The web evolves at a furious pace, and in reality, so do its users. Like all technology, there’s a relationship between the web and the people who use it so that one is constantly informing the other, and vice versa. As a web developer (and general computer geek) I’m always looking at the connection between changing trends in user experience and the design and development of websites.
With the web’s ability to quickly store huge amounts of data, trends in user interaction can be analyzed on a scale that we haven’t seen before. While it can be hard to generalize something as varied and ever-changing as the web, here are some key points that can be useful to keep in mind when designing or evaluating your website.
When visiting a website, the average user scrolls without thought or hesitation. Since it’s become a natural reflex, few people now open a word document and wonder how to get to the bottom of the page. You just scroll. Apple even removed the scroll bars from view back in 2011 because that kind of indicator was no longer necessary. Far from having a negative impact on user experience, few even noticed this change. They just scrolled.
While we know that “everybody scrolls,” we also know that you want your most important content visible the moment someone visits your site. This prime real estate – above the point that you would begin scrolling – is where you want your key message. When building your site, there’s an urge to try to cram everything not only above the fold, but on the homepage.
While the homepage gets a great deal of user attention and might be the best place to put your most important information, we also have to keep in mind that people don’t go to your site to read it. Which leads me to my next point.
The Nielsen Normal Group did a study on this very subject and found that 79% of users only scan the page and quickly interact, while only 16% of users actually read your carefully crafted 534 word marketing blurb. Making your content readily scan-able, concise, and directed can greatly increase the usability of your site, and gently nudge that user into becoming a customer.
When it comes to development and design, homepages often get the most time and attention. They are often special, truly unique pages, and are expected to be the storefront of your business. People imagine that the user comes to the homepage and is amazed by its perfection. However, in the past 10 years there’s been a remarkable drop in actual homepage views.
Websites are shallow in the sense that users don’t always go through layers in order to reach the page they’re looking for. Rather than visiting the homepage menu and navigating from there, many users go directly to a page from an external link, or through a google search for specific information.
Carousels are ineffective. With the idea of stuffing as much content on to the homepage as possible comes the carousel or slider. The problem with a carousel, aside from usability and accessibility, is that the content after the first slide is almost never seen.
People interact on a webpage in milliseconds, and will leave a page within an average of 7-15 seconds. With the high rate of scrolling and the purpose driven behaviour of users, carousels are almost never interacted with, and in general the user has already moved on before the second slide appears.
Mobile is now. Last year in Canada, mobile internet traffic beat out traffic from home computers for the first time. This year brought us “Mobilegeddon” when Google updated their search algorithms to give a boost to mobile friendly or responsive sites.
Even though responsive design was only created in 2011, it has become the standard in web design. If users are now visiting websites from their phones more often than from a computer, that’s a pretty strong incentive to make sure your site is responsive and can be viewed on various devices by adapting automatically.
While it’s important to plan functionality around the needs of the site’s shareholders, it can be helpful to keep usage trends for modern web browsing in mind. Understanding web usage is invaluable for creating an experience that will bring people to the site, convert them into clients, and keep them coming back for more.
And yes, I am aware only 45% of you made it this far. 😉
For those of you who did, here’s an infographic!