in People

What Do Web Users Do?

Notes on What Do Web Users Do? An Empirical Analysis of Web Use (PDF) by Andy Cockburn and Bruce McKenzie, University of Canterbury, New Zealand. It was published in 2000, meaning the work was done earlier, but I still found the results useful.

They looked at the title, URL and time of each page visit, how often they visited each page, how long they spent at each page, the growth and con- tent of bookmark collections, as well as a variety of other aspects of user interaction with the web.

They only looked on 17 people, but gathered a lot of data on them. Netscape v4.x browsers.

Page views per person: The mean daily page visit count was approximately 42 pages for each user per day… …earlier studies… had approximate daily visit count means of fourteen (Catledge & Pitkow 1995) and twenty one (Tauscher & Greenberg 1997).

How often they revisited pages: Previous studies have shown that revisitation (navigating to a previously visited page) accounts for 58% and 61% of all page visits. Our study shows that page revisitation is now even more prevalent, accounting for 81% of page visits when calculated across all users.

This raises questions of how we can focus our sites, or individual pages, given how they are revisited, especially if a goal of the site is loyalty. Put another way, if users are loyal to certain pages, how should that affect the navigation?

Temporal aspects: The results show that browsing is rapidly interactive. Users often visit several pages within very short periods of time, implying that many (or most) pages are only displayed in the browser for a short period of time. Figure 3 shows that the most frequently occurring time gap between subsequent page visits was approximately one second, and that gaps of more than ten seconds were relatively rare.

Whereas Dillon discusses navigation as meaning in a context of info seeking, this result talks more about users having route knowledge, again with implications for navigation. A typical user comment: ‘I’ve never bookmarked the library’s search page. I keep forgetting because once I’m there I start my search rather than thinking to bookmark it. Anyway, I’ve got a good shortcut. First, I click `Home’ which takes me to the Department’s homepage, then I click on the link to the University’s homepage, and from there I click on `Departments’ and then `Libraries’. It takes quite a few clicks, but it doesn’t take too long.’

So when devising an interaction model, it’s good to consider the nature of the content and navigation as well as whether the users are new are repeat.

A community doesn’t exhibit homogeneous web use: These results show that there was a surprising lack of overlap in the pages visited by this fairly homogeneous community of users.

Conclusions: the authors offer now familiar recommendations, such as support revisitation, design pages to load quickly, shorten navigation paths, and minimize transient pages. Of course doing this is the real world is harder. Should all pages load quickly, or is it alright for ‘destination’ pages (with target content) to be larger? If we have a lot of information but must shorten navigation paths, should websites be smaller?

Thank you Andy and Bruce.