I’ve done quite a bit of website usability testing with “ordinary” website users. By design, testing is done with people who are representative of a client’s audience and not the people who design the sites. Of course, that’s the point. The value of user testing is to gather unbiased feedback from people who don’t know the things that designers, marketers and business owners know about their own websites.
As valuable as that kind of research is, many web designers, marketers and business owners have never observed usability testing. Because if that, the findings are sometimes hard for them to accept. It’s understandable—as humans we don’t easily see things from other people’s perspectives. In this post I’m going to touch on three common usability testing findings that often surprise web designers and website owners.
1. Not everyone knows the logo is the home button
On most websites you can click the logo in the header of the site to go to the home page. You probably know that—most people do. This convention has been in place for many years and people have learned about it through experience or word of mouth (which is the only way to learn it, since website logos don’t have “home” labels).
But here’s the shocker for most web designers: not everyone knows this. During usability testing, at some point I usually ask people to go back to the home page after navigating away from it. That’s when I hear people say, “Hmm, I don’t see a home link.” Then they click the “back” button on the web browser as many times as it takes to finally get back home.
There’s a simple solution: include a “home” link or button in the main site navigation.
2. The home page is not always the start page
Designers and marketers spend a lot of time focused on the home page. And while that’s important, it’s critical to remember that many people will enter a site via a Google search which is likely to land them on an interior page rather than the home page. That’s like being dropped randomly in the middle of a city with no idea how to get downtown from where you are.
Beginning the UI design process with this idea in mind will help inform better site navigation. And it will diminish an over-emphasis on the home page design and content, and place that emphasis on sections and pages of a website where users are equally likely to start their journeys. When redesigning a site, it’s helpful to study the entrance pages in Google analytics to put this in perspective.
Here’s a related shocker: not everyone knows that Google ads in search results are ads—some people think they are organic search results. Ads often lead people to marketing landing pages. In some cases these landing pages have no way to navigate to the home page of the main site. In usability testing, I’ve seen this be very confusing to users. When designing a landing page, add a home button or some other obvious way to navigate to the main website home page. Help users do what they want (and not what you want) and they will reward you with positive feelings rather than frustration.
3. Hamburger icons can cause problems
Not everyone loves hamburger icons as much as web designers do. Sure, we all know that the hamburger icon reveals the site navigation, right? (Well actually no, not everyone does, but most people do.) Hamburger icons are ubiquitous on mobile websites and are increasingly used on desktop designs as well.
Yet, as with real burgers, not all hamburger icons are created equal. Adding the word “menu” under the icon helps with discoverability and reduces the time users need to understand its function. Adding a border around the icon making it look more like a button also helps.
On desktop designs, avoid using a hamburger icon in favor of exposing the navigation links. Even with a “menu” label, hamburgers are proven by research to make navigating a website more difficult (because the navigation is hidden). Whenever possible, limit the hamburger icon to mobile use and expose the navigation on desktop designs where screen real estate usually allows the needed space.
What will you find?
Try conducting usability testing on your website—in fact, do it on a regular basis. (If you need help, let me know.) It will be enlightening, I promise you. And most importantly it will help you ensure that you are providing good experiences for users. They will repay you with less frustration, more good feelings and better business outcomes.