While shopping online for music this morning, I was reminded of one of my many pet peeves of user experience. Since I’m in a mood to write, I thought I’d take the opportunity to interrupt my current series (Top Picks for fun and learning) and sneak in a post on a theme that I visited a while ago (with Go Global: Break down the barriers to online shopping) and which will pop up from time to time on this blog: big fat failures and major irritations people experience while using websites.
These fails and pet hates can’t be classed as faults or mistakes in the technical development of websites; they are user experience (UX) or usability problems which affect the successful use of the site, satisfaction and goodwill on the part of the visitor (also see my historic post: The importance of Usability). UX is a specialist area of web design and product design (also related to ergonomics), practiced by our sometime contributor Elizabeth Glynn, and most larger companies and web design firms are wise enough to have at least one UX expert on the staff.
Today’s pet hate is Lazy Linking. I use this to refer to any site that provides a link for more information or related content on its own or an external site, but the link doesn’t actually take you straight to the pertinent content: it either points to a larger category (e.g. an FAQ) or — worse and commonly — the homepage.
What lazy links do is give the website the veneer of being thorough and helpful or complying with a policy of customer service, but in reality it produces irritation on the part of the user. Here’s my example from this morning.
I visit the site (Play.com), find the item I want, put it in my shopping basket and start the checkout process. All, so far, is fine. I look to see what the delivery cost will be — the issue of hidden delivery charges is one for another day– and see this:
Excited by the prospect of free delivery, I click on the “find out more” link, expecting to be taken straight to the information about delivery. What I get instead is:
The information is available. I can read down through the list to find the delivery links (there are two of them) and then click through to find what I need:
When I find the correct page, I see that I have arrived on a page that has a stable url:
This means that the page is not written “on the fly” according to changing factors, which can be the case in some complex sites and which makes it technically impossible to go there directly from a standard link. It is a reliable address that can be reached from anywhere on the web. So why did the person responsible for writing the content on the page make me go to the homepage of the Help section rather than taking me that one step further to the delivery information?
Laziness. Links to specific pages involve more work in the life of a website:
- work to differentiate between the links throughout the site and write them in separately instead of doing a large-scale “batch process” to put the homepage (or similar) in wherever a more specific page should be
- work to update all of these differentiated links whenever urls change
Technically, there is no fault. But in terms of goodwill, the only thing standing between me and a smooth and enjoyable shopping experience is the fact that whoever wrote the links preferred to make life easy for him- or herself at the expense of the user.