You’ve identified a pain point and figured out a solution to eliminate or alleviate the pain. So you get to work building out the product, excited that you are creating the next big thing that will take the web by storm. You spend months building it perfectly to your spec and then launch it and…users hate it, or don’t understand it, or don’t get it. You feel discouraged and abandon the project, never realizing your dream of creating a successful product.
To avoid this, the first step is to admit that you are not your user. You know every detail about your product; your users will spend a few seconds before deciding to leave or to engage with your product. And since users scan, not read, your site, they may engage with your product in a way you didn’t intend. Assuming you know your users and how they will use your product can spell doom if you aren’t ready to test that theory and react if the findings are not what you expect. For example, if you build a sprocket search site but also wish to allow users to search for non-widgets like cogs and widgets as a secondary task, you may build the following page:
If you launch with this page, you will find that a good number of users will actually search for sprockets in the cogs search box. They will scan right to middle of page and see the search box in a similar place to google and bing and enter their search there. It doesn’t matter that you have 4 lines of text telling the user this is for cogs, not sprockets. Users scan; they don’t read. So your users will search for sprockets in the cogs section and get back no or invalid results, resulting in them leaving your site.
If you instead break up the page with an image before the Cog search, then users will not scan down to the secondary search area and will search for Sprockets in the Sprocket search in the header. To you as the creator, the first interface was perfectly clear; after all, you had 4 lines of text specifying the purpose of the secondary search box. But you are not your user.
As users scan, they are looking for familiar clues about what your product does and how it can help them accomplish their needs. The clues they get are based on their experiences with other sites. Jakob’s Law states that “users spend most of their time on other sites,” so if you diverge too radically from the standards users see on other websites, then they won’t be able to relate to or quickly understand your solution and will move on to the next website. Especially in the early days, you should keep your site as easy to understand for new users as possible. Later on, there are ways you can move past this to set new rules with your users, but don’t handicap yourself in the beginning.
- How Users Scan a Website
In the first releases of your product, keep the site layout consistent with internet standards and put a very clear focus on the main call to action that you want users to respond to. Differentiate on the product or service, not on an innovative landing page layout. This will help ensure that users understand what they are supposed to do at a glance and allow you to funnel users down the path you desire.