Findability is your key to success on the web

Posted on November 16, 2009 by Lisa

(CCI) projects over the past year that measured those factors that were really annoying customers on client websites or intranets. Invariably the two largest contributors to a negative experience are poor search results and confusing menus and links. People are having difficulty with the basics, difficulty finding their desired content.
Findability of content is a critical precursor to website usability. If people can’t find the content or application how can they make use of it? How can they accomplish their tasks?

Ignoring findability can be very costly. It prevents your website from acting as the self-service asset which it was intended to be. In fact it can become a liability in terms of lost sales, reduced use, and increased customer dissatisfaction. Poor findability wastes your visitors’ time, reduces task completion rates, lengthens task completion time and sometimes results in costly errors. Worse yet it can drive people away from your website, never to return.

If people have difficulty finding their desired content they will take the easiest path forward. If they have a choice, they will move on to a less frustrating website – usually only one or two clicks away. If there is no alternative website, they will use your website as little as possible and resort to other means, such as phone and personal contact, to accomplish their tasks. Obviously the latter strategies defeat the purpose of having a self-service website and can be very costly to your organization.

The following quotes are from some of our recent task performance testing projects. They provide a sense of some of the frustration many customers are experiencing.

“I’m just a small business person. I will do everything in my power not to use this website.”
“Going to a web page is the last option, when you can’t get hold of someone.”
“I waste a considerable amount of time and effort trying to locate something on <website name> and usually end up getting frustrated and calling the corporate office instead.”


We often find people going to great lengths to avoid or minimize their use of a website that makes it difficult for them to find their desired content, even in situations where they also believe the content to be very valuable. Many people will get help from others, bookmark the page, and never explore the full richness the website has to offer. They never find out about the great new content or added capabilities.

How would you, as a store owner, feel if you spent a lot of time and effort setting up displays at your front door, bringing in exciting new product displays, etc. only to find out that most of your customers are parachuting directly into one or two spots they’ve visited before, conducting their business and leaving? All your efforts at the front door or on aisle displays would be wasted. That is what bookmarks do.

When we told people in a recent project that they could not use their bookmarks to accomplish certain tasks they reacted as if we had chopped off one of their limbs, making comments such as:


“If I don’t bookmark it, I’ll never find it again.”
“I rummage around the <website name> and finally find what I need and then I bookmark it so I don’t have to stumble around again.”


Findability is key to your success on the web. When it is lacking, people quickly become frustrated and negative feelings develop. Here’s how one test participant expressed his frustration:


“I compare <intranet website> to taking every piece of information ever compiled by someone in some role that is then dumped into a large trash bin which we are to dig through until we find what we want.”


Another test participant was even more colourful in his response. After struggling through 8 or 9 tasks we asked “Would you have time for one more?” His response was “Are you asking me if I’m a masochist?” Not the type of response you want to hear about your customers’ experience.

You can measure the costs associated with having to support people who have difficulty finding content on your site but you may never know the costs and lost opportunities associated with people who came and never returned.

Don’t make assumptions about the ease of finding content on your website – test it and test it often, especially for the top tasks. If you need help uncovering aspects of your website that are preventing it from attaining its true potential we are here to help. Give us a call at 613 271-3001.

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