Avoid Overchoice on Your Website

An abundance of choice can be overwhelming. To help provide clear user pathways and increase engagement on your website, limit choice while still providing a healthy amount of options that will result in targeted actions.

As the online world develops, websites are expected to carry more and more functionality. We need them to perform their main duty (effectively sell product, generate phone calls, etc.), but also be a branding hub for the company. We also want to explain who we are, describe all our services, provide our history—the list goes on.

In our desire to present all the information that any user could ever want, it can be easy to lose the main goal of the website. Navigations become cluttered with more links to decreasingly important aspects of the site.

Seemingly worst of all are the subnavs with abundant choices and nondescript labels, or the abundance of similar services with huge grey areas of overlap. This leads to an important idea in the psychology of decision making: overchoice.

The human ability to manage choices is limited. Although a moderate amount of choice leads to positive affect and increased motivation (Cordova, D., & Lepper, M., 1996), we tend to have greater satisfaction when options are limited to a reasonable amount. And, if you’d like to compel users to perform a purchasing action, positive affect is a very powerful, and sometimes necessary, thing (Spies, K., Hesse, F., & Loesche, K., 1997).

In addition to breeding unhappiness and dissatisfaction, too many choices can also lead to choice apathy, the paralyzing lack of motivation to make any decision at all (Iyengar, S., & Leppar, M., 2000). When making big life decisions, this can be due to not knowing what choice is right. When it comes to smaller decisions, like deciding which link to click next, the reasoning can simply be due to laziness. It’s unclear which choice will lead me to the right content, and I really don’t care enough to search around for it— resulting in a bounce from the site.

Wireframing Choice
So how many choices are too many? Be careful in walking the line between:
a) providing enough choice so that the user can quickly narrow down where they’d like to go, and 
b) providing a paralysis-inducing array of options.

This is where wireframe planning is crucial.

In order to create a healthy amount of choice that will result in targeted actions, determine the primary pages on your site and build clear pathways to them during the planning phase of your website. Although nothing can take the place of professional integration with designers and user experience experts (as well as eCommerce know-how, if applicable), it is helpful to remember to first set the most important pages and pathways. After those are cemented, build the pieces of content that support these pages. Anything that does not immediately serve the goal of the site should be heavily de-emphasized and precautionary measures must be taken so that they do not distract the user.

This means taking a hard look at your navigation. Leave enough out of the primary navigation so that the obvious action expected from the user is easy to find. Subnavigation elements (if any) must be few and disparate enough so that there isn’t any confusion as to what lies behind those links. A quick glance should be all it takes the user to decide which direction they’d like to pursue. There should not be any haziness between the choices in the navigation; these must be obvious and clearly describe what lies behind. Try testing these labels with your primary user groups, or at least with individuals outside of your company.

Although there’s much more to website user experience than clear, intuitive navigation, it’s an important start. If you do it right, users won’t notice that they’re navigating at all. And, with proper planning around human behavior, your website stands a much better chance at compelling users to act.