Posted to Volacci's blog on February 14th, 2011

Is Your Website Inducing Amnesia?

Bourne Identity

"Who am I?" - Jason Bourne

Conversion optimization isn’t always an easy thing to do; you have to think like your users and look at your website from their perspective. The tricky part is that every user is a little bit different. That’s why some of the best conversion optimization tips are the ones that apply to all users and the ones that give examples of what not to do. So without further ado, I will introduce you to one of the biggest mistakes that your website could make: “web amnesia.”

“Web amnesia” is a term I came up with that refers to the condition of many users when they visit some home pages or landing pages. The symptoms are: disorientation, confusion, frustration, and anxiety. Users that have been correctly diagnosed report that the first thoughts going through their mind when visiting a website that induced their web amnesia are, “Where am I?”, “What is this place?”, and “How did I get here?”. Some users with a severe case of web amnesia have even reported asking themselves, “Who am I?”.

Always keep in mind that humans are three-dimensional beings (forward & backward, left & right, up & down). This makes the web a very strange place for a human to travel, because it has only one-dimension (forward & backward). So when a user arrives at your website - either via an ad or a link - you have to keep in mind that the only sense of spacial awareness the user has is, “I was back there and now I’m here.” Therefore, when a user visits your website, they arrived there due to a choice they made by clicking something. What they clicked on and where they clicked it sets their expectations of what comes next, and when what comes next (your page) does not successfully meet their basic expectations, you’ve infected them with web amnesia!

Think about it like this: have you ever walked through a building and opened a door only to find that the room inside was either far bigger or far smaller than you expected it to be? It’s startling isn’t it? The same is true with webpages. You might have even experienced a bit of momentary web amnesia yourself! Think of all the times you’ve clicked on a (seemingly) reliable link, excited of what was to come next, and suddenly you see this:

Error 404 Page Not Found

It's a frustrating experience, isn't it?

Here is another example of web amnesia that actually occurred: a friend of mine, we'll call him "Jake", was browsing a news site. On this site was an ad for "40% Off All Movies in Stock!". Jake loves movies and decided this sounded like a pretty good deal. So he clicked on the ad and he was shocked when it took him to the homepage for an online bookstore! "What is this? Where am I?" he was wondering and felt so frustrated and deceived that he actually left the site without looking for the 40% off movies. Now, to be fair, the online bookstore does sell movies and they did have a 40% off sale, but why did the ad take him to the homepage? Additionally, the ad only had a small website address in white at the bottom of the ad, but nowhere on the ad was there a logo for the bookstore. This only added to Jake's confusion when he arrived at the homepage, because he didn't even notice the link!

Another often-recurring source of web amnesia happens when users click a navigational link within a website, and the title and header of the page don't match the button they clicked on. Sometimes, I've even been to websites that have a navigational button taking me to a page that says, "(Enter your page text here.)". Or sometimes I've clicked on "Contact Us" only to find that there is no contact information, just a map or a quick quote - "Feel free to give us a call!". How irritating. These are just some examples of web amnesia; there are many other situations that lead to this condition and its varying degrees of severity.

So, REMEMBER: Web amnesia is a serious condition and is indicative that your website is not properly meeting your user’s expectations. It should go without saying that this corresponds to significantly lower conversion rates. To optimize your website’s conversion rate, and thereby cure your user’s web amnesia, make sure that you identify:

  • WHAT your website is
  • HOW you can help your users
  • WHY they are better off being at your site, and
  • WHO the ideal user is.

And while you’re at it, give your users a website experience they won’t soon forget.