Friday, February 17, 2006

To click, or not to click...

I was at a meeting yesterday where, among other things, the university's home page was discussed. I remember that the advice used to be that it was important browsers should be able to get to a sub-page within three clicks. If it took more than three clicks, many would give up and your beautifully crafted page would only be seen by the few users who could be bothered to work their way through your byzantine hierarchy of pages.

Search
Search,
originally uploaded by snaperture.
However, according to the web design person, the latest research on how people use the web suggests that this is no longer that important. She said that many people didn't even bother to read home pages and work their way through the links. What people look for now is a search box on the home page. The advice seems to be: display a search box in a prominent place on your home page and let people search for what they are looking for and then leap to it in a single bound!

Interesting! (Well I think it's interesting.) Is this an unintended Google effect? Have people got so used getting to where they want to go by typing keywords into Google that they think that it's the only way to navigate? What effect (if any) will this desire for instant links to the right place have on education? Hmm! Thinking aloud at the moment rather than having any real answers.

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P.S. I think this is one of the longest gaps I've had between blog entries. Sorry. The problem is I've had a fairly big post I wanted to make but never had the time to do it. (I still haven't had time... but maybe it will happen soon!) As a result, I've felt guilty about making quick posts like this one... so I didn't do any. In retrospect, this was daft. I'll try not to leave it so long between posts next time. On the upside, my previous post generated a surprisingly large number of comments. Thanks to everyone who contributed.

P.P.S. Sometime last weekend, I seem to have hit my 5000th visitor, which was nice. I wonder who it was? Site Meter only keeps the last 100 visitors, and the oldest one it lists was the 5040th visitor. Anyway, thank-you to everyone who visits and (I assume) reads my ramblings.

10 comments:

Mark Scholl said...

David,
I wrote about this very thing, but from a slightly different angle.

It is indeed true that homepages are being skipped more and more, and users are automatically penetrating deeping into sites, thanks to search engines.

I have more detail here:
http://www.engineblog.com/2006/01/who_cares_about.html

If a site is optimized well, a user can, in theory, get to any page on your site in a single click.

By the way, great blog. I forwarded a link to my friend, who has similar interests.

Ewan McIntosh said...

Searches from Google are what make people land on our pages most. But clicks are still important. On the MFLE we are aiming for 2 clicks to find information. A tall order, but it's working well. More clicks are required for more detail on a subject, by which time, in theory, you're hooked anyway by the amazing prose ;-)

Duncan__ said...

There must be a statistician in the house who can explain the consequences of making any page reachable within three clicks. Surely your "home" page would be a mass of hyperlinks?! Or your menus would be three feet long. The appeal of directories like Yahoo! (imho) is drilling down, level by level, discovering all sorts of goodies as you go. Or am I missing something?

john said...

The move to search seems to parallel the move from organising files on your computer in folders, to spotlight (in mac os X) type searching and I guess tagging in the online world.
folders were fine in the tiny hard drives of old, less so on the typical monsters of today.

David said...

Hello Mark

Thanks for the link to your post. I thought it was interesting and enjoyed some of your other posts too. I especially enjoyed your post on how Pontiac almost got it right! I suspect a number of educational uses are at the "almost, but not quite" level.

The FordDirect post was interesting as well. When I bought my last car, I was able to get a much better deal from my local dealer because I took along the printout of half a dozen cars available from English dealers that were significantly cheaper than the local guys were offering. A colleague recently bought a car on eBay, but I'd still rather do a test drive and do it face to face! I guess I'm just not a digital native. :-)

I hope your friend finds stuff of interest here.

David said...

Hello Ewan

LTScotland's search engine is pretty good. For example, searching for Podcasting brings up an MFLE page as the first result.

It's interesting that most people find you via Google - presumably jumping straight into the bit that interests them. If Mark (see first comment) is right, then it is more important to provide a clear structure in your site to allow people to find their way around once they get there - something that the MFLE seems to be doing OK with.

David said...

Duncan

The number of lnks is not that difficult to work out. For example, the University of Strathclyde home page has fourteen main links on it (not counting the news section, the bits that or common to all pages, or the quick links pop up etc.). If each of those fourteen pages had a further fourteen links, that would give you access to 196 pages with two clicks. If each of the 192 have another fourteen, then you could reach 2744 pages with three clicks. That's a lot of pages to play with!

The problem is not with the number of potential pages, but with creating a simple, intuative structure that will allow people to navigate sensibly to these pages. That's tricky! Clearly most users would prefer to Google straight to the relevant page rather than drill down through a menu of links.

David said...

John

Thanks for reminding me. As I was posting this, I had a vague notion that I'd done something like it before, but couldn't remember what. I remember now - it was the post on tag clouds where I went off on a tangent about desktop search engines. (And forgot to mention Spotlight! Silly me.)

I'm sold on tags. The sooner I can start applying them to email, documents, ...everything, the better as far as I'm concerned. I find it hard to be organised, and I suspect I don't tag my del.icio.us bookmarks as carefully or as consistently as I should, but it is so useful, I want to be able to do the same with all my stored information.

Miss Understood said...

David, Personally, I like to use a search engine if one is available. However, I still think the old 'received wisdom' of three clicks is about right.
I have to say that the Strathclyde Uiversity site leaves a lot to be desired - in part. The Library, for example. I can easily reach pages of information on how to do research, find out the names of the staff and the names of the staffs' pets, but can I find out how to renew my library books????? I spend about five minutes each time I try to do this and, because I have the memory of a goldfish, by the time I next do it, I have forgotten how I did it last time.

Strathclyde is not alone, however and is probably better than most. I spent a frustrating twenty minutes last night (when I should have been preparing my crit lesson) looking for the entrance requirements to Duncan of Jordanstone College's animation course (for my daughter, you understand, who is all of 13, so it was a REAL priority!) I went round in circles, literally, even landing on UCAS's site and I still didn't find what I was looking for. You have to have an English qualification for all Dundee Uni courses (so what's new?) but anything more than that remains a mystery.
A search engine would have solved the problem. It really is the case that some websites, although they may look good and be, quite literally 'flash', are difficult and frustrating to navigate.

Miss Understood said...

Re-reading my comment, I realise that a search engine would only have solved the problem if the information was on the site in the first place. However, it could save a lot of time looking for something that isn't there!