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A Simple Usability Indicator: The Back Button

How many times have you clicked the back button when you were lost or confused on a web site?

A person's use of the Back Button can give you a very rudimentary indication of a web site's usability.  The back button is the Internet's version of an ejection seat.  It makes people feel safe. If users want to quickly leave a web site they can easily do so using the back button. Jakob Nielsen refers to the back button as "lifeline of the Web user and the second-most used navigation feature." It's a backup navigation feature for every single web site.   

Paying Attention to How People Use the Back Button
I pay particular attention to use of the back button if I'm testing web site navigation.  If the web site navigation is intuitive and easy to use users are less likely to click on the back button.  It is an automatic indication of usability.

A Simple "Back Button" Usability Study
Here is a simple usability study you can do with just about anyone.  Pick a site you are familiar with that has easy to use navigation.  Try to find another web site with poor navigation.  (They aren't that difficult to find, trust me.)  Sit a willing participant down in front of a computer and have them navigate through the two sites.  A friend or family member is an ideal choice.  Sit next to them and tell them what you are going to do.  Stress that it isn't a test and there aren't any right or wrong actions.  Participants give much better feedback when you put them at ease. Pay close attention to where their cursor goes on the computer screen.  It is really fascinating what you can learn just by watching people surf the web.

What can I do with the back button study?  Perhaps you are redesigning your small business or personal web site.  Using the above technique can help you refine or correct your navigation.  The technique can also help you identify other usability problems on the site. It is in your best interest to make your site as easy to use as possible.

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