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10 Unexpected Online User Behaviours to Look Out For

, 15 Jun 2010
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When designing a website, there are key user behaviours that should be taken into account. But in order to take them into account, it helps to know them. Below are 10 of the more interesting and less well-known user behaviours that regularly occur in user testing.

Introduction

When designing a website, there are key user behaviours that should be taken into account. But in order to take them into account, it helps to know them. Below are 10 of the more interesting and less well-known user behaviours that regularly occur in user testing.

People Have Banner Blindness

People don't notice banners. It's been found in eye tracking studies their gaze literally avoids settling on any area that looks like an advert instead it seems people actively try to avoid looking at them. This effect is called banner blindness.

Banner blindness affects most people, and has a startling side effect. Useful areas of the site that are overly graphically designed (and end up looking like an advert) are ignored by users as though they were adverts.

A good way to avoid banner blindness is to ensure your site banners are mostly text, so that they look as much like useful site content as possible. If you wish push adverts as much as possible, use text adverts, like those to the right hand side of Google search results, or in the TFL website.

Webcredible uses text heavy adverts.

People Develop Tunnel Vision

People who come to watch user testing for the first time are amazed at the tunnel vision participants develop when they are doing a task. An example from a recent round of user testing - The link the participants required was placed in the right hand column, next to an article, but only 2 of 8 participants found it.

If the link users are searching for is not named correctly or not placed where they expect then they will, surprisingly regularly, get stuck. Participants simply don't notice things on the screen unless it's where they expected.

Unfortunately there's no clear way to avoid this problem. The best method to ensure you help users who've developed tunnel vision is to perform user testing on key tasks and see if they get stuck.

People Won't Hang Around on your Homepage

Often when people land on a site, they're arriving with a specific task in mind. This means their tunnel vision is already on, they won't look at all the other things your site has to offer. They'll be clicking deeper into the site in no time. All the effort you spent lovingly crafting your homepage is lost. People just want to get their task done.

This cannot be helped, it's just natural behaviour. Take this behaviour into account whilst designing a website, you must ensure that the site's purpose and content are clear on all pages.

People Don't Have Patience

If the answer is not immediately apparent, many people will either give up, or look elsewhere (there's plenty more sites in the sea). In testing, participants regularly navigate to the right page, only to quickly conclude they've gone wrong and navigate away.

People's Gaze Trails are Manic

While it's recognised that people tend to look at websites in an 'F' pattern, it's not that simple.

People look all over the place when they first land on a page. After an initial view, people pay more attention on the areas they feel will be most useful to them (usually the navigation across the top and down the left hand side, which encourages the 'F' pattern to form).

People Don't Take In What They Look At

Something to bear in mind - Just because a person looked at something on a page, it doesn't mean they've taken it in or that they understand what they've seen. Often in eye tracking studies, it has been shown people have looked at something, but they haven't taken it in.

People are Happy to Scroll

Any time people are asked, they say how much they hate scrolling. However in real life, it's less of an issue than many claim, as users often scroll without even realizing they are doing it. The key is to ensure people are aware that more page content is below the fold - don't rely on the scroll bar on the side of the screen to be enough of a clue.

Some content on the page that starts above the fold should continue past it. Avoid points on the page where the content looks to have ended early and the page seemingly cuts off.

The Webcredible homepage ensures some content stretches past the fold.

People Don't Read

When online, people read very differently than when they're reading a book or magazine. On the Internet, people try not to read until they feel they're found what they are looking for, until they reach the content they need. Up to that point they scan, looking for keywords.

What does this mean? People don't read introductory text, instruction text, navigation options... almost anything if they can avoid it. This must be taken into account during website design, and content creation.

There are several ways to try and reduce the problem:

  • Reduce the word count of each page (ideally by half)
  • Try to remove/minimise instruction text
  • Highlight key words
  • Use lists/bullet points where possible
  • Break up text using clear sub-headings
  • Try to start each page/paragraph with the conclusion, so that users can decide whether to read the page/paragraph early
  • Use images instead of words where possible

People are Creatures of Habit

People don't like having to learn new ways to do things. Once users have found a way to do something, even if it's not the best way, they'll tend to do it that way over and over again. Usually they won't bother to see if there's a better way unless they find what they do particularly frustrating.

This should be remembered if you produce a new version of an existing system. Either make sure people can still do the old methods, or be ready for annoyed existing users as they learn the new method.

People are Happy to Click Through More Than 3 Levels

There's an internet fallacy that "people are only willing to click through up to 3 levels in a website". This is wrong. The real rule is that "people are willing to click through more than 3 levels in a site as long as they feel they are making progress towards their goal". The disclaimer is key, if the site flows, if it's clear where users must go next they will happily click through several levels. People don't like to feel lost. If it's unclear where to go (even on the 1st or 2nd click), they will go elsewhere.

There's nothing more effective at driving visitors away from a site than making a user click through levels where they must stop and think where to go next. Unfortunately the only way to tell if your site suffers from this is through user tests or very careful attention to the site metrics.

Conclusion

Designing is hard enough as it is, taking into account your surprisingly erratic users makes it that much harder. Fortunately taking unexpected user behaviour into account throughout the design process is a large part of the battle, it's a significant step on the way to a good user experience.

License

This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)

About the Author

Trenton Moss
Web Developer
United Kingdom United Kingdom
Trenton Moss is crazy about usability and accessibility - so crazy that he founded Webcredible, an industry leading user experience consultancy, to help make the Internet a better place for everyone. He's very good at information architecture and interaction design.

Comments and Discussions

 
GeneralOh yes!! [modified] PinmemberLastZolex16-Jun-10 23:07 
QuestionWhat an excelent article! PingroupStephan Johnson16-Jun-10 9:37 
GeneralGreat article PinmemberJitendra Zaa16-Jun-10 0:34 
GeneralInternal vs external scrolling Pinmembersupercat915-Jun-10 7:35 

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