Apparently two key themes in Search this month are relevance and speed. Last week Bing announced an upgrade to its UK site1 to help people spend less time searching and more time doing. This is all very well, but it ignores for me an even more important issue, that of our experience on the websites it decides are relevant.
Many websites seem determined to catch our eye with opportunities to learn or discover something new. Articles are filled with hyperlinks to apparently important pages2. Sometimes these can enrich our understanding, but every time we click away we are potentially distracting ourselves from the task in hand.
First Impressions Count
Research from Microsoft in 20113 into over 2 billion dwell times on 200,000 web pages reached two conclusions:
- Many, many visits to web pages are abandoned within the first 10-20 seconds.
- The time users spend on a web page follows a negative Weibull distribution.
While the first of these was no surprise to me, the second needed explanation. In effect, their conclusion indicates that for 99% of web pages, the longer a user stays on the page, the less likely they are to leave.
The first 10 seconds of the page visit are critical for users’ decision to stay or leave. Indeed, the likelihood of not leaving the page doesn’t really flatten out until after the visit has lasted 30 seconds or more. There are a couple of very important implications from this…
- Every web page on your site has just a few seconds to make an impression, to persuade and convince your users to stay, that it is going to give them what they’re looking for, that it is worth their (increasingly short span of) attention.
- You can influence this not only through relevance and a clear proposition of what the page is about, but by thinking about how you are distracting users away from your page.
I’m trying to read, stop distracting me
This morning I went to my usual news site to get a recap of yesterday’s stage in The Tour de France. Above the fold, I could see nothing more than the headline of the article, but 21 links to other sections of the website, a search box, multiple offers to share or link to the article, and two ads. All this and I haven’t yet read a meaningful word about what I wanted to know.
It’s increasingly common to hear talk of ‘information overload’, and needing to ‘cut through the clutter’, when so many websites actually make this worse. If your site claims to offer its users valuable information, give them a fighting chance to actually read your content before you whisk them away. Don’t just optimise your search relevance with keywords, but optimise the experience your users are looking for.
- http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/articles/361817/20120711/microsoft-updates-bing-search-engine-uk-touch.htm. This page is an astonishingly crass case in point, with over a dozen links or ads in just 250 words of content…
- http://www.catsthatlooklikehitler.com/cgi-bin/seigbest.pl Aren’t you glad you didn’t click on this ‘apparently important’ hyperlink in the text…?
- http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?doid=1835449.1835513, as quoted and discussed in http://www.useit.com/alertbox/page-abandonment-time.html