What are They Thinking?

Basically, users’ surfing the Web are no different than a customer browsing the isles at Macy’s, Target, WalMart or any other store, who’s ‘just looking.’ Visitors glance at a page, scan some of the text, and may either click on the first link that catches their interest or vaguely resembles the thing they’re looking for…or move on. — FACT: much of the page they won’t even look at unless enticed.

So what is they’re looking for? Well that depends, but it’s usually something of interest or something specific, but whatever they DO end up clicking on, must be ‘useful’ to keep them there; call it something promising, and when the think they’ve found it, they click in. However, if the link or page doesn’t meet the users’ expectations by delivering the goods, they more often that not ‘Back Button’ and continue with their Google search; especially if the site had not alternatives to consider.

Users Appreciate Quality and Credibility — If a page provides users with high-quality content, they are willing to compromise content for advertisements and the design of the site. This is the main reason poorly-designed websites with high-quality content fail to gain a lot of traffic over years. Content is more important than the design which supports it.

Users Don’t Read, They Scan — Analyzing a web-page, users search for some fixed points or anchors which would guide them through the content of the page.

Users Don’t Read, They Scan. Notice how ‘hot’ areas abrupt in the middle of sentences—typical for the scanning process.

Web Users are Impatient and Insist on Instant Gratification — Very simple principle: If a web-site is not able to meet a users’ expectations, then the designer has failed to accomplish their task appropriately and the company loses money. The higher is the cognitive load and the less intuitive is the navigation, the more willing are users to leave the web-site and search for alternatives.

Users Don’t Always Make the Optimal Choice — Users don’t search for the quickest way to find the information they’re looking for. Neither do they scan web-page in a linear fashion, going sequentially from one site section to another one. Instead users accept what appears to only ‘satisfy’ as ‘sufficient enough’ (they choose the first reasonable option) if nothing looks like what they seek. And as soon as they find a link that appears to be like it might lead to their goal, there is a very good chance they will immediately click on it before reading on. Optimizing is difficult at best, and it takes a long time to figure out what will ‘satisfy’ every user will execute a process much more efficiently.

Both Pictures show: sequential reading flow doesn’t work on the Web, while the Bottom Screenshot—allows you to see what is read on the left, and the image on the right the scan path of a user’s eyes.

Users Follow Their Intuition — In most cases users muddle through instead of reading the information a designer has provided. According to Steve Krug, the basic reason for that is that users don’t care. “If we find something that works, we stick to it. It doesn’t matter to us if we understand how things work, as long as we can use them. If your audience is going to act like you’re designing billboard, than design great billboards.”

Users Want to Control — Users want to be able to control their browser and rely on the consistent data presentation throughout the site. E.g. they don’t want new windows popping up unexpectedly and they want to be able to get back with a “Back”-button to the site they’ve been before: it’s always good practice to never open links in new browser windows.