Web Site User Experience Anatomy

Guest Blogger Craig Tomlin
Guest Blogger Craig Tomlin

GUEST POST: This is a guest post by Craig Tomlin

Just like human anatomy, the anatomy of a web site is composed of different user experience parts that must all work together seamlessly.  Optimizing the user experience of each part however is problematic: Where do you start?  How much user experience testing and adjusting should you do on each of your page types?  What’s critical, important or just a nice to have in terms of spending your limited user experience testing resources?

Over the past 13 or so years I’ve conduct user experience testing and optimization on hundreds of large and small web sites.  During this time, I’ve noted a pattern to the user experience of typical web site pages.  There seems to me to be what I call a “user experience page weight” and a resulting “user experience testing weight” that are fairly consistent across web sites.

In my opinion, these user experience anatomy points of a web site can be weighted, and that weighting used to help a web site owner determine what user experience importance to place on each page type.  This weighting can also help determine how much user experience testing resources should be applied to each page.

Following is my overview of an average web site user experience page weight, and user experience testing needs.

Of course, no two web sites are exactly the same, thus your web site may or may not have the same weightings as I’m indicating here.  But you can use my criteria and weights as a starting point, and adjust your web site user experience weighting to fit your site.  This provides you the benefit of having a better comprehension of the user experience needs by page type, and how much resources to spend testing and optimizing each page type.

A Few Definitions first:

User Experience Page Weight – I define this as a percentage of your total web site experience cognitive load.  Total web site experience is the average amount of cognitive load your web site visitor will typically expend on your web site during typical critical tasks.

Some pages, for example the home page and products pages, may typically experience a higher cognitive load than other pages, as your web site visitors try to determine if your site should be trusted, and if you provide the products or services the visitor is trying to find.

Many years of usability testing on large and small sites have enabled me to average a “typical” UX Page Weight, which I’ll define specifically for each page type below.  However, your web site may not have the same UX Page Weight as I am providing here – your own usability testing on your own site should be your guide.

User Experience Testing – I define this as a percentage of the resources you should expend in conducting usability testing and related user experience research (clicktrack analysis, eye-tracking, etc.) when evaluating optimizations of the user experience for that page.

It’s a rare firm that has enough UX resources to continually test and optimize all web site pages at the same time, most of us have to spread limited resources around.  This metric is my average for each page gained from years of usability testing observations of multiple kinds of web sites.  Your web site might have different UX testing weights.

User experience anatomy of a typical web site, with UX page and testing weights.
User experience anatomy of a typical web site, with UX page and testing weights.

1.Home Page – For a successful web site user experience, it’s critical to garner your web site visitors’ initial trust plus explain in about 3 seconds;  Who you are, What you provide, Why your special.

From a user experience standpoint, consider your web site’s home page as being your store front.  According to Jakob Nielsen’s Power of 10 Time Scales article, at the most you have only a few seconds to influence your visitors that your web site is worthy of staying for a visit, it could be far less than that.

Your home page is typically where most users will begin evaluating you, but it’s not always the first point.  That’s because search engines will often provide entry points deeper in the site to which many of your web site visitors may be connected.  In addition, as often happens with online direct marketing activities, many firms use Landing Pages as the first entry point, linking web site visitors from various advertisements to a unique page that is not their home page.

UX Page Weight : 30% – On average, your home page represents roughly 30% of the total weight of your web site visitor’s user experience.  That’s because the home page is the primary mechanism the majority of your web site visitors use to evaluate your site, and determine whether they will stay, or leave immediately.

However, a good search engine optimized web site will have deep links from search engine results to interior pages, meaning many of your web site visitors will not start their visit on your home page, but somewhere else.  That’s why your home page does not have a higher user experience weight.

UX Testing: 20% – I believe you should spend about 20% of your total testing resources on the home page.  I believe a good rule of thumb is to continually test new versions of descriptions of who you are, what you provide and why you’re special.  However, because not all your web site visitors will start their visit on your home page (because of deep links from search engine results) it is not wise to spend the bulk of your test resources there, you must spread your user experience testing around.

2. Product Pages – To enable an effective user experience on your web site your visitors must be able to access and comprehend critical product information.  Your product page must provide clear copy, and if appropriate clear images.

The four critical points to test here are relative to the shopping experience, including information display, amount and type of specifications provided, description and persuasive use of benefits the products provide and the all important pricing displays.

Your product pages must provide a simple and easy to use sorting and filtering mechanism if you have many products, detailed product information including specifications, colors, sizes, availability and any other pertinent information about the product.  Your product pages should clearly state the benefit of why your web site visitors will enjoy using the product, and of course it must contain the all important pricing information.

UX Page Weight: 30% – Product pages are essential to providing the details and persuasive elements necessary for your web site visitors to quit shopping, because they found what they want, and start the action of ordering or purchasing.

UX Testing: 20% – It’s vital to remember that the product pages will handle the bulk of your persuasive user experience.  The purpose of a product page is to help your web site visitor find the products or services they are searching for as quickly as possible, and to display helpful and persuasive content about those products – to stimulate the all-important action phase (ordering or buying the product).

To that end, testing of product pages should be conducted on an even basis with the home page.  Testing should include search, filtering and sorting tools along with persuasive content variations.  However, the product pages, important as they are, are not the most critical in terms of user experience testing.  That is reserved for the Order or Buy Flow pages.  Thus product page user experience testing should not take the majority of your UX testing resources.

3. Order or Buy Flow Pages – In the eCommerce space an order flow or buy flow is the most crucial of all pages – it literally is the page that separates the shoppers from the buyers.  However, from a user experience page weight perspective this page should not occupy that much cognitive load.  Done correctly, the order or buy flow pages should be brain-dead simple to use, requiring almost no thought to interact with.

Critical elements of the Order Flow user experience include labels, input fields, help content and feedback mechanisms.

UX Page Weight: 10% – These pages have a modest user experience page weight of about 10%.  That’s because these pages should require very little cognitive load, if done correctly. Another reason for the lower user experience page weight is because by the time your web site visitors have decided to visit these pages, they have already committed to the action of ordering or buying your products and services.  It’s highly likely that even with a sub-optimal user experience they will still try their best to muddle through with an order.

UX Testing: 40% – Let me put it this way, the only thing separating you from sales is your order or buy flow pages.  Making even modest improvements in the user experience on these pages means significant increases in your conversion rates.  This means you should spend about 40% of your user experience testing on these critical pages.

In theory, your order conversion rate (number of orders or sales completed vs number of order or sales tasks started) should be near 100%.  I know of no web site that comes close to that rate.  More than likely, yours is far less than that rate too.

Losing potential paying customers because of a bad order flow experience is a major reason why you should be devoting the bulk of your user experience testing efforts on these pages.  Testing should include everything, especially buttons, labels, input fields and tabbing, help / error content and display mechanisms, and feedback (form action feedback functions as well as feedback from your web site visitors).

4. About Us Page – For all but the major Brands, the About Us page must provide vital persuasion content including; who you are, why you should be trusted, why you’re better than your competitors, background, testimonials and quality icons, and if appropriate locations.

The noteworthy user experience elements on the About Us page are your background, locations (if you have physical stores or offices), content relative to the quality of your company and your site (including quality icons that verify security and privacy) and trust.

The About us page has one function:  it must sway your web site visitors to decide to trust you, and try your product or service.  Succeed, and they will continue with an order, fail, and they will leave your site, never to return.

UX Page Weight: 15% – Because of its significance, the About Us page carries a fair amount of cognitive load, typically about 15% of the total web site load.  However, for major well-known Brands and for web sites that have an existing customer base that repeats visits, this page will become far less significant.

UX Testing: 5% – On average, a firm should spend about 5% of total user experience testing resources on the About Us pages.  This may sound odd, considering the importance for new web site visitors the page has.  However, testing the content, graphics, quality icons and related trust elements is far less critical for well-established Brands.

Unknown Brands or those with quality issues may need to devote a higher percentage of user experience test resources here.

4. Contact Us Page – The concept for this page must be; “Many doors, one destination.”  No matter how people like to interact with you (phone, email, form, in person, chat) your contact page must easily and quickly provide them with the contact method they prefer – and must be brain-dead simple to use.

Typically the user experience elements on this page to test are the placement, labeling and any function needed to provide contact information.  This information must be extremely simple to find, especially for companies that have multiple physical stores, in which case multiple methods of finding the nearest location should be provided, and optimized.

UX Page Weight: 5% – There should be minimal cognitive load on this page for your web site visitors who wish to find contact information for your firm.  Ensuring that multiple contact methods are easy to find and use is most important here.

UX Testing: 5% – I think the important thing here is to remember to devote some user experience testing resources to this page.  Assuming that all is well, and that there is no need to conduct testing and optimization at all is a dangerous mistake.

Conducting user experience testing on the Contact Us page should include improving the ability for your web site visitors to contact you via the method they prefer.  Optimizing this means potentially more sales contacts.  Making it simpler to find your physical store locations also has positive offline sales benefits.

Even for existing customers, providing an improved experience when trying to contact your firm for customer service assistance improves the user experience of existing customers.  This directly benefits your attrition rate – meaning more customers will stay customers because it’s easier to do business with you.

5. Blog and/or eMail – An efficient and effective blog and or eMail newsletter is VERY important for both Search Engine Optimization (getting search engine spiders into the habit of visiting your site often) and for gaining trust by your potential customers.  You MUST be perceived as an expert in your field, and weekly blog posts greatly help achieve that goal.  This also is mandatory for differentiating you and your services from your competition.

The critical user experience elements are related to content, is it helpful, informative and entertaining?  Your Calls to Action will be critical here, because they have the job of moving the prospective customers off of the blog or eMail, and into your product or order flow pages.

UX Page Weight: 10% – The ability to be updated with new and interesting information on an on-going basis means your web site visitors will expend roughly 10% of their cognitive load on your blog or eMail.

UX Testing: 10% – Continuously testing content, graphics and calls to action are vital to improving the user experience on these pages.

Honorable Mention:

Search Results Pages – Although I have not included them in this list, most organizations do not continually test the user experience of their search results page.  This can be a mistake.

The user experience of a search results page is very important, because no matter how good your product pages are, there will always be potential customers will have difficulty finding what they are looking for, and will use your search function to find it.

Evaluating and testing your search results page user experience is a good way to increase overall sales.  Making it easier for all customers to find products or services, or recommending alternatives if you don’t have what they are looking for will improve your results.


Determining your specific web site user experience anatomy, using the UX Weight and UX Testing percentages can help you determine what significance to attached to each type of page on your site, and how much of your valuable user experience optimization resources should be spent testing and upgrading each.

Craig Tomlin is a Marketing, SEO and User Experience consultant who has been improving web sites with, and increasing online revenue for, start-ups, small businesses and Fortune 500 firms since 1996. He is a Certified Usability Analyst & Member of the Usability Professional’s Association.  Craig blogs about various usability subjects on his useful usability web site, and tweets frequently about user experience topics.


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20 Replies to “Web Site User Experience Anatomy”

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  3. Very interesting. I think this will be helpful in my business. Thanks.
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  4. This was a extremely useful and resourceful post, you did a excellent job of categorizing all of the data and statistics into a user friendly and understandable manner. Keep the good work up!

  5. A very interesting post. I was surprised at the importance of the About Us page. This is something I have added more or less as an afterthought. Clearly I need to put more work into this page.

  6. What a great article, for web design teams and small business owners alike. Yet another tool to add to the arsenal and or checklist that you are getting it right for your visitors.

  7. For those of us how just starting out building sites and understanding how users interact with them, srticles like this are invaluable! User experience testing is something Ive overlooked until now and its worth spending time looking into this.

  8. great article really glad I stumbled on your blog. For anyone who wants to know how to build sites the right way they need to read this article. It really opened up some great ideas for me.

    1. This is a very insightful article. We are currently working to refresh our website and this concept of viewing the site from the “customer” or “client” (lens)/user experience is key. I am curious – have you performed any user experience testing on “service oriented” websites, and have you noticed any differences? This is intriguing information – thanks for sharing.

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