First-Click Test to find and solve 3 common usability problems

Posted on September 8, 2012 by Lisa

A few months ago, our partner Gerry McGovern wrote about ‘the vital importance of the first-click’. He cited a study by Web Usability which found that customers who clicked the correct first step in the task were twice as likely to succeed at the task as those who missed that vital first-click.

Not long after that, we launched a first-click study with the Libraries team at a Canadian university, in honor of World Usability Day.  The study identified 3 first-click problems common to many web sites. In this article, we’ll share the problems and potential solutions.

First-click tests are fast and easy

First-click tests display an image of a web page and a task. The test-taker clicks on that part of the web page (link, graphic, menu, etc.) that they think will help them complete the task. And that’s it! That’s a first-click test. Participants are given a number of tasks to complete. Most tools for first-click testing provide ‘heat maps’ showing which parts of the web page were clicked for each task tested.

For this test, we used Optimal Workshop’s Chalkmark tool. Based on known top tasks and analysis of current web analytics, we created a set of tasks to target potential problems, and assigned a version of the home page image to be displayed with each task.

First-Click tests are not facilitated. Because there is no opportunity to clarify a task, the task wordings must be very precise, unambiguous, and easily-understood. A draft version of the study was pilot tested with library staff to help refine the tasks before a final version was created.  Because we can’t share the specific data images, due to university ethics requirements, we’ve created an anonymous study applying the tasks to similar University Library sites.

To get a full understanding of the usability issues and the experience of a first-click test, try a shortened version of the anonymous study before you read any further: First-click Demonstration Test [1].

We provided the library with custom invitation software which intercepted randomly selected visitors to the home page. If a visitor opted to participate, the testing page waited in the background until the visitor finished their task at the library site.

Over 200 people responded to the invitation and took the test. On average, it took participants about 4 minutes to perform ten tasks. We removed the results of participants who completed only one task to reduce the chance of spurious data.  The participants ended up fairly evenly split across undergraduate, graduate student, faculty or staff visitors.  This allowed us to compare results across groups and to filter out staff and faculty responses for important student-oriented tasks.

What does success look like?

Before we get to the problems that a first-click test can reveal, let’s examine a successful first-click task.  Successful results would show that at least 80% of participants clicked on the correct link.  A click-map image (see below for a simulated image) will show a large concentration of clicks on the target links (in this case, Campus Libraries or Hours) with little scatter and very few clicks on Help or Search.

Simulated click-map for a successful task shows most clicks on the correct links – clicks are represented as dots

Image of successful first-click test

While the home page image in the study was different than the image shown above, the task – to find out if a particular library would be open on Saturday – was the same.  About 65% of the participants correctly clicked on the prominent Hours link.  A further 20% approached the task from the alternative direction of choosing the Library from the Campus Libraries list first, and viewing the hours on the page for that library.

Usability problem 1:  Performance of a top task is negatively impacted by too-similar link labels.

When links are too similar, or so general that they can apply to many tasks, visitors often ‘satisfice’. They choose one that looks good enough, rather than continuing to look for the optimal solution.  In the following task to renew a book, we see that a relatively unimportant link is distracting many participants away from the correct top task link.

  • Over half of the participants correctly clicked on My Library Account to renew a book.
  • But more than 20% clicked on Borrow from the Library. Despite the active verb in the link label, the destination page isn’t about action – it lists the fines and rules for borrowing from the Libraries.

Simulated results: The too-similar Borrow from Libraries link attracts clicks away from the correct My Library Account link. 

results of incorrect clicks

Solution: Rename or remove the too-similar link. We recommended either moving the too-similarBorrow from the Libraries link from the home page to the My Library Account section, or clarifying the link label by renaming it Fines and privileges.

Usability problem 2:  People can’t find a top task link hidden on secondary landing pages.

Undergraduate students often need help with general research skills. We were able to use the Chalkmark participant selection feature to narrow the results to undergraduate students for this task. This task was selected because there is no direct link to research help on the Libraries home page. Including the task in the study would help the library team understand whether students knew which of the headings on the home page would lead them to the research help section on the site.

In the example below, the Research Help link is only available on the Services page thus correct clicks from this home page would be on the Services headingThis obviously wasn’t a natural fit for the students, since

  • Only 25% correctly clicked on the Services link.
  • Another 25% of students appear to have decided that no such category was available anywhere, and opted to get the help via Chat with a Librarian or Contact Us.
  • The rest of the clicks were almost random – including clicks on About the Library and other high-level links.

Simulated results:  Too few clicks on the correct Services heading link and many on Chat, Subject Guides and Search.

Incorrect clicks

Solution: Getting research help appears to be a poor fit with the Services category, perhaps becauseServices is a staff-oriented label.  The easiest solution is to bring the Research Help link out from under the Services heading onto the home page.

Usability problem 3: Some visitor groups have lower success rates than others.   

Finding journal articles is the top task for students and faculty at most university libraries. Previous usability testing conducted by Neo Insight with undergraduates at a Canadian university suggested that students would be more successful at finding articles with a discovery tool. Discovery tools, also known as federated search, search all sources together, finding books, articles, theses etc. Federated search is a new alternative to the databases approach to finding journal articles that has been in use for many years. Databases of journals are usually oriented to a specific topic areas and many faculty members have databases they prefer. In contrast, our research and other studies cited by John Kupersmith suggests that undergraduates often aren’t even familiar with the term ‘Database’. They are however, quite able to recognize and use a discovery tool via the search field.

When the results for the ‘Find an Article’ task were broken down by visitor group, it became clear that undergraduates were more likely to use the federated search field and conversely were less likely to select the incorrect Library catalogue search link. The catalogue would not be a successful approach because physical copies of the particular journal are not available in the library and thus are not listed in the catalogue. Online versions can only be found and read via the federated search field, Articles & Databases, or the E-Journals list.

  • 51% of the undergraduates correctly clicked in the federated search field to find the Germanic Studies article cited in the task and 11% incorrectly clicked Library catalogue search.
  • 33% of Faculty and staff members correctly clicked in the federated search field. 27% incorrectly clicked the Library catalogue search link.

Simulated Results: Click maps show more Undergraduates click in the federated search field than Staff and Faculty participants.

Search results

Solution: While the Libraries team has more work to do on encouraging use of the Federated Search (such as adding a hint into the search field), they also realized they need to target the Faculty and Staff members to encourage them to try the new Search capabilities that the undergraduate students are using with greater success.

Summary – First-click tests can identify and solve top task usability problems

Many sites suffer from top task usability problems that could be identified with First-click tests. If you have hints of problems in your analytics but aren’t sure of the cause, First-click tests can be implemented very quickly and easily. Depending on your traffic volumes, enough responses to identify the problem can be collected in a week or less. For lower-volume sites, it may take longer, particularly if you wish to analyze the results by visitor group.

If you don’t have much budget or time for testing, then measuring and improving your visitors’ first-click for their top tasks is a great place to start.

Online options for first-click testing include Chalkmark by Optimal Workshop and Clicktest by Usabilityhub. Contact us at Neo Insight at +1 866 232-6968 if you need any help with setting up tests or applying the learning from other testing to improve the usability of your site.

More on First Click Testing

Library Usability References

URLs in this post:

[1] First-click Demonstration Test:

[2] The vital importance of the first click:

[3] FirstClick Usability Testing:

[4] Chalkmark online screenshot testing software:

[5] clicktest – Usability Hub:

[6] Library Terms That Users Understand:

[7] Usability Test Results for a Discovery Tool in an Academic Library:

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