Each day, thousands of people are going online for the first time, naturally with little or no knowledge at all about the Internet. "Great!", you might say. "That means more visitors to my site." Well, not necessarily. Though the amount of Internet users is growing at an incredible pace, knowledge of the average Internet user is dropping.

You're wondering why? The reason is quite simple. Connecting to the Internet is getting constantly cheaper (in some countries it's even free) and so more people get an ISP. But these are people who generally don't devote much time to surfing, and simply use the Internet from time to time because "everyone else does it". And because they spend so little time on the Internet, they also learn very little about how to use this information highway. Let me illustrate the problem, as I think that will give you a better picture of these users.

I've been monitoring some of the biggest portal sites for a while now, and the search terms used by their visitors. After going through the log files, I discovered that many of the most often used search terms were complete URLs. What I mean by URLs being popular search terms is that that they actually popped up in the log files more times than "baywatch", which I think outlines the seriousness of it all. ;-)

This means that there are lots of Internet users out there who don't know that they actually can type the URL directly into the "Location" field, hit enter and go directly to the page.

So what does this tell us? That we should put our URL in our META tags? Well, that's actually not neccessary since the search engines glances at your URL as well, when searching for pages matching some specific search term.

It does mean, however, that if you want any of these surfing newbies to check out your site, you have to adjust it to them, making it as user friendly as possible. The idea is to think back to those days when you were a bit puzzled about the Internet yourself, and try figure out what the newbie might be having trouble with at your site. Here are some things to get you going:

Drop the Technical Jargon

People react differently when there's something they don't understand. Some just close it all out and decide not to care, while others get angry. This isn't good for someone with a web site, because in both cases, you'll lose visitors. Using too many acronyms or unfamiliar expressions in site copy can also result in frustration.

Therefore, when writing articles or other types of text for your web site, make yourself understood. If you have to use silly acronyms, at least spell them out in parentheses, and explain them if you can. And if you can't, you probably shouldn't be using that acronym anyway. Remember, educate your readers - don't talk above their heads.

"Hey, can I click this?!"

You may have noticed that in the new version of Internet Explorer (v5.0) there is now a "Go to" button on the right side of the "Location" field. This was because the people at Microsoft found out not everyone knew that they were supposed to hit enter after typing a URL, to go to that specific site.

So why am I telling you this? Well, I think it bares a resemblance to the links on web pages. The problem is namely that not every Internet user knows what's clickable and what isn't (no, not everyone knows that their pointer turns into a pointing finger when it passes over a link). "Why did you say this was related to Microsoft's problem?" Well, in both cases the user has the opportunity to go to another page right in front of them, but doesn't know the final step. So what are you supposed to do about this? The same thing Microsoft did, meaning that you clearly state what's clickable and what isn't. This can easily be done by using phrases like "click here" or even "go to". Don't overuse these words though, you don't want your site become a jungle of "click here" links.


Something else which also can cause frustrations (in addition to not understanding something) is not being able to find something. There are many sites where the visitors don't get past the main page, simply because they don't know where to go. Just take a look at your log files to see if that's happening to you, because if it is, you can be sure that you're losing a lot of visitors. This is why easy navigation of a site is so important.

A thing to keep in mind is that although you may think it's easy to find your way around your site, your visitors might have a different opinion, since they're in no way as familiar with your site as you are. A good idea might be to get some people from your target audience to browse your site, and describe any difficulties that they had.

Some basic rules of navigation are that the main section of your site should be accessible from every page on your site. Don't make the mistake of placing just one link on each page in an attempt to control a visitor's route throughout your site, because it won't work. For bigger sites (or sites which plan to get bigger) an internal search engine is a must. You'll probably find a search engine script which will fit your site nicely at https://www.cgi-resources.com.

I suggest you surf over to your site and take a critical look at it, searching for things that might make an online newbie feel like a helpless one.

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