Conclusions I have drawn about the real use of websites

About how we use websites

Summary of the text in this article:

(If you don’t want to read the whole article, just read the summary)

  • We scan pages, we don’t read them. We want to find information quickly, so we quickly browse through the text looking for what interests us.
  • We don’t make optimal choices, we settle. Most of the time, we select the first link that seems relevant, instead of analyzing all the options.
  • We don’t realize how things work, but we try to manage. We use technology without fully understanding how it works.

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Over all the years I have observed how people use the web, I realized the huge difference between how we believe people use websites and how they actually do it.

Unfortunately we build sites as if people analyze each page, carefully reading all the text, understanding how we organized the information and weighing options before choosing which link to click.

In fact, what most people do (if we’re lucky) is to quickly glance at each new page, scan some of the text and click on the first link that attracts their attention or vaguely resembles what they are looking for. There are almost always large parts of the page they don’t even notice.

1. Users don’t read web pages, they scan them.

Why do we scan pages?

  • We always have a mission to accomplish. Most of the time, using the Internet involves trying to get something very quickly. We behave like sharks: we must keep moving or we “die”. We don’t have time to read more than necessary.
  • We know we don’t have to read everything. On most pages, we are only interested in a fraction of the content. We look for the relevant pieces for our interests or tasks, the rest being irrelevant.
  • We’re good at it. It’s a basic skill: when we learn to read, we also learn to scan. We’ve been doing this our whole lives with newspapers, magazines, books or, for younger people, on Reddit, Tumblr or Facebook.

2. We don’t make optimal choices. We choose the first reasonable option.

Why don’t we search for the best choice?

  • Because we’re in a hurry. Optimization is difficult and time-consuming. Choosing the first reasonable option is more efficient.
  • The penalty for guessing wrong is small. Unlike fighting fires, the penalty for a wrong choice on a website is just a few clicks of the “Back” button.
  • Evaluating options often doesn’t improve chances. On poorly designed sites, the effort to make the best choice really doesn’t help much. The first guess is often just as good.
  • Guessing is more fun. It’s less work than evaluating options and if we guess correctly, it’s faster. It also introduces an element of chance, the pleasant possibility of encountering something surprising and good.

3. We don’t realize how things work. We manage as best as we can.

Very few people take the time to read instructions. Instead, we advance and manage as best we can, inventing our own vague stories about what we’re doing and why it works. And, in fact, that’s how we get our things done.

Why does this happen?

  • We don’t care how things work, as long as we can use them. It’s not about lack of intelligence, but lack of interest. Here is the translation of the text to English while maintaining the original formatting and structure:
  • People don’t like reading long articles. They prefer short, scannable content that gets straight to the point.
  • User convenience is more important than perfection. People want things that are easy to use and understand, even if they aren’t flawless.
  • It’s hard to get people’s attention. You have to design for scanning in order to attract and engage visitors.
  • Once we find something that works, we stick with it. If we find a method, even if it’s inefficient, we won’t seek a better one. We’ll only use a better method if we discover it by accident.

It is essential to understand these realities about users. Instead of getting frustrated that people don’t use the site as you intended, accept these behaviors and design sites that are useful in the way they use them. If your users will treat the site like an advertising board, then create excellent advertising boards.

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