Capturing Attention of the Novice Web User

By: Thomas Young, MBA

In our work as usability consultants we have seen an interesting trend on the Web. This trend has to do with the increase in novice users learning to get their needs met via the Internet. These users have decided they finally need to go online to get information or buy products and services. The novice user has found that there is now enough benefit to the Internet that they should take the time and energy to get out of their comfort zone and get online.

This is a tremendous marketing opportunity as new customers can now be evaluating your business Website. Let’s take a look at few key points that should be addresses when marketing to the Web novice.

What is a Web Novice?

The Web novice is experiencing the Internet at it’s greatest potential for the first time. They are not just looking at Websites, but learning to search for information, get answers to very specific questions and actually purchase online.

It is possible to break Web users into three categories:

  1. Heavy User – Highly Web savvy with no problems on most Websites.
  2. Moderate User – Uses the Web and email frequently and gets frustrated at least once a week with Websites and technology in general.
  3. Novice – New to the Web and would like to buy online and use email, but needs help on a regular basis.

This third group, the novice user, is a huge marketing demographic, a key decision-maker and has tremendous potential for growth.

It is very easy to get a handle on a user’s technical savvy fairly early on in a typical user testing session. The highly technical user can get through just about any Website to find what they want. However, the real challenge is in capturing the attention of the novice user. This is done with a site that is simple and clear to the novice user, but still meets the need of other site visitors.

Web Novice Online Behavior

One of the problems with technology is that it frequently over-promises and under-delivers. The Web novice has felt this all along in their interactions with the Web. The Internet frustrates them because they don’t know how to, or can’t find, where to go for the information that meets their needs. The novice user is usually looking for basic information and answers to common sense questions. They go to the Web for the same reasons the moderate and heavy users go online, but what they see on the screen confuses them and often presents a challenge they don’t think they can overcome.

One key problem for the Web novice is too many choices on the page. The novice user is not likely to click on anything they don’t understand, so multiple choices on a Website often lead to no action. They are afraid of getting lost on a site and don’t trust their ability to navigate properly, especially on a complex site.

Web novices do not know or understand the basic rules of the Web. It will take some time before they understand these rules and make them second nature. In fact many moderate Web users don’t know these rules. This includes underlined links, graphic hyper-links, how flash works, scrolling down a page and others. It is best not to rely on these navigation techniques too often on your site.

The Web novice has a very short memory. They are learning many functions for the first time and it is important to repeat information and clearly show progress on the site.

Key Points in Usability for the Web Novice

A hug gap exists between the people that build and maintain a Website and the Web novice. They speak two different languages in how they use computers. However, the Web novice can learn if the training goes at their pace, which is often painfully slow for a technical savvy instructor. It may also feel like your Website is painfully simple to use. Yet, if you have made a commitment to target Web novices, follow these basic guidelines for your site design:

  • Set up basic instructions on your Website for the use of the site
  • Keep Web pages clear of clutter and focused on one or two key activities
  • Use text instructions near graphic links
  • Use large, easy to read fonts
  • Conduct user testing with Web novices to balance site feedback
  • Know what key tasks the novice user is looking to accomplish on your site
  • Include contact information on every page for help on the site and customer service

The Web novice will spend money. Do not make an assumption that lack of Web savvy is equal to low income. In fact, just the opposite may be the case as younger people (with less money) use the Web like they use a telephone or the microwave, with little or no usability issues.

High Speed Access and the Novice User

High speed Internet access is growing and the spouses, parents, children, family and friends of the technical Web users are moving toward the Web in greater numbers. Given this trend, it is even more important that your Website is usable at even the most basic levels of Web knowledge.

Potential ROI from the Novice User

How valuable is the novice user to your online business? It is easy to run the math. At a minimum, 10-20% of your Web traffic (and growing) will be novice traffic. Approximately, 70% of Americans are online and this number is growing as well. What would a 10-20% increase in sales look like for your business.


Thomas Young is CEO and President of Intuitive Websites, a Colorado Springs based Internet marketing, Website design and usability firm. To learn more about Intuitive Websites contact Tom at 719-481-4040 or tom@IntuitiveWebsites.com.

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