before looking directly at it, suggesting that peripheral vision plays a central role in the interaction with the web pages
- Ads attracted users only when they related to the current task even if the content interested users


  • The article Testing Web Sites with Eye-Tracking

Henrik Olsen - October 21, 2003

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See also: Web page design (23)  Eye-tracking (7) 



Common web design practices

At the site Web Design Practices by Heidi P. Adkisson you'll find statically research on common design practices currently in use on the Web, covering items such as global and local navigation, breadcrumbs, search and links.

The site can be useful as a guide for making design decisions, but as Adkisson says:

"The data presented are intended to inform design decisions, not dictate them. Common practice does not necessarily equate with best practice - and the relationship between consistency and usability on the Web is remains a lightly researched area."

The site is an outgrowth of Adkisson's Master's thesis.


  • The site Common Design Practices

Henrik Olsen - October 13, 2003

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See also: Links (12)  Search (24)  Web page design (23)  Navigation (46) 



Product lists' impact on sales

A study conducted by the usability consultancy UIE has show that the design of product lists at e-commerce sites can have great impact on sales.

UIE found that when product lists provided enough information for the test participants to make informed product selections they where five times more likely to add items to their shopping carts, than when they had to click back and forth between product lists and product description pages - a behaviour named pogo-sticking by UIE. Also, the participants who didn't find enough information in the product lists where one-third more likely to quit shopping and had lower opinions of the site.

They study was conducted with 30 people who were given money to spend on products they wanted to buy.


  • The article Are the Product Lists on Your Site Reducing Sales? (registration required)

Henrik Olsen - September 27, 2003

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See also: E-commerce (21)  Navigation (46) 



Fluid vs. fixed-sized web page layouts

In a study from 2001 SURL examined differences between fluid and fixed-sized left-justified and centred layouts of multi-column web pages. They found no significant differences between the layouts in terms of search accuracy, task completion time, or search efficiency.

But significant subjective differences were found that favoured the fluid layout. Participants stated that they perceived the fluid layout as being best suited for reading and finding information and that the fluid layout looked the most professional. The left-justified layout was the least preferred.

The layouts where tested with viewable screen widths of both 770 and 1006 pixels.


  • The article What is the Best Layout for Multiple-Column Web Pages?

Henrik Olsen - September 22, 2003

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See also: Web page design (23) 



On-site search engines are worse that nothing

According to usability consultancy UIE on-site search engines often reduce the chances of finding information on web sites. In a study they discovered that when users searched for information using links the success rate was 53%, while the success rate of using on-site search engines was only 30%.

Some of the problems that UIE found were:
- Users didn't understand that some search engines distinguish between partial and entire words.
- Users didn't understand when typos and misspellings returned no search results.
- Users had trouble determining why a search returned a particular item and how it was relevant to their search.
- Users got irrelevant and often amusing results from full-text searches.

UIE concludes that on-site search engines are "significantly worse" than nothing, and suggest that "designers seriously consider not including a search engine on their sites until the technology is equal to the challenge."


Henrik Olsen - September 10, 2003

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See also: Search (24) 



Breadcrumb Navigation: Further Investigation of Usage

SURL have completed second study of breadcrumb usage:

Some major findings:
- 40% of the participants used the breadcrumb trail
- Only 6% of the page clicks where accounted for by the breadcrumb the main navigation bar, back button, and embedded links were used the majority of the time
- The Back button was used significantly less often by users who used the breadcrumb trails
- The were no difference found in efficiency between breadcrumb users and users who didn't use the breadcrumb
- Breadcrumb trails positioned under the page title were used more than breadcrumb trails positioned at the top of the page


Henrik Olsen - August 24, 2003

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See also: Navigation (46) 



Online health searches have become commonplace

According to Pew Internet & American Life Project, the act of looking for health or medical information is one of the most popular activities online, after e-mail and researching commercial products and services. 80% of adult Internet users report that they have searched for at least one of 16 major health topics online.

Some of the more popular health topics are:
- Specific disease or medical problem (63%)
- Certain medical treatment or procedure (47%)
- Diet, nutrition, vitamins, or nutritional supplements (44%)
- Exercise or fitness (36%)
- Prescription or over-the-counter drugs (34%)
- Alternative treatments or medicines (28%)

Some additional findings:
- Women are the primary consumers of online health information
- Internet users find support in online support groups and use e-mail to discuss health issues with family and friends.
- Health seekers want access to more information, but can't always find what is already available online


  • The report Internet Health Resources

Henrik Olsen - August 06, 2003

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See also: Search engines (7) 

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