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How People Really Browse

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peter van dijck

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User since: 22 Oct 1999

Articles written: 23

How do people browse? When we design interfaces, we often build really efficient ways to accomplish user goals. But why do our users not use them then?

People pick the first navigation choice that seems reasonable to them, not the best one.

We already knew people don't read webpages, they scan them. But they don't look at the navigation either!

They don't examine the page to look at all possible solutions, and then pick the best one. They don't even consider more than 1 solution and weigh them against each other. They just scan the page until they happen upon something that seems related to what they want and click on it.

Link scent.

Link scent is the idea that a link should give a really good idea of where it's going, by the description, what's shown around it, and so on.

The idea is people don't really mind following lots of links, they mind links that are not clear and don't deliver what they promise (or seemed to promise).

People stick with what they know.

Once someone has found a way to find something, and they want to find it again, they'll use that same way. Even if there are better ways to find it.

Example: you would be surprised by how many people actually type URL's in the search bar of YAHOO, and then click on the result to go the website. Again and again! I saw my mom do this, and I was kind of surprised. So I talked to some people, and checked my server logs, and there it was. It turns out a lot of people do that.

Another example: have you ever gone to a website because you knew there was a link to another website that you wanted to go to on it? Think about it.

Popup windows.

Popups that offer no user control (except closing the window) can expect to be closed. Popups under user control (e.g. click to popup) can be handy sometimes. Popups to attract attention to an important feature / advert are bad, since lots of users close it before anything can load in the popup window.


Even though you should always be aware of what part of your content loads within the viewable area of a browser, I think scrolling isn't bad. I've had users tell me they never scrolled and hated it, while meanwhile happily scrolling away! It's having to scroll back and forth (up and down) or having to scroll to locate the content you are looking for that is really annoying. Scrolling through a story you're reading is pretty painless.
Peter Van Dijck is an Information Architect with an interest in localization, accessibility, content management systems and metadata.
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