Website Design: Ten Areas Where You Can Learn From User Behaviour

Effective and usable web navigation and design are some of the key crucial components of your website communication success. Build clear, easy-to-navigate web pages and people will be happy, click a lot and come back for more. In this report, you will learn about ten typical online user behaviors that can immediately help you understand how and where to improve your own website design, to keep your readers engaged and interested in your content.

Photo credit: Jesper Noer and mashed up by Robin Good

Whether you like it or not, other people don’t see your website the same way you do.

You might think that you have a perfectly-intelligible website design, whereas readers on your site struggle to find the information they look for.

The funny thing is that you and I are not different from the people that visit our websites. In fact, when you and I stroll around the web, we do exactly the same: we go straight to content, we want all the info right away, we often don’t care about reading all the extra stuff surrounding the article, and so on.

That is why you can learn so much from user behavior. It helps you realize what is wrong about your site that you normally cannot see by yourself.

In this report you will find a list of some of the most typical user behaviours taking place while visiting a web site, and while many of these should come as no surprise to you, becoming aware of them may greatly help you to identify what items to give priority to when you have the extra time and resources to do some design and navigation improvements.

10 Unexpected Online User Behaviours To Look Out For

by Alistair Gray


When designing a website, there are key user behaviours that should be taken into account. But in order to take them into account, it helps to know them.

Below are 10 of the more interesting and less well-known user behaviours that regularly occur in user testing.

People Have Banner Blindness


People don’t notice banners.

It’s been found in eye tracking studies their gaze literally avoids settling on any area that looks like an advert instead it seems people actively try to avoid looking at them. This effect is called banner blindness.

Banner blindness affects most people, and has a startling side effect.

Useful areas of the site that are overly graphically designed (and end up looking like an advert) are ignored by users as though they were adverts.

A good way to avoid banner blindness is to ensure your site banners are mostly text, so that they look as much like useful site content as possible.

If you wish push adverts as much as possible, use text adverts, like those to the right hand side of Google search results, or in the TFL website.

People Develop Tunnel Vision


People who come to watch user testing for the first time are amazed at the tunnel vision participants develop when they are doing a task.

An example from a recent round of user testing – The link the participants required was placed in the right hand column, next to an article, but only two of eight participants found it.

If the link users are searching for is not named correctly or not placed where they expect then they will, surprisingly regularly, get stuck.

Participants simply don’t notice things on the screen unless it’s where they expected.

Unfortunately there’s no clear way to avoid this problem.

The best method to ensure you help users who’ve developed tunnel vision is to perform user testing on key tasks and see if they get stuck.

People Skip Your Homepage


Often when people land on a site, they’re arriving with a specific task in mind. This means their tunnel vision is already on, they won’t look at all the other things your site has to offer. They’ll be clicking deeper into the site in no time.

All the effort you spent lovingly crafting your homepage is lost.

People just want to get their task done. This cannot be helped, it’s just natural behaviour.

Take this behaviour into account whilst designing a website, you must ensure that the site’s purpose and content are clear on all pages.

People Need Answers


If the answer is not immediately apparent, many people will either give up, or look elsewhere (there’s plenty more sites in the sea).

In testing, participants regularly navigate to the right page, only to quickly conclude they’ve gone wrong and navigate away.

People Follow The “F” Pattern


While it’s recognised that people tend to look at websites in an “F” pattern, it’s not that simple.

People look all over the place when they first land on a page.

After an initial view, people pay more attention on the areas they feel will be most useful to them (usually the navigation across the top and down the left hand side, which encourages the “F” pattern to form).

People See But Don’t Watch


Something to bear in mind – Just because a person looked at something on a page, it doesn’t mean they’ve taken it in or that they understand what they’ve seen.

Often in eye tracking studies it has been shown people have looked at something, but they haven’t taken it in.

People Hate Scrolling


Any time people are asked, they say how much they hate scrolling.

However in real life it’s less of an issue than many claim, as users often scroll without even realizing they are doing it.

The key is to ensure people are aware that more page content is below the fold – don’t rely on the scroll bar on the side of the screen to be enough of a clue.

Some content on the page that starts above the fold should continue past it.

Avoid points on the page where the content looks to have ended early and the page seemingly cuts off.

People Don’t Read


When online, people read very differently than when they’re reading a book or magazine.

On the Internet people try not to read until they feel they’ve found what they are looking for, until they reach the content they need. Up to that point they scan, looking for keywords. What does this mean?

People don’t read introductory text, instruction text, navigation options… almost anything if they can avoid it. This must be taken into account during website design, and content creation.

There are several ways to try and reduce the problem:

  • Reduce the word count of each page (ideally by half)
  • Try to remove / minimise instruction text
  • Highlight keywords
  • Use lists / bullet points where possible
  • Break up text using clear sub-headings
  • Try to start each page / paragraph with the conclusion, so that users can decide whether to read the page / paragraph early
  • Use images instead of words where possible.

People Are Lazy


People don’t like having to learn new ways to do things.

Once users have found a way to do something, even if it’s not the best way, they’ll tend to do it that way over and over again. Usually they won’t bother to see if there’s a better way unless they find what they do particularly frustrating.

This should be remembered if you produce a new version of an existing system.

Either make sure people can still do the old methods, or be ready for annoyed existing users as they learn the new method.

People Want Directions


There’s an internet fallacy that “people are only willing to click through up to three levels in a website“. This is wrong.

The real rule is that “people are willing to click through more than three levels in a site as long as they feel they are making progress towards their goal“.

The disclaimer is key, if the site flows, if it’s clear where users must go next they will happily click through several levels.

People don’t like to feel lost.

If it’s unclear where to go (even on the first or second click) they will go elsewhere.

There’s nothing more effective at driving visitors away from a site than making a user click through levels where they must stop and think where to go next.

Unfortunately the only way to tell if your site suffers from this is through user tests or very careful attention to the site metrics.


Designing is hard enough as it is, taking into account your surprisingly erratic’ users makes it that much harder.

Fortunately taking unexpected user behaviour into account throughout the design process is a large part of the battle, it’s a significant step on the way to a good user experience.

Originally written by Alistair Gray for Webcredible, and first published on March 1st, 2010 as “10 Unexpected Online User Behaviours To Look Out For”.

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