Are you frustrating your visitors?

by Martin Reed on 3 October 2007 in Articles

Keep it simple, stupid!

A visitor arrives at your website – great, huh? Well, yes – but if you are frustrating your visitors, they might as well never have arrived in the first place.

Web users are lazy

I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: Web users are lazy. If you don’t believe me, think of your own experiences. You’ll patiently wait in line at the supermarket for five minutes to be served, but if a webpage fails to load after a few seconds you simply go elsewhere. You’ll wait on hold to speak to someone on the telephone, but if you need to register in order to voice your opinions on a website, the chances are you will simply move along.

Laziness even extends to how much effort a visitor wants to invest in your site in order to meet their goals. If they want to reach your forum, they do not want to click though eight pages of your site to get to it. If they want to read an article you wrote a few weeks back, they don’t want to have to click through pages and pages of archives.

Design with the 3 click rule in mind

Every page of your site should be accessible from any other page on your website within three clicks of a mouse. Whenever you design the layout, navigation and structure of your site, you should always work to the ‘three click rule’.

If you already have an established site, it may be difficult to check that all sections of your site can be accessed within three clicks. In this case, run a random evaluation. Write down five destination pages, and try to access them from various random pages on your site. Count how many clicks it takes you. More than three? Get working on reducing those clicks and you will be making your site visitors happy. Happy visitors are far more likely to become happy members.

If certain sections of your site appear to receive a disproportionately low amount of traffic, consider whether you are making it difficult for your visitors to reach that destination. Are links to that section buried somewhere in your copy? Do visitors need to be on a certain page before they see the link to another section of your site?

Remember that not everyone who arrives at your site will land on your homepage. Design your site with this in mind, and make sure that regardless of the page a visitor lands on, they can get to any other page within three clicks.

If a visitor can navigate around your site easily, they are far more likely to become a member. Make things difficult or long-winded for that visitor and you can kiss them goodbye forever. Don’t make that mistake!

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Vyoma October 3, 2007 at 10:23 pm

Hmmm. I think I will need to analyze this one on my new site a bit.

On a ‘corollary’ note, not all of the pages in the site (like some really old thread) may need to come with in the 3-click test. But definitely, the ones that funnel the visitor into the site should pass this test.

dining room set October 4, 2007 at 4:43 pm

The three click rule is vital. If your home page is the one that you need to get and keep your visitors, the faster he gets there the better.

table pad October 5, 2007 at 2:56 pm

The Home Page is you. The sooner some one gets there and stays there, the better it is for you.

Chris October 5, 2007 at 7:13 pm

3 click rule is THE basis of all design… unless you’ve got tons and tons and tons of pages, stick to this.

Martin Reed - Blog Author October 6, 2007 at 1:35 pm

Vyoma – It can be difficult to fully asses your site to see if it complies with the ’3 click rule’. As long as you check that the areas of your site with the highest traffic comply with the rule, you should be fine.

dining room set – That is true, it’s easy to forget that not all visitors arrive at your homepage and they may seek it out to get more of an understanding of what your site is about.

table pad – It may not be necessary for people to visit your homepage, and you certainly don’t want them to stay there – you want them to check out the real content of your site, not just its entry page!

Chris – I would argue that even if you have hundreds of pages, users should be able to get to the content they are after within a few clicks.

Smiley October 6, 2007 at 8:09 pm

I agree with this rule 100% – I’ve even tried to cut it down a bit as even three clicks irritates me on other sites.

I have a 2-click system. People go from the main page to the chat page, there’s a statement about the rules & the age limit then a “click here to login” link below it.

Pretty simple for people to get into the chat; and only one click from the main page to get to the forums obviously.

The site doesn’t have much eye-candy now; but it’s very easy for someone new to the internet to navigate and user-friendly enough for lazy net-veterans to simply click & chat without getting bored waiting 30 seconds for different pages to load.

It’s my birthday today so I’m off for a curry with m’lady now. Another excellent post, Martin – keep it up!

Martin Reed - Blog Author October 8, 2007 at 11:03 pm

Smiley – A two-click rule is even better, but sometimes it is a little impractical. Having said that though, the easier you make it for a visitor to get to where they want to go on your site, the better.

Happy belated birthday – I hope you weren’t punished by that curry!

Smiley October 11, 2007 at 12:11 am

Well, it’s impractical at times; but instead of having a rules page BEFORE logging in, I have a “If you agree to our rules (linked), click here to login..”

I try making it as simple as possible. At times it’s difficult to get a balance between making it user-friendly for veterans, and user-friendly for complete new users to the internet.

And yes, the lamb madras and the 18 accompanying pints of bitter really took its toll the next day!

Martin Reed - Blog Author October 11, 2007 at 12:39 am

Smiley – You’re right; it all boils down to balance. You want to offer features and facilities for your veterans, but still keep it simple for your new members. I think you have just inspired me for a new blog post!

Smiley October 11, 2007 at 9:36 am

Glad to be of help, ha ha.

Jagad Guru Chris Butler das October 14, 2007 at 9:59 am

Thank you for your article – I agree 100%.
I am often very turned off by websites because of the amount of clicking I have to do.
It’s amazing how in “real life” I am a very patient person, but as soon as I go online, all my patience completely disappears :D.

Martin Reed - Blog Author October 18, 2007 at 4:09 pm

Jagad Guru Chris Butler das – Losing patience when we go online happens to us all; it’s exactly the reason why we need to make things as simple, as obvious, and as convenient as possible for our online visitors.

Peter November 3, 2007 at 6:47 pm

The bit about impatience really is important – and not only in site structure.
I read a study recently which found that people are much less likely to return to a site with a load time over 5 seconds – so you’re actively turning away visitors by having a host that is too slow or a poorly designed and slow loading site.

Martin Reed - Blog Author November 5, 2007 at 3:14 pm

Peter – You’re right, slow load times are simply not tolerated. You can prove this point by thinking of your own experiences. I am sure you can recall a few sites that you have visited but left because the site was so slow.

TigerTom December 4, 2007 at 12:52 am

It’s also a good idea to put whatever link you want people to click on in BIG letters, or a big image. Make it extremely obvious. People scan a page very quickly.

Martin Reed - Blog Author December 6, 2007 at 2:26 am

TigerTom – Thanks for the additional tip; it’s definitely a good idea to give prominence to sections of the site you want your visitors to visit.

Terrano April 20, 2008 at 2:49 am

(but if you need to register in order to voice your opinions on a website, the chances are you will simply move along.)

Congrats on the new look, very nice.

Any ideas please on how you can by pass the registration process on a phpbb2 board with out being spammed to death, I thought I would open one section up for the public and within 30 secs explicit images were posted by a spam bot I suspect as a guest.

Martin Reed - Blog Author April 21, 2008 at 2:16 pm

Terrano – Sometimes registration is a necessity. I wouldn’t recommend running a forum without a registration system in place. If you do, not only are you opening yourself up to more spam (as you have found out), you are also making it far easier for people to have their identities stolen. If a user name isn’t registered to an individual user, how will you know who you are talking to? Your members will struggle to build relationships if they don’t know who they are interacting with!

Eva White May 10, 2008 at 8:39 am

This article should be made mandatory reading for website designers, specially of government sites.

Martin Reed - Blog Author May 12, 2008 at 7:13 pm

Eva – Thanks for your kind comment. As for government websites – don’t even get me started!

Gallito October 31, 2008 at 6:28 pm

One other thing that bothers visitors is when you use non-ascii characters in your blog post that FF3 doesn’t recognize :) I would revise your first paragraph so that I don’t see lots of tm’s and such (looks like a problem with apostrophes).

Martin Reed - Blog Author November 17, 2008 at 8:42 pm

Gallito – Thanks for bringing that to my attention; there was an issue with the config file from when I updated my WordPress installation. Anyway, all should be fixed now ;)