The Power of Defaults

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Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox for today, The Power of Defaults, reveals users’ annoying habit of clicking the first item of a list, in research conducted by Cornell University. This something we all suspected (a la “AAA Auto Repair” yellow page listings) and this research proves: user default is to click the top item.


In the research study, users clicked the top search result 42% of the time, and the second result 8% of the time. The same listings were then put in reverse order. Users continued to prefer the top listing, clicking on it 34% of the time, and the second result 12% of the time.
The hypothesis is that users are both lazy and think the search engine will provide the best results. However, selection is influenced by the asbtract provided for the resulting link.
The lesson for marketers is to provide good, short summaries for articles and pages that can be picked up and displayed in search results. I’m rewriting the one for this article now…

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One thought on “The Power of Defaults

  1. neilio

    This reminds me of something I saw a lot when I worked for [insert very large Canadian web portal]. I was privy to weekly search reports of what people were searching on, and we saw a lot people searching on URLs: http://www.ebay.com, http://www.apple.com, http://www.microsoft.com, etc.
    It was very perplexing until we realized that this was people who had the portal as their browser startup page. They’d see a URL somewhere, enter it in the search field and then click on the first link that appeared at the top of the listings.
    To them, their browser startup page was the web.
    This was a couple of years ago so I’m sure the number of instances of people completely misunderstanding how the web works is dwindling. Still, it’s a stark reminder that we cannot always assume that people will use something how we expect it to be used.

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