Three Website Myths That Get in the Way of Great User Experiences

A site that is frictionless for the user can build trust, deepen engagement, and even drive brand awareness.

Users expect website design to meet their needs in every way possible, leaving no room for error or confusion. And when it doesn’t, they choose a different experience—someone else’s website.

Yet, despite placing more and more emphasis on the user as the focal point of website design, many companies still fall victim to a few pervasive myths that stand between users and the optimal experience.

Myth No. 1: The homepage is the front door

The homepage is often considered the digital equivalent of a storefront—or book cover—and is therefore given a tremendous amount of design attention. However, you can’t assume users come to your site on their own—and necessarily land on your homepage.

For example, while analyzing our clients’ site data from the past year, we discovered that only 30% of site landings are on the homepage. Product and content pages together accounted for 23%, and other pages accounted for 47% of site landings.

Chances are, your site isn’t much different. Which is why you should treat every page as if it’s the homepage. After all, search engines and social media sites often send users to specific pages on your site. If you want those users to stick around, you need to guide them deeper into your site content.

In short, you’ll need to make sure those pages are not a dead-end; otherwise, users will leave.

When I’m conducting diagnostic user testing, I often see participants come to a content or product page and then wonder where to go next. Designers should remember that shopping and learning are not necessarily linear processes. And businesses should consider introducing promos and content teasers to showcase related articles and products.

Myth No. 2: All users understand the hamburger menu

This wouldn’t be a website-myths article if I didn’t take a minute to beat up the hamburger menu—those three horizontal lines in the corner of some websites supposedly optimized for small screens. The hamburger remains a go-to, even though many users don’t recognize it for what it is! So why still use it?

Hamburger menu enthusiasts will claim that it’s a low-profile solution that makes it an ideal navigation approach for mobile, but I think it is a crutch that allows designers to skip editing all the navigation options. It’s the digital equivalent of quickly throwing everything into the closet before guests arrive.

In one of my recent quantitative navigation tests, the non-hamburger option performed 211% better than the hamburger menu. And in a usability test of affluent Boomers, the hamburger menu confused most participants. One participant didn’t know to use it because she thought it was the company’s logo!

Obviously, the hamburger menu works well for Millennials, but if they are not the target audience, it is far more helpful to use prioritized and (at least partially) exposed navigation to help users get where they need to go.

Myth No. 3: Search is the best way to navigate

Designing and building a great search experience takes time and effort. In diagnostic user testing, I’ve seen numerous participants grow frustrated with search. And if a person doesn’t quite know what they are looking for, search isn’t helpful at all.

The solution? A great filtering approach that showcases the contents of your site in the user’s language and lets the user quickly narrow them down to find what they are working for.

With the proliferation of bad search experiences (especially for e-commerce), a great search experience can be a competitive advantage. I’ve seen the implementation of a great search experience drive a 377% increase in conversions just by following Google-like patterns and removing a combo search-filter area that was prohibiting users from accessing content in a natural way.

Avoiding search pitfalls requires an honest evaluation of how important search is to the user. Will great filters suffice? If not, and search is truly required, it is imperative to build an experience that’s as frictionless as possible.

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It is easy to get caught up in these myths, but looking through data and conductive both quantitative and qualitative testing with users will help to overcome and diagnose the website issues that stand in the way of the best user experiences.

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