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Usability guru says surfers much less patient with websites

BBC News is reporting on the annual report into web surfer's habits by usability guru Dr. Jacob Nielsen.

Not surprisingly, Dr. Nielsen has reported that web users are becoming more impatient and are "more ruthless" when it comes to the web.

In the article, Dr. Nielsen says "most users ignore efforts to make them linger and are suspicious of promotions designed to hold their attention." Dr. Nielsen says most users are task driven and have arrived at a website to accomplish a specific task.

Furthermore, the method by which a user arrives at a specific page on a website is changing as well. According to Dr. Nielsen, in 2004, about 40 percent reached their final destination on a website by first arriving at the home page, then "drilled down" to the desired page, while 60 percent used a link that took them directly to the page. In 2008, the search engines ruled leaving only 25 percent of visitors arriving at their desired destination via a home page.

But Dr. Nielsen also mentions that search engines are not doing a perfect job either. "'When you watch people search we often find that people fail and do not get the results they were looking for,' he said."

Web users, including broadband users, are also getting more impatient and frustrated with extras, widgets and applications that are designed to make the website more friendly, but also slow the website down. "Such extras are only serving to make pages take longer to load, said Dr. Nielsen."

From the article:

"People want sites to get to the point, they have very little patience," he said.

"I do not think sites appreciate that yet," he added. "They still feel that their site is interesting and special and people will be happy about what they are throwing at them."

What does this all mean? It means very few people care about the images, flash or the weather widget on a website. It means a user will not be easily distracted and are probably on a website for a specific reason.

Structure is becoming the most important part of the design process, including the layout and typography. Correct and strategic code and layout is critical for search engine optimization and I think will become more important in the long term success of a website than visual design. Speed is a close second and ease of use is third. I think more and more people are going to search a website, so having a decent search function is paramount.

Styling and "website fashion" are becoming less important as these characteristics are often subjective and do nothing for the type of user who has most likely found her way to a website. Unconventional designs should be avoided and the designer should stick with the limited, conventional designs as not to confuse the already impatient user. This is not to say that an unattractive website is excusable, but spending weeks on the design and a day or two on content or functionality is backwards.

Pictures, flash or media (especially audio), are also becoming less important for the same reasons, as well as their effect on the speed of a website. Ajax can be a good thing if it loads the website faster, but server performance can visibly degrade the speed of a website that uses ajax, causing slow loads. Also, if not properly implemented, Ajax can cause loss of functionality if JavaScript is disabled.

I think design boils down to keeping it simple, fast, and functional. I think many graphic artists forget about the goal of a website, being wrapped up in the visual design, when in reality, few users will care in the end.