When we don’t consider how users will engage with a page, it turns into a dead end where users are left to fend for themselves.
This can be solved by ensuring every page has an onward destination.
Find dead ends
Spotting a dead end requires research and observation. This can be through usability testing, remote screen recordings, your website’s analytics or your own desk research.
Desk research can quickly highlight areas of focus. Open each link within your navigation and footer. Does each page have a clear onward destination? Is it clear what action the user should be taking? If it’s not easy to identify at a glance, add it to your ‘dead end’ list ready to fix.
Within your site’s analytics, look out for pages with a high bounce or exit rate. This can imply the page is a dead end with no onward journey. Or it can imply the user has completed their goal and is satisfied. A pinch of salt and a manual review of URLs of interest will finalise your shortlist.
With usability testing, observe where users naturally navigate when completing a task. If they have to go back on their journey or use the homepage as an escape route, you may have found a dead end. Remote screen recordings are similar. Some tools highlight pages of frustration, helping you spot areas of focus.
Start with the goal
To begin addressing the dead end you’ve found, identify what the goal of the page is. Every page should have a user-serving interaction.
Interactions take one of two forms:
- Requesting information
This is when you ask for user input so you can deliver a personalised response. This could be an enquiry form or search functionality to find an item, for example.
- Guiding to a destination
Here you’re taking users to another location. This could be to a supporting landing page or to the start of a form.
You should be able to identify the page goal quickly. If you can’t, it may be that the page isn’t needed at all. If too many goals come to mind, you need to prioritise the content to help users.
Prioritise content and actions
Once you have your goals you need to present them within your page’s layout.
When forming a layout I use a sieve analogy to help order content. Each page section acts as a sieve, with each sieve having a finer and finer mesh as you make your way down. You want your sieves to capture as many users as possible at each stage. The first section should catch most users and provide an interaction point to support their goal. If it doesn’t catch them, the next section should as it serves a different need. And so on until no users reach the footer.
Start forming your layout as a bullet list or a series of sticky notes in a column. Make sure each bullet or note has a purpose and ideally something for users to interact with such as a link, button or form. Next, order your items by priority to form your page order. This method keeps the page focused, reduces page bloat and enables the smooth journey we’re after.
With an order set and actions mapped out, you can start removing those dead ends.
When setting page goals and ordering content, you may spot patterns. This isn’t unusual or bad – if anything it’s a good thing!
Patterns often emerge from content types. For example, you may notice:
- Hero panels contain the page goal
- Introductory content links to a supporting content piece
- Testimonials link to a third party source to read more
- Blog posts link to other blog posts or categories
In adding actions to your content you ensure there is a journey for your user to take and create a system to avoid dead ends in the future.