Examining User Expectations of the Location of Web Objects
Currently when constructing websites, designers usually rely on style guides and their own intuition to help determine where to position particular web objects on a web page. However, both style guides and intuition may not be a suitable guide for the placement of these objects. Style guides frequently are based on the book metaphor which is often inappropriate for the Web, whereas intuition is often little more than guessing where these items should be placed. While style guides and intuition do serve a purpose, what is necessary is to understand where users typically expect web objects to be located on a web page. Obviously, knowledge of where users anticipate to find these objects should aid in the effectiveness of the site. Thus, a basic question that is raised here is where do users typically expect certain web objects to be located on a web page?
This study sought to address this question by examining five of the most common types of web objects: 1) grouping of links that internally connect web pages within the same site, 2) grouping of links to web pages that are external to a website 3) "back to home" link, 4) internal search engine, and 5) advertisement banner(s).
In this study, 304 participants (121 males, 183 females) with one or more years of web experience (mean of three years) were examined. The average age of the participants was 20 (range of 18 to 63), with almost two years of college. Their primary use for the web is for educational purposes, followed closely by general surfing of the web.
Using a depiction of a browser window that contained eight horizontal and seven vertical grid squares on a white background, participants were asked to place cards representing each of these objects where they expected them to be located on a typical web page. The cards could be placed horizontally, vertically, or overlap, and could be centered between grid lines.
The cards were also of different sizes, depending upon which web object they represented. This was to approximate their actual size on a web page. Both the within and the external link web objects occupied three squares, the internal search engine object occupied two squares, and the rest of the objects occupied one square. The participants were given one card per web object, except for the advertisement web object, in which they were given two cards. This was done because commercial websites commonly have two or more advertisements banners per web page.
The tabulation was accomplished by simply counting the number of times participants selected each square for each web object. The results are presented below. Each shade of color represents the specific number of times each square was selected as an expected location for a particular web object. The darker the shade of blue, the greater the number of times a particular square was selected (see chart below).
Internal web page links
According to Figure 1, most participants expected the links to web pages within a website to be almost exclusively located on the upper left side of a web page. Only a relatively small number of participants expected these links to be located in other areas, such as the right side of a web page.
External website links
According to Figure 2, most participants expected a grouping of links leading to web pages that are external to a particular website to be located at the right side of a web page. However, a smaller but sizable number of participants expected them to be located at the lower left side of the page.
"Back to Home" link
According to Figure 3, most participants expected the "back to home" link to be located at the upper left side of a web page. This was generally anticipated since this area is the conventional region to place such a link. However, a large number of participants also expected it to be located at the bottom-center of the page.
Internal search engine
According to Figure 4, most participants expected a website's internal search engine to be generally centered at the upper half of a web page. A smaller number expected it to be located at the top-right or bottom-center side of a web page. This expectation is not too surprising in light of the fact that most search engines place their search field at the upper-center portion of their web page.
According to Figure 5, most participants expected advertisements to be centered at the top of a web page. A smaller number expected it to be located at the bottom-center of the page. However, what may be most interesting is knowing where individuals did not expect advertisements to be located. That is, it is possible that advertisements may be more effective if they are placed in an area where they are generally not anticipated. This is because individuals may tend to ignore areas where they believe advertisements are typically placed. Supporting this argument, Benway (1998) found that banners located at the top of a web page tended to be ignored more often than banners located lower down on the page.
This study examined where individuals expect certain web objects to be located on a typical web page. From the results of this experiment it is clear that users do have definable expectations concerning the location of these web objects. Moreover, the results suggest that these expectations are, in part, based on user experience. These results can be summarized as follows: 1) the internal web page links are generally expected to be located on the upper left side of the browser window, 2) the external web page links are general expected to be located on the right side or lower left side of the browser window, 3) the "back to home" link is generally expected to be located at the top-left corner and the bottom-center of the browser window, 4) the internal search engine is generally expected to be located at the top-center of the screen, and 5) advertisement banners are generally expected to be located at the top of the browser window. Figure 6 shows the combined location expectations for the five web objects.
Figure 6. Location for the web objects
There are several limitations to this study, however. First, even though the age range was fairly broad, the majority of the participants represented a fairly young population. Second, this study dealt with a broad range of web experience, from novices (six months of web experience) to experienced users (four or more years of web experience). Thus, a more extended study will examine if different age groups have dissimilar expectations for the location of these web objects, as well as examine differences in mental models between individuals with a great deal of web experience from those that have very little experience. The results of this examination will be published in the January 2001 issue of SURL's Usability News.
© Internet Technical Group
Last update: December 31, 2000