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Usability of newsletters and news feeds

In a study, Jakob Nielsen and NN/g have found that the usability of newsletters has increased since their last study in 2004.

Some of their findings:
- The ease of subscribing and unsubscribing newsletters has increased considerably
- Users are extremely fast at processing their inboxes
- In average the participants used 51 seconds reading a newsletter
- 19% of the newsletters where fully read
- 35% of the time, the participants only skimmed a small part of the newsletter
- 67% of the participants had zero eye fixations within the "introductory blah-blah text"
- Participants subscribed to the wrong newsletter format when they had to choose between "HTML" and "Text"
- 82% of the studied users didn't understand the term RSS (Jakob suggest we call them "news feeds").
- Users scan news feeds even more ruthlessly than newsletters

In Jakob Nielsen's opinion e-mail newsletters are still the best way to maintain customer relationships.


  • Email Newsletters: Surviving Inbox Congestion Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - June 13, 2006

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See also: E-mails (2)  Text (19) 



B2B sites suck

Business-to-business websites have substantially lower usability than mainstream consumer sites. In a usability test, the B2B sites earned a mere 50% success rate. In contrast, mainstream websites have a success rate of 66%.

According to Jakob Nielsen, the major problems with B2B sites are:
- The fail in supporting customers' decision-making process by preventing them from getting the information they need to research solutions
- They use segmentation that don't match the way customers think of themselves
- They require customers to register to get information, which they are very reluctant to do
- They lack pricing information (the users in the study prioritized prices as the most critical type of information)

Most of the test participants said that when they were thinking of doing business with a company, one of their first actions was to check out its website. By being user-hostile, the B2B sites turn away customers without ever knowing how many sales they've lost.


  • B2B Usability Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - May 30, 2006

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See also: Persuasive design (14)  E-commerce (22) 



Study of breadcrumb navigation

Angela Colter and colleagues have surveyed 4,775 catalog web sites to find out how many implement breadcrumbs and what connector character is used. They then conducted a study with 14 test participants solving tasks at four web-sites that use breadcrumbs.

Some highlights:
- 17% of the web-sites used breadcrumbs
- 47% of those sites used the greater than symbol
- All but one of the participants used the breadcrumbs
- Four used breadcrumbs as a consistent strategy
- Five incorrectly assumed that breadcrumbs indicated either the path they had taken to arrive at the current page or a record of where else on the site they had been
- The users sometimes described the back button as being "safer" to use, because they know what page they came from

They conclude that breadcrumbs are used if a breadcrumb label happens to match what the users is looking for. This suggests that breadcrumbs were not used for orientation or back-tracking, but rather a means of moving forward.


  • Exploring User Mental Models of Breadcrumbs in Web Navigation Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - May 28, 2006

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See also: Navigation (56) 



People scan content in an F-shaped pattern

In an eyetracking study, Jakob Nielsen found that users often scan content on web pages in an F-shaped pattern:
- First, people scan in a horizontal movement across the upper part of the content area
- Secondly, in a shorter horizontal movement further down the page
- Finally, in a vertical movement along the content's left side

According to Jakob Nielsen the F-pattern behaviour shows that:
- People don't read text thoroughly
- The most important information should be at the top
- Headings and paragraphs must start with information-carrying words that users will notice when they scan down the left side of the content


  • F-Shaped Pattern For Reading Web Content Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - April 19, 2006

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See also: Text (19)  Eye-tracking (14) 



The surfers are back

A report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project shows that surfing for fun is now one of the most popular activities on the web.

"More Americans are turning to the internet as a place to hang out. Nearly a third of internet users go online on a typical day for no particular reason, just for fun or to pass the time."

The number of people reporting that they go online on a typical day to surf for fun is up from 25 million people in November 2004 to 40 million in December 2005.

The act of surfing for fun stands only behind using e-mail (52%), using search engines (38%), and is almost as popular as reading news (31%).


  • The press release Web Surfing for Fun Becomes a Staple of Internet Life Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - February 16, 2006 - via Putting people first

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A study of older web users

Webcredible have conducted a usability test comparing eight older and eight younger users complete the same tasks on the web.

Some interesting results:
- The older users were more likely to blame themselves for any difficulties they encountered
- A majority of the older users missed critical information that required scrolling
- The older users were less likely to understand technical language
- The older users were more likely to click on elements which weren't links
- Many of the older users expressed a strong aversion to downloading from the internet
- The older users where more likely to use the available search functionality
- The older participants required over double the average time to complete a task
- The older users displayed a tendency to read all of the text appearing on a page before being willing to decide on their next course of action
- Most of the older participants reported anything less than 12-point type as being too small to read comfortably.


  • Improve Usability for Older Users Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - February 05, 2006 - via UsabilityNews

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Web users judge sites in the blink of an eye

A study has shown that users judge sites within the first twentieth of a second and that their decision has a lasting impact.

The lasting effect of first impressions is known to psychologists as the "halo effect". If you can snare people with an attractive design, they are more likely to rate the site more favourably. According to the researcher Gitte Lindgaard of Carleton University in Ottawa, this is because of "cognitive bias". People enjoy being right, so continuing to use a website that gave a good first impression helps to prove to them that they made a good initial decision.

The study is published in the journal Behaviour and Information Technology vol. 25.


  • The article Web users judge sites in the blink of an eye Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - January 18, 2006

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See also: Credibility, Trust and Privacy (6)  Visual design (16) 



Only experts use help

In usability tests Jensen Harris has observed that help in Microsoft Office is mostly used by experts and enthusiasts. While novices and intermediates click around and experiment, experts try to reason thing out and look them up in help.

Jensen suggests that reasons for the varied usage of help include:
- Only experts know the "magic" words to bring up what they're looking for
- Help doesn't help you become familiar with a piece of software - it's designed to troubleshoot, not to teach.
- The process of experimenting with the product is totally removed from opening and reading articles in the help window
- Experts use more of the powerful and involved features, and thus benefit from the help system more.


  • Help Is For Experts Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - December 17, 2005

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See also: Help (3) 



Designing pages listing links to content

According to Jared Spool, gallery pages - pages listing links to content pages - are the hardest working pages on a web site. They separate those users who find the content they are looking for from the users who don't.

Studies by UIE show that when gallery pages don't contain the information that users will need to make their choice, they have to resort to "pogosticking" - jumping back and forth between the gallery and the content pages hoping they'll eventually hit the content they desire.

UIE also noticed that users expect the most important items to always be listed first in the gallery. If the first few items aren't of interest, they often assume the rest will be even less interesting.


  • Galleries: The Hardest Working Page on Your Site Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - December 01, 2005

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See also: Persuasive design (14)  Sections (5)  Web page design (31)  Navigation (56) 



Usability is more important that aesthetics in the long run

The October 2005 newsletter from HFI is a discussion of how beauty can influence users' overall impression of a product and how to measure the product-emotion relationship.

The newsletter mentions a study by M. Hassenzahl where a MP3 application was evaluated with a variety of different visual designs. They study showed that:
- When participants only looked at the MP3 player, the overall rating of the product was based on its perceived beauty and anticipated usability
- When participants were allowed to use the player, the overall rating of the product was more influenced by participants' experience of using the product

The study suggests that the emotional aspects of a design are important in attracting customers in the first place. However, when the product is judged through usage over time, usability is what matters most.


  • Is Beauty the new usability attribute? Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - November 16, 2005

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See also: Emotional design (6)  Visual design (16)  Usability testing (45) 

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