Web Searcher Experience: Is Delight Overrated?

We hear talk about "delighting" your website visitors, but what role should this factor play in your planning? Contributor Shari Thurow weighs in.

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Delight is a word that I often hear to describe pleasurable moments in our experiences with websites and applications. These delightful interactions can make an experience with a website more fun and engaging. Providing delightful elements on a site can also be a powerful way to encourage site visitors to empathize with your company, organization or brand.

As a user experience (UX) professional, I understand the importance of delighting users. However, I am also a search engine optimization (SEO) professional. Not only do I understand how search engines work, I also understand the goals and behaviors of web searchers.

Where does delight fit in to the web searcher experience?

Whenever I talk or write about user experience, my frame of reference is Peter Morville’s User Experience Honeycomb:

Peter Morville's User Experience Honeycomb - Searcher's edition

Peter Morville’s User Experience Honeycomb – Searcher’s Edition from his book, Search Patterns.

As you can see here, findability is one facet of UX. Findability is equally important as usability. People can’t use what they can’t find.

SEO is a part of findability because people locate and discover desirable content via browsing, searching, and asking online. In my opinion, dismissing the search part of findability because one feels that SEOs are worthless, shady criminals is a mistake. People search. People use search engines — both web search engines and site search engines. Web searchers exhibit known searcher behaviors (PDF).

Findability also affects the other UX facets. For example, in a recent article by Kara Pernice at Nielsen Norman Group, A Link is a Promise, she wrote:

[blockquote]Any broken promise, large or small, chips away at trust and credibility. The words in a link label make a strong suggestion about the page that is being linked to. The destination page should fulfill what the anchor text promises.[/blockquote]

To me, dismissing and diminishing findability elements clearly erodes trust and credibility.

Therefore, whenever I hear UX buzzwords such as delight, I wonder if delight evangelists are dismissing, diminishing, or considering the findability facet of user experience.

Delight & User Experience (UX)

In my opinion, delight is part of emotional design, the “desirable” facet in Morville’s UX Honeycomb.

Delight is part of the desirable facet in Peter Morville's User Experience Honeycomb.

When users locate or discover desirable content, they want their expectations met or exceeded. If a website exceeds user expectations, that is when delight might be expressed.

Aarron Walter wrote about the hierarchy of user needs in his book Designing for Emotion. The hierarchy is similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but rather than describing physiological, safety, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization needs, he describes the needs of website users.

Here is my interpretation of Walter’s hierarchy (to embed this graphic in your own site, see code at the end of this column):


Get the code to embed this graphic into your own site.

What follows is my interpretation of how the elements of this hierarchy plays out on a website:

  • Functional: Websites should help solve a user’s problem or help them complete an activity or task. The website (or application) should do what users expect it to do.
  • Reliable: Websites should be up and running at all times (or most of the time). Users should trust the content and functionality of the site.
  • Usable: The website is easy to use by specific users to achieve specified goals. In other words, the site should be easy to learn, easy to use, and easy to remember. It should provide error handling and recovery.
    And users should feel some degree of satisfaction when accomplishing their tasks on the site.
  • Pleasurable: Users should feel a high degree of satisfaction. In other words, the site exceeds user goals and expectations. The sense of delight resides in this portion of the hierarchy.

When do we want site visitors to express delight? When they arrive on our website? After they determine they have arrived on the right website and web page (orientation)? When they scan content to see if it is readable and legible? After they determine a route decision in the navigation system? Where exactly does delight fit in to the web searcher experience?

Exceeding Web Searchers’ Goals

As website owners, we do not control the commercial web search engines (Google, Bing, etc.) We can provide information scent in search listings via page titles, text content, metadata, XML sitemaps, and schema. These aforementioned items can certainly improve the relevancy of our web documents to search engines as well as improve the appearance of our sites’ search listings.

Delight comes into the searcher experience when web pages validate or exceed the expectations of web searchers AFTER they click on a link in a search listing.

Navigational Queries (Go)

A navigational query is one where a web searcher wishes to go to a specific website or a specific page in a website. If a web searcher types in an organization’s name in the search box, for example, a set of sitelinks (in Bing, they are called weblinks) often appears:

Sitelinks in Google for the navigational query National Cancer Institute.

Suppose this web searcher wanted to go to the National Cancer Institute’s website to read more information about a specific type of cancer. In these search listings, Google has provided multiple means to access that information:

  • A List of Cancers
  • Cancer Topics
  • A Site Search for cancer.gov

The web searcher might be delighted that the right section of the cancer.gov website appeared in the search listing. Though webmasters don’t have complete control over which sitelinks (or weblinks) appear in search listings, they can select the items that they don’t want to appear in this list.

Informational Queries (Know/Learn)

An informational query is one where a web searcher wishes to know or learn more about a topic. Informational queries are currently the most common type of search engine query, even on mobile devices.

Google enhances its search results with semantic-search information gathered from a variety of resources, called knowledge graph listings. This might delight users by answering quick-fact queries…well, quickly. Definitions, answers to questions, facts, and relationships among entities (people, places, things) are some items that appear in these listings.

Here is a knowledge graph appearance for Martin Luther King on the U.S. holiday, Martin Luther King Day.

Knowledge graph listing for Martin Luther King

Although some webmasters might feel that knowledge-graph listings might steal quality search engine traffic, I don’t agree. Organic search listings can appear alongside knowledge-graph listings.

  • Supplement your site with information your target audience wishes to see.
  • Answer questions that your target audience wants to know. An FAQs, Q&A, or customer service/support section. FAQs can deliver great value to users.
  • Define and illustrate terms and concepts that are jargon to users.
  • Use structured data (schema) to enhance search listings.

Site owners can delight web searchers by understanding their searcher goals and being pro-active to meet them. For example, if a web searcher wishes to see the top ways to make website content more scannable; for example, providing a list would certainly meet searcher expectations. However, providing a list with a corresponding before-and-after slideshow could make the experience more delightful.

Transactional Queries (Do)

I believe that transactional queries provide a tremendous opportunity to delight web searchers. A transactional query is one in which a web searcher wishes to perform some interaction on the web such as watching a video, looking at pictures, viewing a slideshow, and so forth.

The keywords video, picture, image, photo, and gallery all indicate transactional intent. How might you display a set of pictures or photos that might delight users? With transactional queries, user-initiated animation can genuinely delight users. Want to delight them even more? Make sure users have control over the animation…allowing them to start and stop it at their discretion.

I highly recommend reading Animation for Attention and Comprehension. A positive user experience gives people a delightful and meaningful experience, but it should not be at the expense of usability and findability.

Is Delight Overrated?

To be perfectly honest, I think there is a time and place for delight. Understanding user needs, goals, and tasks is critical for understanding when delight is appropriate and when it is not.

For example, I worked on a software site that targeted IT directors. To appear modern and up-to-date with design trends, the site owners had many alleged UX features throughout the site. The home page had multiple animations (some user-initiated, some not).

My firm was hired to improve the usability of the website, including the home page. Guess what we learned?

IT directors do not want to be entertained. They have jobs to do…jobs that take time and very close attention to detail. They do not want their time wasted. So all of the state-of-the-art animations (including parallax) on the site? It did not enhance UX. It actually annoyed users. In fact, the animations were such a turn off that, in this particular usability study, task completion was 0%.

I am not against delighting or engaging site visitors. On the contrary, if I can add delightful elements to web pages that enable and support task completion, I will implement those delightful elements.

However, don’t be afraid to recognize that a seemingly “boring” website might actually delight users. Know your target audience. Anticipate their needs, pain points, and desires. Desirability is a facet of UX. Keep it in context.

Is delight overrated? I think it is, but not when implemented in the right context.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Shari Thurow
Shari Thurow is the Founder and SEO Director at Omni Marketing Interactive and the author of the books Search Engine Visibility and When Search Meets Web Usability. Shari currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Information Architecture Institute (IAI) and the ASLIB Journal of Information Management. She also served on the board of the User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA).

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