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How we use the web

When you browse the web, you work fast and make quick decisions. Often you scan pages rather than read them, and it's easy to become frustrated.

How websites make you feel

Surfing the web isn't a passive process – it's active. Using websites can make you feel emotion.

websites can be terrible. Sometimes they are hard to navigate, confusing, badly organised, badly written, rude, over designed and may not give you the information you want.

If a website makes you feel stupid, frustrated, let down or angry, you lose confidence, leave the site and don't return.

A website has to gain your trust and confidence because using the web is an emotional task. Brand and reputation can depend on making you feel confident and gaining your trust. If you have a positive experience, you're more likely to buy a product, book a ticket, register for a newsletter or post a comment.

How people use websites

It's useful to think about how you, and others, use websites. Few people enjoy looking at computer screens. They're grainy, they flicker and they make your eyes hurt. So, you develop behaviours to cope.

Speed

You work fast and make quick decisions, sometimes impatiently.

Scan

You don't read web pages – you scan. You glance at the stuff that catches your eye. You scan because you know you don't need to read everything and because you're good at it. You've been scanning newspapers and books for years and know how to do it.

Satisfice

Satisficing is choosing the first reasonable option available – not necessarily the best. You click the first link which indicates it might have the information you're looking for. You don't make a fully informed choice. It's a mix of satisfy and suffice.

As you get nearer to your target, you spend more time on a page, reading rather than scanning, and making more informed choices. This only happens when you feel you're getting close to the information you seek though. Until that point, it's all about speed, scanning and satisficing.

Eye tracking

Watch the following video of someone using the Squidoo website. The video shows how the user's eyes move, so you can see what the user looks at on the page and what they focus on.

The blue line shows the eye movement and the blue circle shows the current position. The circle gets bigger when a user focusses on part of the page for a few seconds.

Notice how quickly the eyes move around the page and how little the user reads before moving to another page.

Heat map

Here are three images of websites and where people look on them. Data from eye tracking studies has been used to produce heat maps. The hotter (red) areas show those parts of the page where users focussed most. The darker (grey) areas show parts of the page users did not look at.

Three websites with heat maps of where people look on them

Image source: DreamGrow

Notice the approximate F-shape. Users start at the top left corner, read across from left to right, orienting themselves. The further down the page users read, the more they scan.

Things to notice:

  • Some users focus on the navigation links in the first and second websites' respective menus
  • Users ignored banners
  • Users scan, or completely ignore, large sections of text
  • Users are drawn to headings breaking up sections of continuous text