cute fuzzy mouseWe are all pretty well-trained web users. Believe it or not, you have a clear idea of where most things are on a web site. Like a mouse in a maze, you can find your way to the login button, the copyright statement, the main menu of the site, and someplace where you can contact the owner of the site. No one ever sat you down and told you this, but by repetition and regular experience online, you’ve come to know it.

On the one hand, this is great. Your time online is made more efficient by a general, unspoken standard for placement of links to common functions on a web site.

On the other hand, this creates a conundrum for web designers and for you as a web site owner. You want your site to be easy to navigate for the lazy users who are used to finding their cheese in the same place every time, but you don’t want your site to look like every other site on the internet. What’s a creative, forward-thinking business owner to do?

I think it’s important to understand your users’ expectations. No matter how creative you are, the end goal of most organizations’ web sites is to communicate information to their customers, donors, or readers. When they expect to find information in one place and don’t see it there, a portion of them (maybe a large portion) are going to just give up. The lazy user says: I would have made a donation, but there wasn’t a link on the home page! or They must not have any events coming up — the home page just had their mission statement and an article from the paper.

The infographic below — giving the sample “Predictable Web Site” — illustrates the most common places people expect to find things as they use the web. When you think about even huge information-dense web sites like Amazon, CNN, or even your local public library, you’ll generally find these “rules” to be true.

predictable web site infographic

You may disagree — especially in the case of social media icons and buttons, which really haven’t found one “it’s-always-HERE” home yet — and if so, you’ll need to test your theory by putting it into action on your site. Watch your analytics to see if people are clicking on the things you expect or if they can’t seem to find it. See how long they spend on a page before clicking on a link or just leaving your site.

There are hundreds of articles online about the way users interact with pages — how big to make things, where to put them, what color things should be, etc. — and I’ll get to more of these issues in future posts.  In the meantime — do you disagree with any of my rules for lazy users? Have you moved things around and had fantastic results? Let me know, either on Jebraweb’s Facebook page or on Twitter, or send me an email.