Does your web site make users feel stupid?

June 14, 2011

One of the things that continues to surprise me when watching users test websites is how often users blame themselves when they can’t find things. Without doing any analysis, my guess from watching hundreds, if not thousands, of users is that less than 10% blame the website when it is difficult to use.

‘It’s my fault I can’t find anything’

On the face of it this would seem to be good news for websites with poor usability. If users don’t blame the site why should the site be improved? The reason is because the site does affect user behaviour.

Some recent, interesting research conducted by Harris Interactive for Tealeaf (a US analytics company) suggests that 41% of online adults who experience problems transacting would switch to a competitor or abandon a transaction entirely if they experienced an online transaction problem. So users’ behaviour is clearly affected by poor usability.

So why is this if they don’t blame the website? One reason could be the artificiality of testing in the lab. We know users often try and ‘please’ the moderator. But another important reason is that websites with poor usability make users feel ‘stupid’. Because users blame themselves, failures make them feel incompetent. How sensible can it be that users associate a website with being made to feel foolish? Will users stick with it or recommend it? Probably not.

The Harris survey also showed that the number of users switching to a competitor or abandoning a transaction, because of problems transacting on sites, is up 12% on 2007. This suggests that users’ tolerance with bad websites is on the wane.

So ensuring users have a good experience is even more important than ever ‘ making them feel stupid is a good way to send them off to your competitors.