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Back Button To Bail You Out?

By Nardo Kuitert,
March 24, 2004

This article was published in our (discontinued) email newsletter "Does Your Website Suck...People In?
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We get a lot of good reactions on our slogan “Does your website suck ….. people in? Either people say: “Yes! My website SUCKS!”, or they become truly interested in the second part of the sentence, asking themselves: “Does my website pull people in ….. or push them away?”

An effective website is Easy to Find + Easy to Use. The first thing a website needs to do is pull people in. Then, a website needs to be obvious and sticky enough to allow people to find what they are looking for fast. This article will provide you with some suggestions on how to keep your visitors glued to your site.

Back button to bail you out?
Many websites don’t offer clear and consistent navigation on all of the inner pages. It may be that the main navigation may be hard to find, incomplete or not present at all. I have seen it happen a lot on order forms, driving directions and other what I call “secondary” pages. The lack of a clear “home” button may also prove frustrating.

In these cases the website seems to rely on the visitor’s back button to bail them out. Unfortunately usually the opposite happens: the visitors bail out. In my opinion a back button should only be used when going back to a different website that was accessed earlier. Whenever I have to use the back button within a site it means that there is too little natural flow to bring me back to my point of entry.

If you make you information architecture intuitive enough your visitor do not have to rely on the back button to find their way around your site. So how to improve your information architecture?

  • Plan: Many project teams dive into the “how” before thoroughly thinking through the “why”. By taking the time (and budget) for enough user profiling and task analysis you are able to see things from you target audience’s perspective.
  • Validate: You can validate your assumptions and the design decisions that were made base on those assumptions by performing heuristic usability evaluations or user testing. How obvious is the information architecture? This is the most effective when done by someone who is not too close to the design.
  • Track: Analyzing you visitors’ behavior can provide valuable insights in what parts of your website work. How much time do people spend on you site or individual pages? How many pages do they visit: just one, of do they stick around? Is my page more successful in retaining the visitor’s attention, and why?

After thoroughly revisiting and redesigning your website, your visitors will not have to rely on the back button anymore. Relevant an appealing content combined with transparent information architecture will prevent visitors from bailing out confused or frustrated. But just to be on the safe side I can highly recommend you add the following features to your site:

  • Site search – a large share of your visitors will want to search rather than to browse. A search feature also serves as a safety net should users not find what they are looking for fast enough.
  • Site map – helps visitors to get a 30,000 feet impression of your site. It allows people an alternative way to locate information.
  • Cookie crumb trail – text links at the top of the screen show you how to get from the current page back to the homepage, following a hierarchical navigation path. When the information architecture has been created in a logical manner the cookie crumb trail shows you how the information pages get into more and more detail.
  • “Back to top” – people do not mind scrolling down if the information is appealing enough. They do get very annoyed, however, if they have to scroll all the way back up again after reading the whole page. A “back to top” link, or main navigation text links at the bottom of the screen can prevent your visitors from frustration.
  • Contact information – What if people are enthusiastic about your products or services, but they cannot find your contact info to order them? Or if they cannot find what they are looking for, and are still willing to contact you about it – but cannot find a phone number or email address? All too often contact information is hidden within the site, or there is only a very elaborate form with several required input fields. Providing easy access to your phone number, fax number, email address and mailing address are essential if you want you visitors to ACT: contact you, buy from you or subscribe to your news letter.

With these features on you site you offer your visitors several fall back scenarios. You give them multiple ways to find what they are looking for, which will reduce the bailout rate. Especially if your visitors currently rely on the back button when they are lost. Ban the back button! Happy surfing.

Until next time.
Nardo Kuitert

Nardo Kuitert is a Website Optimizer with, a service provided by Ontario Website Optimization firm U-C WEBS ( Attract more qualified visitors, and turn more visitors into customers with full Website Optimization: Search Engine Optimization and Usability Walkthroughs.

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