November 17, 2020
In the U.S., we're all about freedom, unlimited upholstery options, ice cream flavors, and credit card debt. That's who we are. But it's not who we are when we design websites that garner clicks and form fills, drive engagement and conversions.
That brings us to Hicks Law, founded in 1952 by two psychologists, William Edmund Hick, the Brit, and Ray Hyman, the Yank. Little did they know that their tenet invented in digital's Paleolithic Era would eventually provide deep insights into how web visitors make decisions. In a nutshell, the time required to consider choices increases the time spent on a task and the likelihood that a visitor won't select anything (and leave the website).
Geek alert, here's the secret formula: RT = a + b log2 (n).
Follow Hicks for more clicks.
In the early days of the web, slow load times made us paranoid about the number of clicks it took to reach any given piece of content. The "rule" of thumb was not to exceed two clicks to find any critical content on the site. That satisfied Hicks Law because the page load time (a) extended the duration of the task.
Now, in 2020, when page loads can be nearly instantaneous, some website designers still have flashbacks to the two-click rule. The focus now should be on presenting a limited number of choices that won't explode our brains. Our pages load quickly, so users will tolerate more clicks as long as the path remains logical to their mission to find information.
Consider this made-up example of an online grocery store, starting on the home page. Our task is to find Italian Oregano:
Grocery Store Home Page
Italian Herbs >
Add to cart >
That's four clicks but compare that to the effort required to review all produce options on a page. Hicks Law says you'll find dry Oregano in the spice aisle.
Required time may expand based on the importance of completing a task. But not forever. How long would you spend finding your missing wallet or digging through articles, websites, and books to find the name for your baby? Sooner or later, you'll exceed the time required. You'll replace your wallet and its contents and name your kid Rufus after your high school track coach.
Sharpen up your website to save visitors' time
- Limit your main navigation to seven to nine choices that make it easy for users to identify their path in the site.
- Create categories – Split your consumer and physician options upfront, and then present a drill-down that's meaningful to each market
- Obscure complexity – sometimes, it's challenging to avoid longer tasks, like filling out financing forms. The solution is to break up the parts of a web form into different screens. For example, the first panel may ask for name, address, phone, while the second panel might review your current employment, and so on.
Use web analytics to detect UI (User Interface) problems
Watch for a high exit rate - the number of people who enter and exit from the same page – may indicate that the user can't find the next step, or the content doesn't match her expectations.
Low page views (LPV) – compared to your site's average – is a symptom of a user getting gunked up in your navigation.
Time per visit – the time spent on the site divided by the number of pages – is one indicator of a user's engagement. Again, check this metric with the site average of similar pages.
Keep in mind that different types of pages, such as blog posts and forms, may affect these metrics. You can take this to the next level with technologies like heat mapping and eye-tracking that show how users spend their time on each page element.