Understanding Web Users Decisions

How do web users make decisions on what link to click on or what page to browse to. The answer has to do with the consequences of your actions and a shortage of time.

Why do website users make the decisions they do? What makes them click on certain links & what is the thought process behind those decisions? When a user lands on a particular page, they are presented with various options, usually in the form of links. So, what makes them choose one over another?

The answer has to do with how different types of people make decisions in different types of situations. Many nieve web designers build sites presuming that users land on the homepage, read all the text, look at all the links & then make an informed decision on what link to click on or what page to go to next. This is how most people in high pressure jobs (where their decisions have great consequence) make decisions, eg. a businessman or politician.

The reality is quite different. To understand the decision-making process we must look at how people in high pressure situations make critical life or death decisions under pressure of time. People like airline pilots & firemen don’t make decisions in the conventional way. You would presume that a fireman arriving at the scene of a fire would weigh up all the options open to him, analyse each possible course of action, then decide on the action with least danger & most chance of success. Especially as the consequences of their actions can be the difference between life and death.

In fact, the truth is alot more shocking….
As the fireman is under alot of pressure and time is running out he must act quickly. He doesn’t have time to analyse all possible courses of action. Instead, he looks at the situation with focus on his goal (eg. rescue the people in the burning building), then, he scans the first possible solution that pops into his head for any potential pit-falls. If he finds one, he then quickly comes up with option 2 and scans that one.

The process is repeated until he finds a solution that has acceptable risk and a good chance of success. This is the course of action he takes even though a better option may be available if only he took the time to work it out. As the consequences of his decisions are so serious we would expect him to take his time, but time is not a resource available to him.

Web users on the other time are more similar to the pilot or fireman than to the politician or businessman. Although the almost always have time, they are impatient and always in a hurry. When presented with a page they quickly scan the page for what they are looking for and if they find something like a link that remotely resembles a related image or phrase they’ll click on it. regardless of weather its a close match or not.

This is basically increased risk taking and because the consequences of their actions are so small it doesn’t bother them that they’ve made a mistake & clicked a wrong link. They can simply hit the back button and start again.

So, like the fireman their actions are under pressure of time & they both are subject to the consequence of their actions. However web-users actions suffer little or no adverse consequence and are therefore fickle & restless in their browsing.

Excellent List of Articles on Web Design

Excellent list of articles from Inside CRM entitled 101 Five-Minute Fixes to Incrementally Improve Your Web Site. All the articles are organised in 6 topics:
Search Engine Optimization