Give top task centre stage – avoid right-side, left-side blindness

Where is the most valuable real estate on your web pages? Top centre.

Make sure your top tasks are given centre stage or at least the links that lead to completion of your top tasks. We just completed several projects where link placement and representation were hindering top task performance.

You’ve probably all heard of banner blindness (the tendency for people to ignore elements on the page that look like banners). Although this type of blindness has typically been associated with the wide banners near the top of the page, there are other types of blindness.

Right-side blindness is observed in almost all of our testing. People ignore and apparently do not process much of the content located on the right side of 3 and 4 column designs. Our findings are consistent with recent eye-tracking data from Jakob Nielsen that show only 5% of viewing time is allocated to the right-most 200 pixels on a 1024 pixel wide display. On wider displays we suspect it may be even less.

We often see web developers going to extremes to get people to notice information on the right side. Unfortunately, changes that seem like they should make the content more noticeable only serve to increase the blindness effect. Here, in order, is what you should do if you do not want people to see your right-side content.

What NOT to do:

  • Put a box around it
  • Add a colorful header
  • Fill the background with colour
  • Make it a graphic rather than text

The further down this list you proceed, the more you guarantee that people will be blind to your content.

Left-side blindness also frequently occurs. People expect major navigation links to be along the top or left-side of a page. However, once someone has started a task and is on the path to completion they expect the next links associated with their task to be located in the central content.

We’ve seen people completely miss critical, follow-on links that were put in the left-hand navigation rather than in the centre. In one case, a critical link was offered two ways:


  • a graphical link, on the left, visible without scrolling
  • a textual link, in the centre, but three page scrolls down


They both contained the exact same wording but the central link, further down the page, received 9 times as many clicks as the graphical one on the left because people would scan down the centre column, scrolling multiple pages until they found the link they wanted.

It all depends on peoples’ expectations as to what should be on the left and right sides. Often you have to test those expectations to really understand what will work best. In general, once people are on a task path, they expect the next steps to be found in the centre. People expect the left side or top will take them back to places they’ve been or to other content at the same level. Links on the right are typically perceived as related, but not relevant to the core task.

Solution: Measure and match people’s expectations.

Tips for the right-side: What if you’d like to use the right-side area to provide task-relevant content and links? We explored some options with a couple of clients not too long ago. Here are some of the things that helped people see right-side content and links:

  • Make the centre and right columns more equal in size
  • Remove any graphical elements from the right side, like boxes or coloured backgrounds
  • Have all links and content on the same background – preferably white
  • Keep the font size and link representation consistent
  • Place the search box in the top right


If you need help identifying your top tasks or ensuring the optimal task flow on your website give us a call (613) 271-3001 or email us.


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Quote of the month

“People who see a good return on investment for the time they spend on your website will reciprocate by spending more money and more effort in developing the relationship.”

Gord Hopkins, March 2010




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