Recently, I read a few articles that the Nielsen Norman Group (NN/g), a computer user interface and user experience consulting firm, founded in 1998 by Jakob Nielsen, Donald Norman and Bruce Tognazzini, wrote on the usability of websites. What made these articles so interesting was that they focused on the usability issues of websites for teens, seniors, customers, etc. Looking at how this kind of issue affected different groups of individuals was not only intriguing, but it was also rather beneficial in that it opened my eyes towards a new approach in regards to my website.
The article that most stood out to me was one that Jakob Nielson, a User Advocate and principal of the Nielsen Norman Group which he co-founded with Dr. Donald A. Norman (former VP of research at Apple Computer), wrote, titled How Long Do Users Stay on Web Pages.
At the beginning of the article, Nielson states that users often leave Web pages in 10-20 seconds, but pages with a clear value proposition can hold people’s attention for much longer because visit-durations follow a negative Weibull distribution. Neilson defines the term Weibull as a reliability-engineering concept that’s used to analyze the time-to-failure for components. The model’s hazard function indicates the probability that a component will fail at time t, given that it has worked fine up until time t.
Neilson than goes on to summarize that the perennial question, how long will users stay on a Web page before leaving, has always had the same answer- not very long!
The article states that as users rush through Web pages, they only really have time to read a quarter of the text on the pages they actually visit. So, unless your writing is extraordinarily clear and focused, than little of what you say on your website will get through to customers.
However, while users are always in a hurry on the Web, the time they spend on individual page visits varies widely: sometimes people bounce away immediately, other times they linger for far longer than a minute. Given this, the average is not the most fruitful way of analyzing user behaviors. Users are human beings — their behaviors are highly variable and are not captured fully by a single number.
Earlier this year, I was tasked with working with the Literacy Council of Fort Bend County, a non-profit organization, and determining a way that they could increase their volunteer numbers based on changes to their website. I determined that due to a lack of interest and pages dedicated to volunteers, site visitors were not staying very long; therefore volunteers were quickly losing any interest they may have had. To correct this, I developed a presentation, which was given in front of their Board of Directors, in which I explained to them what was wrong and what changes they should make to their website in order to increase site traffic.
I believe that Neilson sums up my very thoughts when he states that the first 10 seconds of the page visit are critical for users’ decision to stay or leave. He goes on to mention that the probability of leaving is very high during these first few seconds because users are extremely skeptical, having suffered countless poorly designed Web pages in the past. People know that most Web pages are useless, and they behave accordingly to avoid wasting more time than absolutely necessary on bad pages.
If the Web page survives this first — extremely harsh — 10-second judgment, users will look around a bit. However, they’re still highly likely to leave during the subsequent 20 seconds of their visit. Only after people have stayed on a page for about 30 seconds does the curve become relatively flat. People continue to leave every second, but at a much slower rate than during the first 30 seconds.
So, if you can convince users to stay on your page for half a minute, there’s a fair chance that they’ll stay much longer — often 2 minutes or more, which is an eternity on the Web.