Monday, 19 April 2010

Best headings & links - Nielsen

Following on from Jakob Nielsen's research highlighting the F-shape pattern in online reading, he tested how comprehensible truncated link text was, and from his findings made recommendations on what makes good link text.

[We] tested how well users understand the first 11 characters of a website's links and headlines... Users typically see about 2 words for most list items; they'll see a little more if the lead words are short, and only the first word if they're long. Of course, people don't see exactly 11 characters every time, but we picked this number to ensure uniformity across the sites we tested.

First 2 words: A signal for the scanning eye - article by Jakob Nielsen

Jakob is also a fan of the BBC's online editorial approach. In this article he praises the quality of BBC News headlines. His examples and analysis make this worth a quick read.

He says headlines should be:
  • short (because people don't read much online);
  • rich in information scent, clearly summarizing the target article;
  • front-loaded with the most important keywords (because users often scan only the beginning of list items);
  • understandable out of context (because headlines often appear without articles, as in search engine results); and
  • predictable, so users know whether they'll like the full article before they click (because people don't return to sites that promise more than they deliver).

World's best headlines: BBC News - article by Jakob Nielsen

Teen online behaviour

A couple of links to research on teenagers' online behaviour, their attitudes and preferences. Jakob Nielsen looked at usability in 2005, while the Newspaper Association of America Foundation regularly conducts studies of teen attitudes to news and news consumption.

Jakob Nielsen conducted a reasonably large study of website usability with teenagers, covering a range of website types, in both the US and Australia.

Many people think teens are technowizards who surf the Web with abandon. It's also commonly assumed that the best way to appeal to teens is to load up on heavy, glitzy, blinking graphics.

Our study refuted these stereotypes. Teenagers are not in fact superior Web geniuses who can use anything a site throws at them...

Teens' poor performance is caused by three factors: insufficient reading skills, less sophisticated research strategies, and a dramatically lower patience level.

Usability of websites for teenagers - article by Jakob Nielsen

The Newspaper Association of America Foundation's commissioned research makes for some interesting reading. I feel content managers of information-driven websites such as universities can learn a fair bit from these findings. In particular, "If It Catches My Eye: An Exploration of Online News Experiences of Teenagers" and "Youth Media DNA" caught my eye.

Teen user research reports - The Newspaper Association of America Foundation

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Nielsen's top 10 IA mistakes

Jakob Nielsen says that complexity, inconsistency, hidden options, and clumsy user interface mechanics prevent users from finding what they need. I think the University is still guilty of a few of these...

For me, mistakes 2, 5, 6, 8, 9 and 10 are the ones I come across while navigating the University's many sites. But it is getting better...

And of course, 4 - extreme polyhierarchy - is the one to be wary of whenever publishing with a content management system. It can be all too easy to use the technology to avoid difficult IA issues.

Top 10 information architecture mistakes - article by Jakob Nielsen

Saturday, 17 April 2010

A little testing is better than none

A really nice article in which Jakob Nielsen shows that even the tiniest amount of evidence (in this case, observing 2 users) vastly improves the probability of making correct design decisions.

...And, most important, we see how little users care about learning fancy Web techniques. People just want to get in, get their stuff done, and get out. They don't want to learn.

Guesses vs. data as basis for design recommendations - article by Jakob Nielsen

Friday, 16 April 2010

Deja click: Firefox plugin to record user testing sessions

This free plugin for the Firefox browser enables you to record surfing activity. You can also export the recordings as XML files, so it's possible to share recordings with other people or archive them.

I've only begun to play with this, but it seems to have great potential. The tutorials focus on using Dejaclick for other purposes, but I can see this as a great way to record website interactions on the cheap, or conduct remote usability testing.

Dejaclick by Alertsite - info, tutorials and support

Dejaclick Firefox plugin page - including user reviews

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

What your website visitors want - McGovern's survey technique

Gerry McGovern has long advocated his "Customer Carewords" survey approach to identifying the top tasks visitors want to undertake on your website. He also uses it to identify the key words and phrases that have most resonance with your readers.

Note that these carewords - the words and phrases that your audiences respond best to - are not the words they're likely to type into a search engine.

His recent white paper (with Kristin Zhivago) is a great introduction to his technique. And a sales pitch, obviously.

Using your customers’ desired actions to increase your sales - white paper by Gerry McGovern and Kristin Zhivago (PDF download)

Web customers care about tasks, not goals - article by Gerry McGovern

I've used the task survey technique several times in the past and been very pleased with the results. They provided very useful data to compliment webstats and usability testing. And of course, were very easy to collect. I used a bespoke survey a developer built for me, but surveymonkey or similar would be almost as good.

As well as numerous surveys conducted for University service departments in the delivery of their new websites, I've done a couple looking at sitewide issues.

University of Edinburgh staff top online tasks survey - PDFdownload available on Univeristy network only

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Horizontal attention leans left - Nielsen

A recent post from Jakob Nielsen on his eyetracking findings about left-to-right user attention.
Web users spend 69% of their time viewing the left half of the page and 30% viewing the right half. A conventional layout is thus more likely to make sites profitable. 

Horizontal attention leans left - article by Jakon Nielsen

These findings tie in with his earlier reports of "F-shape" reading patterns.

F-Shaped Pattern For Reading Web Content - article by Jakon Nielsen

eyetracking heatmaps illustrating the F-shape reading pattern

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Clarity is more important than persuasion

Gerry McGovern talks about web marketing, quoting a couple of interesting further reads. The idea that marketing on the web is different to other media is a common concept, but one that is so often forgotten.

I had heard the following phrase from customers many times: "This is just marketing. I don't have time for this." On the Web, people are developing banner ad blindness, but they are also developing marketing-speak and communication-spin blindness.

Web design: clarity is more important than persuasion - article by Gerry McGovern

In his article, Gerry references an article by an online market research company,, who offer lots of free articles and resources arising from their work.

Clarity trumps persuasion: How changing the first seven seconds of user experience drove a 201% gain -

Annotate electronic prototypes with Protonotes

Attendees on an Axure course last year were raving about Protonotes but I've only just got around to investigating.

If you are creating electronic prototypes with HTML or a prototyping tool like Axure, Protonotes allows contributors to add comments via sticky yellow post-its to your design. Looks like a really easy and useful way to collaborate in the prototying process. Quick and easy to set up and best of all, it's free.

Protonotes try out page

Free paper prototype templates

Loads of free PDF templates to download to speed up the paper prototype sketching process. Smashing Magazine has done a great job of pulling resources from all over the web into one place.

A great resource to have up your sleeve whenever you're trying out ideas with colleagues.

Free printable sketching, wireframing and note-taking PDF templates - Smashing Magazine

Notetaking tips for usability tests

A really nice article covering why you should always take notes in an accompanied surfing session, regardless of the technology you're using. The author introduces the idea of datalogging and why it's a better approach than plain old notetaking.

The article goes on to comment on a range of tools out there that can help you, and there's a free excel spreadsheet template to download should you wish to move on from pencil and paper.

I think the subtitle: "How I learned to stop wasting my time in usability tests" says it all...

Log usability tests like a pro - article by David Travis for

Usable & accessible PDFs - 10 tips

The bottom line with accessible PDFs is make sure the source material is accessible and use a professional PDF creator. Print-to-PDF engines don't seem to be up to the job.

Before converting to PDF:
  • Properly label headings and ensure they’re correctly nested
  • Assign alternative text to images
  • Follow best practice writing for the web

10 tips for creating usable and accessible PDFs - article by Deborah Edwards-Onoro

Personas - webcredible's guide

A nice introduction to personas by Webcredible, covering all the basics plus examples.
  • Why have personas?
  • What are personas?
  • What information should be in personas?
  • What do I do with personas?

Personas - the Webcredible guide

Users scroll but rarely read

A couple of useful pieces of research saying pretty much the same thing. While users are happy to scroll, they typically give very little attention to information below the fold.

Both the eye tracking and click analysis reports recommend ensuring critical information is presented at the top, employing scannable layouts and utilising the foot of the page.

Eye tracking research findings

Jakob Nielsen recently summarised an eye tracking study he conducted with 21 users accessing 541 different web pages. He summarises:

Web users spend 80% of their time looking at information above the page fold. Although users do scroll, they allocate only 20% of their attention below the fold.

The implications are clear: the material that's the most important for the users' goals or your business goals should be above the fold. Users do look below the fold, but not nearly as much as they look above the fold.

People will look very far down a page if (a) the layout encourages scanning, and (b) the initially viewable information makes them believe that it will be worth their time to scroll.

Finally, while placing the most important stuff on top, don't forget to put a nice morsel at the very bottom.

Scrolling and Attention - Eyetracking research summary by Jakob Nielsen

Click analysis research findings

Click Tale are a click analysis company and published their analysis of 80,000 randomly selected page views in 2007.
  • 76% of pages with scroll bars were scrolled to some extent. 22% of these were scrolled all the way to the bottom.
  • Page areas near the top of the page get about 17 times more exposure than the areas near the page bottom.
  • Page exposure patterns are remarkably similar across different page lengths.
  • Page exposure exhibits a small flat rise near the page bottom.

Scrolling research report part 1: Visibility and Scroll Reach -

Scrolling research report part 2: Visitor attention and web page exposure -