How Many Choices Should You Have at Your Website?

I like to show you “Before” websites from time to time. These are the websites that need an updsate.

One of the things you’ll notice about a lot of the “Before” screens is that they tend to have a lot of choices for navigation — sometimes dozens.

This “Before” version of the Ozark Natural Foods website had 14 choices down the side, several of them repeated across the top.

This current version of the Family Chiropractic Center website has crowds of them — as a drop-down menu, which is a whole other problem. The “After” websites always have, as you can see in the Sky Ridge website at the top of the page, five to seven choices.

The new Ozark Natural Foods site, as you see, has five choices.

This reflects a basic fact about the human brain, supported by extensive research in cognitive psychology: we can only keep about seven things in our minds at one time. So we can conceptualize five or six choices and decide among them, but we can’t do that with ten or twelve.

This is so well known and easily proven that you’d think clients would immediately agree to it, but this is not the case. The desire to put one more choice on the homepage often trumps common sense and common knowledge. Some people aren’t all that impressed by cognitive psychology.

I have new evidence. Money Magazine just reported on a study involving samples of high-end jam. They offered people six choices at a sample kiosk. Then, another time, they offered 24.

People were more likely to stop and hang out at the kiosk with 24 jams. The feeling of having lots of choices appeals to people. But they didn’t buy. When they had six choices, they were able to gather all their options in their minds at once and make a decision. Faced with 24, they wrestled with the whole Damson Plum vs. Gooseberry issue, but they couldn’t make a decision easily, so most gave up and left.

At a website, we could give people a choice like this:

  • Most Popular Fruits
  • Tropical Fruits
  • American Regional Specialties
  • European Specialties
  • Mixed Fruits

Then, once they had chosen European Specialties, let us say, they could have the further choice:

  • Traditional French Jams
  • Traditional English Jams
  • Traditional Scandinavian Jams

Then they could hone in on that Gooseberry Jam happily.

We could, in fact, put Strawberry under the Most Popular jams, as well as under the Traditional English jams,  and add confiture de fraises under Traditional French jams, too, if we wanted to. The right number of choices leads to happy browsing and buying, while too many leads to frustration and clicking away.






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