First Click Testing

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This part of the field guide comes from our 2019 version of the UX Research Field Guide. Updated content for this chapter is coming soon!

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First click testing =  testing to see where users click first.

The end. Thanks for reading!

Just kidding—although that is the long and short of it, there’s lots more to know: like why the first click for each task is so essential, when it makes sense to explore where and why users are clicking, and how to conduct your own first click test.

In this chapter:

  • What is first click testing
  • When to use first click testing for UX research
  • How to conduct a first click test
  • Analyzing and interpreting first click data
  • First click testing tools
  • Combining first click testing with other methods

What is first click testing?

First click tests are a quick research method that can be used for any product with a user interface, including websites, apps, or mobile web pages. They’re used to evaluate whether or not your page’s navigation and linking structure is effective in helping users complete their intended task.

The idea is pretty simple: You show participants a wireframe or design of a page and ask them where they’d click to perform a specific task. By recording and analyzing wherever they click first, you can answer questions like:

  • Which buttons, content, language, and other navigational elements are most intuitive for users?
  • Which navigational elements do users not notice, misuse, or avoid altogether? 
  • Where is the best place to put things like buttons, shopping cart icons, menus, and other navigational elements?
  • What is the optimal path to take to accomplish a task, and how does your design support or interfere with that path? 

The results of a click test often take the form of a heatmap (a.k.a, a ‘click map’ or ‘dark map’), which illustrates the most common click locations. Analyzing where users clicked can help you understand whether or not your design is supporting the optimal user experience. 

Why is the first click important?

The first click dictates overall session success. Getting the first click right is a critical milestone in designing a user-friendly site. 

In 2006, Bob Bailey and Cari Wolfson conducted one of the most influential usability studies out there. Their findings are still relevant today, and will probably stay relevant for years to come. Their study revealed that when users had trouble executing the very first thing they wanted to do on a website, “they frequently had problems finding the overall correct answer for the entire task scenario.”

Meaning when the first click fails, the rest of the session tends to tank as well. More specifically, when the first click is incorrect, the chance of eventually getting the overall scenario correct is about 50/50. Participants are about twice as likely to succeed in the overall mission when they select the correct response on their first click.

This finding has been validated in a variety of other studies as well:

  • When people get their first click right on a website, they’re 2–3 times more likely to find what they’re looking for than if their first click was incorrect.
  • Participants who click down the right path on the first click will complete their task successfully 87% of the time, whereas participants who click down the wrong path tend to only complete their task 46% of the time. 
  • If the first click is correct, the chances of getting the whole scenario correct is 70%—but if the first click is incorrect, those chances drop to 24%.

When to use first click testing for UX research

Because first click testing is inexpensive and the information gleaned is usually relatively simple to take action on, you can use first click testing for a wide variety of use cases. It’s effective at almost every stage of product development, as well as after launch to enhance and improve functionality.

First click testing is usually discussed in terms of testing web pages, but the technique can work equally well for any product with a user interface. The idea is simply to find out if users can figure out how the product works on their own. If they can access the information they want (or execute a given task) in a sequence that makes sense, in a timeframe that makes sense, then your design is successful. 

For example….

  • You can test on a wireframe. One advantage of first click testing is that your website doesn't actually have to exist yet at the time of testing—the "click" doesn't actually have to do anything. The user just has to demonstrate where they would click, if the button were active.
  • You can test every version of a page, from concept to completion. While testing literally every every step is probably not necessary, early tests can catch problems before they get expensive. You can take advantage of first click testing on initial designs.
  • You can learn from prior tests to improve future designs. Earlier feedback will inform how users perceive website elements and how they expect pages to function, so you can use this information in building your next wireframe. 
  • You can improve your site once it’s up and running. If analytics or user feedback suggests issues with your navigation, you can use first click testing to identify the problem.

Other example scenarios that make sense for first click testing:

  • A news site wants to know where users might click to share an article on social media.
  • A retail site wants to see how a user might select their shoe size while browsing for heels.
  • A poetry app wants to know how you’d find a poem written by a certain poet.
  • A ride-sharing app wants to know how easy it is to lodge a complaint about another user.
  • A food-ordering app wants to see how users might switch from mobile to web in the middle of an order and continue their request.

How to conduct a first click test 

A first-click test is relatively simple to design, requiring two basic elements: The page, screenshot, or wireframe you’re testing and the tasks you want to test on that page. 

First click testing has a pretty simple order of operations:

  1. Create your tasks (or ‘scenarios’). Ex: A bank website wants to know where a user would click to find out when tellers are available.
  2. Determine the best path toward accomplishing the task. Ex: From the homepage, the user should click “info → hours.”
  3. Observe where users click (info on how to do this is below). Ex: User clicked services → bank → info → hours.
  4. Record how long it took them to click (info on how to do this is below). Ex: It took 12 seconds for the user to travel from the homepage to the hours page. Aka, too long!
  5. Take note of the level of difficulty and the user’s confidence level. Ex: They clicked on the right menu buttons after two tries, but “info” seemed like a best guess, not a confident choice.

Along with the basic click test, you can also collect more nuanced data by collecting pre- and post-study survey responses for participant segmentation and in-depth analysis. In performing this type of analysis, you can improve your page’s usability with a better understanding of how different types of users expect to interact with a design.

Define your research objectives

The logistics of first click testing are simple, especially if you already have functioning software—so preparing your research plan is primarily going to be about defining your goals and understanding how and why you’ll use the insights you glean from the test. 

You likely already have a goal in mind regarding your site, or you’ve identified areas of concern from places like:

  • Analytics or prior user tests.
  • Questions or priorities from stakeholders.
  • Common support tickets.
  • Sales or engagement data.

Using this information, get clear on what you want to learn:

  • Which pages are you concerned about?
  • Which tasks do you want to test?
  • What are the important things you want your users to be able to accomplish?

Clear research questions will help you determine what pages, or parts of pages, to include in your test. It will also inform how many tasks to assign to your testers. For example, you can ask many questions about one page, or you can ask the same few questions about many different pages; your exact approach will depend on the information you’re trying to collect. 

Determine your hypothesis:

In your research plan, define the ideal path for accomplishing a given task, as well as any other correct paths to task completion. Although there may be many right answers, you’ll need to choose one ‘ideal’ path that you’d like users to follow. 

The ‘ideal’ path you choose amounts to your hypothesis. Users will either affirm or disprove your hypothesis as they click toward the conclusion. In the end, if more than one path works, you’ll decide whether to steer users toward your preferred path, or if both are equally valid. 

Decide which pages to test

Determining the right pages to test will depend, again, on your research goals and objectives. In some cases, you might test multiple pages for the same types of tasks (e.g. testing the navigation bar on multiple pages), while more specific tasks may only require one page (e.g. testing a feature in the shopping cart or on a sign-up page). 

As we mentioned earlier, your page doesn’t have to be fully functional for the test to work; instead of using working buttons, you can just present users with a screenshot of the existing page or a wireframe of a planned page. 

Additionally, you can isolate parts of the page for more focused testing. Here are some ideas for page tests from Optimal Workshop:

  • Screenshots of whole web pages (like the homepage, product pages, pricing pages, knowledge base pages, shopping cards, and so on)
  • Screenshots of parts of web pages (like top or side menus, mega-menus, account options, any part of a webpage you want to focus on in particular)
  • Wireframes created using products like Axure and Invision
  • Wireframes created using the back of the nearest piece of paper to you right now
  • App designs
  • ‘Internet of things’ things (like remote controls, game consoles, and so on).

Write clear tasks

Once you’ve identified your primary research questions and tasks, it’s time to write the questions and instructions you’ll use to guide your participants. 

With click tests, it can be a little tricky to get participants to behave naturally; people are inclined to behave a bit differently when they know they’re being tested, and significant influences on their behavior during the test can skew your data. You can help combat this by being intentional about the language you use and the way you present your instructions—for example, by giving users goals or ‘scenarios’ instead of simply asking questions.

Instead of asking: Where would you click to find the bank's lobby hours?

Try: You want to add someone as a signatory on your checking account, and you know this needs to be done in person because you must present an ID. You want to find out whether the tellers will still be working when you get off work. Where would you click to get that information?

Instead of asking: Where would you click to choose your shoe size?

Try: Here’s a page full of formal shoes. How would you go about buying a pair for prom?

Instead of asking: Where would you click to find out which dates are available for concert tickets?

Try: You want to buy Jane’s Addiction tickets for April 30th. How would you do that?

By writing each task as an action-oriented scenario, with a clear goal and an authentic voice, you encourage users to follow their natural thought processes and problem-solving behaviors throughout the task (as opposed to simply clicking the button they think you want them to click). 

Other tips:

  • Avoid using words that could give away the answers. Don't ask "where would you click to get help" if the right answer is a button that says "HELP.”
  • Avoid technical language or other terms your target users might not know.
  • Don't assign more than ten tasks per test. You don't want your tester getting confused or tired.

Recruit participants

Recruiting participants is often one of the most daunting steps in any research project; it can be difficult to determine how many participants to recruit, who the best participants would be, and where to find participants who are both qualified and willing. 

(Psst—shameless plug: If you’re struggling with recruitment, User Interviews can help. Sign up free for Recruit to source from a pool of more than 700,000 participants or check out Research Hub for building and managing your own participant panel.)

You can find more in-depth tips for recruitment in the recruiting chapter of the Field Guide, but the most important things to remember are:

  • Your testers should be representative of your target users. Depending on your study, testers can be recruited from a lookalike audience, or you could source from an established panel of your current users.
  • Aim to recruit roughly 50–100 participants. That’s not to say you can’t gain meaningful insights from tests with fewer people (especially if you’re also collecting qualitative data in surveys or questions during the test), but 50+ completed first-click tests should give you the most reliable data. 
  • Offer fair incentives for participation. Incentives aren’t only for the participants’ benefit; they encourage participants to take your study more seriously, allowing you to feel more confident about the data you collect.
  • Don’t tell the participants they’re taking part in first-click testing, unless absolutely necessary.

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During the test

You may not always have the luxury of observing first-click tests in real time, but doing so can provide you with additional insights about participants’ thoughts and behaviors. 

If you’re able to observe users while they test, consider the following:

  • Watch users’ facial expressions and body language as they test; if they make gestures or expressions you don’t understand, ask them to walk through their thought processes.
  • Ask follow-up questions, such as why users clicked where they did, why they hesitated before clicking, or why they changed their mind about where to click. 
  • After they’ve clicked, don’t tell the tester whether or not the click location was the right one. Participants need to feel like there’s no right or wrong answer in order to behave naturally. 

The qualitative answers you receive from follow-up questions like these can be just as valuable as the quantitative data of click location and timing. If you’re conducting tests remotely or asynchronously, you can use automation tools or in-test surveys to source additional information while users are testing. 

Analyzing and interpreting first click test data

Every basic click test will provide you with a similar set of data, including:

  • How many participants clicked where you wanted them to?
  • When participants clicked in the wrong place, where did they click?
  • When there’s more than one ‘right’ place to click, where did most people click first?
  • How long did it take people to click? 

Typically, first-click test data will be presented in a clickmap, augmented by information about the participants, survey responses, and any other relevant links and resources. As with any study, there are a number of different approaches to analyzing this data, but the best place to start is by revisiting your original research goals and questions. Check out the Analysis and Synthesis section of the Field Guide for more details. 

When interpreting first-click data, here are some things to keep in mind:

1. Take ‘wrong’ clicks seriously. 

You might be disappointed to find that your hypothesis about where people would click was wrong—but instead of attempting to force users where you want them to go, it might just make more sense to rearrange your design to allow users to travel to wherever they’re naturally drawn.

If a heat map shows wrong answers clustered together, that suggests testers are being distracted by what looks like the right answer. Clusters inform you of where participants are attracted, and how they expect your website to work.

If the wrong answers are scattered, testers may be confused and choosing randomly.

2. Measure in percentages.

Figure out how many clicks are possible on the page. This way you’ll be able to measure clicks, and the areas that were clicked on, in percentages.

For example, if there are 10 buttons on a page, those 10 buttons make up 100% of the clickable possibilities. At the end of the test you’ll be able to see what percentage of all clicks each area got. Using percentages rather than just a count of clicks allows you to compare tests that collected different numbers of results.

3. Measure times, too.

Task completion ≠ UI effectiveness. 

If testers are taking an excessively long time to figure out the right answer, your design isn’t doing its job. On the other hand, if testers reach the wrong conclusion very quickly, that suggests something looks so much like the right option that they never stop to look at the right option.

However, be mindful that task time is a sensitive metric; as Jeff Sauro says in MeasuringU:

“Users may be finding the right spot during the evaluation (because you’re observing them or they’re getting paid) but both long task times and high task variability are indicative of problems in the navigation.”


4. Task completion ≠ UI effectiveness.

If users are finding the right location but feeling uncertain about whether or not it’s correct, that can signal a navigation problem; you’ll want to make the right answer more obvious. 

Likewise, if participants find the right location but rate it as being highly difficult, you may need to make changes to your design to remove barriers and streamline the process for users. 

5. Compare against a benchmark. 

In many cases, you’ll be performing a click test to understand whether or not a new design performs better than an old one—and this research won’t be useful unless you test your original design as well. 

If you do a click test with every iteration of the design, you’ll have prior tests to compare and contrast. But if not, be sure to test the original design as well; you’ll need this benchmark in order to draw meaningful conclusions.

First click testing tools

If you’re able to observe click tests in person, it’s possible to track clicks by hand—but the most efficient (and accurate) option is to use one of the many click tracking tools out there: 

  • UsabilityHub is a remote user research platform that offers features for first-click testing, as well as preference tests, five second tests, and design surveys. 
  • Optimal Workshop offers tools for a variety of UX research methods, including card sorting, tree testing, and online surveys. Here’s their first-click testing tool, Chalkmark
  • UserZoom’s Click Testing feature allows you to conduct remote click tests on multiple design variants, ask follow-up questions, and visualize results in heatmaps, darkmaps, or click clusters. 
  • Useberry offers remote UX testing tools for a variety of user testing methods, including first-click testing. 
  • Proven by Users is a user research platform that allows you to test all aspects of your UX and design, with tools for first-click testing, as well as card sorting, tree testing, surveys, and other methods. 
  • UXTweak offers a variety of UX research tools, including first-click testing tools. 
  • HotJar allows you to track and analyze user behavior on a live website, with heatmaps for visualization and remote recordings of user behavior.

If you don’t see what you’re looking for, many usability tools offer first-click features; here and here are two good lists to choose from. 

Hybrid research: Combining first click testing with other methods

As with any type of UX research, we recommend pairing your first-click tests with other methods to gain a more complete and accurate picture of user behavior. In general, first-click testing data tends to pair well with task analysis, card sorting, and tree tests, as well as qualitative methods like follow-up surveys and questionnaires. 

One way to pair first-click tests with other methods is to use the Top Task Methodology, a 5-step process that goes as follows:

top task methodology diagram
  1. List tasks. This step should be taken care of during the planning stage; starting from the homepage, list all of the possible tasks a user can perform on your website. Try to keep it to 100 tasks or fewer if possible. 
  2. Rank tasks. Survey your users and ask them to pick and rank their top 5 most important tasks. This step, paired with step one, functions as a task analysis
  3. Card sorting. Pulling from the 30–50 most highly rated tasks, present users a set of cards with separate tasks listed on each, and ask them to sort those tasks into 4–8 buckets. These buckets should form your initial navigation structure. 
  4. First-click test. Perform a first-click test on specific tasks to validate or invalidate your navigation structure. By doing this in the wireframe/prototyping stage, you can catch issues with your navigation before they’ve done too much damage. 
  5. Homepage test. Finally, perform an additional first-click test with a full-color screenshot of your homepage to test the usability of your site along with the design.

This 5-step process should provide you with a solid foundation for a pleasing and intuitive user experience. 

First click testing tips

TL;DR—quick tips for first-click testing include:

  • Make sure your participants are representative of your target audience.
  • When writing tasks, give participants a problem to solve and avoid using language that would give the answer away.
  • During the planning stage, be sure to document the ideal path to complete each task, as well as any other ‘correct-but-not-ideal’ paths. 
  • Along with recording click locations, time how long it takes users to make their first click and complete the intended task. 
  • Ask users about their level of confidence that they made the right click, as well as the level of difficulty it was to find the click location. 
  • Use first-click testing tools to record each session, create heatmaps and more easily analyze and synthesize your data. 

A final word

First-click tests are a quick, simple, and relatively inexpensive method for understanding and improving the user interface of your product. 

Remember: When users get the first click correct, they’re 2–3 times more likely to complete the entire task than if their first click is incorrect. By testing and optimizing the first click, you’re doubling or tripling the success of your user interface. 

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