Note: This article was originally written in 2010 and published on a website I am not longer running. I am reposting it for the historical record and it has some good content. 🙂
Your Website is like a Where’s Waldo poster
Earlier this year I attended a landing page optimization webinar on user intent that was excellent. The presentation was by Gord Hotchkiss, President of Enquiro, a search engine marketing agency out of British Colombia. Mr. Hotchkiss started out by comparing our websites to a Where’s Waldo poster. Without intent, a purpose such as finding Waldo, users will see the picture as nothing more than a detailed blur. But with intent, the user can match promising areas of the poster and information scent with what they know they are looking for–a man in blue pants and a red-striped sweater.
Focused Intent: A Case Study
The Belagio hotel website provides an interesting case study in which an eye tracking comparison was made on people with different user intent. The first group of users had unfocused intent, no specific task was assigned. They were sent to the site and the eye tracking indicated their attention was scattered all over the page. The second group was given a specific task to register and book a room. The group with focused user intent, according to the eye tracking, concentrated their attention in the top and side navigation where they were most likely to find links for registering and booking room. This study shows that user intent determines how people use the site.
Web User Intent Guidelines
Mr. Hotchkiss has found through his research that people generally follow these three steps upon arriving at a Web site:
- Orientation Scan (elapsed time – 1 to 2 seconds). Web site visitors first quickly decide if they are at the page they expected to be. Does the site, the titles, the headlines, look and feel align with the user’s intent?
- Primary Paths (elapsed time – 2 to 10 seconds). Second, visitors begin examining the navigation and other, what he called, eye candy, or major calls to action. The user now begins to consider options and where those links will likely lead.
- Choice (elapsed time – less than 30 seconds). Finally, the user will make a selection: either an action on your site, or the back button. The information scent of the available choices, and how well that aligns with user intent will largely determine the choice. Visitors will, conscientiously or not, ask how rich is the information or experience on the other side of these links.
Finally, Mr. Hotchkiss discussed what he called intent clusters using Apple’s website to illustrate the concept. He said that 80% of visitors can generally be found to have one of about 3 major intents in mind when they visit a site. (2018 update: I guess I didn’t make note of what those three major intents are. Perhaps they are informational, navigational, and transactional. Those of the three major intent classifications used to describe users on search engines.) Your site, to be successful, must meet those intentions and intent clusters is a powerful way to communicate to visitors that your site is the right choice for them. An intent cluster generally consists of an image (which communicates much faster than text), surrounded by reinforcing text, and a call to action. You’ll notice the intent cluster for the iPod and for iTunes in the illustration to the right of Apple’s Web site.
Conclusion: Understanding User Intent Is Key in Optimizing Landing Pages
Your home page and other key landing pages will perform better when you understand user intent and design the site to meet those end user desires. Here are some other insightful take aways from Mr. Hotchkiss’s presentation:
- It is better to make assumptions about user intent based on research and data, than to ignore it and present your website visitors with a Where’s Waldo poster.
- 70% of people listening to the Webinar indicated that they are too busy with current work load to spend time optimizing landing pages. A sad trend common inside many organizations, but a real opportunities for those willing to take the time to understand user intent and optimize pages for it.
- Most sites need a higher number of landing pages that better align with user intent. Other options also include personalizing landing pages based on web analytics data such as geo-location, search engine keyword, etc.