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Website Usability Test: Gizmodo.com

Posted by Jacob Creech on June 23rd, 2011

 
Welcome back to the second in our series of Website Usability Tests. It’s a great way to learn more about the usability testing process, and understand a bit more about about the thinking behind some very popular sites.

This time around we are looking at Gizmodo and seeing how the design and usability of the site stack up.

Update: I’m unsure if it’s related to this post or not, but Gizmodo seems to have removed all the old versions of the site. If anyone has a link to the old version, please let us know in the comments.

Read on to learn more about the site, see how we formulate our questions for this website usability test, have a look over our results, and see our recommendations for the site.

What is Gizmodo?

 
According to Wikipedia:

Gizmodo is a technology weblog about consumer electronics. It is part of the Gawker Media network run by Nick Denton. It’s known for up-to-date coverage of the technology industry and the personal, humorous, sometimes very inappropriate writing style of the contributors.

Basically, Gizmodo is a hugely popular site that reports on a range of different news about technology, gadgets (including one particularly well known post about iPhones) and a whole range of other interesting stories as they pop up.

The audience, according to Alexa, is largely male, and between the ages of 18 and 34. Considering the topic of the site, you can also imagine the users are pretty tech savvy folk.

The website

 
Gizmodo actually has several different designs across the different Gizmodo properties; Gizmodo.com uses the a newer design, and has an option to toggle between the usual, fluid design and a more blog styled version.

The older version (UK, Australia, Canada etc.) have retained an older design (that the main Gizmodo site also used to use). You can see the two versions below – although you should note we’ve cropped the international version because the page is really very long:

The New Version

Gizmodo - New Version

Gizmodo - American Version

The Old (International) Version

Gizmodo - Old Version

Gizmodo International Version

As you can see, the old version really is very long, which I imagine is one of the reasons they may have changed the design. The newer design certainly has a much more modern feel about it as well.

In order to better understand the site, we’ve made this an A/B test, looking at both the newer and older versions of the site. That way we can make a fairer assessment of how the two sites stack up, and the strengths and weaknesses of each one. If you are interested, you can even take the test yourself.

The Questions

 
As I talked about in our recent website usability test of the TED.com website, when writing questions, you should consider the key tasks that users are looking to complete on a site. The following are tasks that I think are important for users visiting the Gizmodo site:

How would you login to the Gizmodo site?
Getting members on the site is a great way to encourage community participation. Logging in is obviously an essential part of this.

How would you subscribe to the RSS feed?
Subscribing to a sites feed means updates get pushed out to you, and you are more likely to read the content they are publishing. For content based sites such as Gizmodo, this is obviously a great thing.

Your friend told you about a story called ‘Academics on why trolls troll’ – where would you find it?
Finding content on the site is another crucial factor. Whether you’ve been directed there by a friend, or come across it in some other way, it’s important to be able to find the interesting stories. It’s also useful to see if uses find the post on the page, or by using the search function – in which case they should ensure that search results are well optimised.

Which interface do you prefer?
For this question, users are shown both designs of the site and asked on their preference. This is a bit of a popularity test, but it’s good to know how users will react to your designs.

How would you follow Gizmodo on Twitter?
Getting a social tie in from users is another great way to encourage participation, and to lower the chance of them shifting to another website. It’s also a useful stream for users to access content.

How would you search the Gizmodo site?
As previously mentioned, finding content is a key for this site. The search function is something that we probably all assume to be extremely simple, but it’s worth testing just to make sure it’s easy to find.

How would you advertise on this site?
Writing content is all well and good, but the way this site makes money is through advertising. The more advertisers and the more competition the better. Hence, finding out how to advertise.

The results:

 
For the results, we’ve cropped down the screenshots to the crucial areas to save some space, but the test was taken on full screenshots of each design. On to the results:

How would you login to the Gizmodo site?

Gizmodo - Where would you login?

Where would you login - old version

Gizmodo - Where would you login - new version

Where would you login - new version

In the old version of the site, 79% of users clicked the login area correctly, compared to 100% on the new version. Interestingly, the users who clicked on the wrong area in the old version, all clicked on the search bar which is directly beside the login button.

This shows that users were confused, and thought perhaps that they needed to enter their details in that box. 100% for the new login button is a great result, and shows the benefit of following conventions – as login buttons are most typically located in the top right hand corner of a website.

How would you subscribe to the RSS feed?

Gizmodo - How would you subscribe to the RSS feed - old version

How would you subscribe to the RSS feed - old version


Gizmodo - How would you subscribe to the RSS feed - new version
How would you subscribe to the RSS feed - new version

How would you subscribe to the RSS feed - new version

On the old design, it takes users an average of 16.38 seconds to click, but they have a success rate of 100%. Obviously the time is longer than they might like (I would say due to the length of the page), but a 100% success rate is very good.

On the new design we have a shorter average click time of 12.67 seconds, but a terrible success rate of only 30%. If you look at the results above for the new design, you can see a large number (around 60%) of people clicking the flame sort of icon in the upper right corner. That actually links to the hot stories on the site, but the lack of understanding shows they need to make some sort of modifications to make this a lot more understandable to their users.

For a site like this where sources such as RSS are so important, they really need to do a lot more to pull it out and make it more visible to their users.

Your friend told you about a story called ‘Academics on why trolls troll’ – where would you find it?
Where trolls toll - old version

Where trolls toll - old version

Where trolls toll - old version

Where trolls toll - new version

Where trolls toll - new version

Where trolls toll - new version

For both the old and new version of the site we had the same success rate of 100%; users either went for the search box, or scrolled around the page until they found the article. Interestingly the average click times were quite divergent; on the old site, users clicked on average after 14.6 seconds. On the new site, the users took 21.3 seconds on average.

Of course a quick glance shows us that in the old design articles were more prominently feature, but Gizmodo needs to carefully consider what are important goals for their new design. If they make it a lot more difficult for users to find content on the site, they will eventually begin to turn to other sources.

Which interface do you prefer?

Preference Test - old and new design

Preference Test - new on the left, old on the right

As I said, preference tests are a useful gauge for your users feelings. This test showed almost 65% of respondents prefer the new design, 32% prefer old design, and 3 percent clicked either in the middle or skipped this question, showing a neutral vote. This is a pretty good result for the new design considering it hasn’t faired quite so well in the testing so far.

How would you follow Gizmodo on Twitter?

Follow on Twitter - old design

Follow on Twitter - old design

Follow on Twitter - new design

Follow on Twitter - new design

Follow on Twitter - new design

In this test, the old design has a success rate of 87% and an average click time of 10.4 seconds. Although the time could be improved, an average click time of 87% is pretty good on a long page like this.

The new design however shows the same problems we saw when looking for the RSS feed. Only 29% of people correctly clicked the subscribe button (which doesn’t even correctly link to the subscribe area on the about page) at the bottom of the page, with 42% clicking the flame icon on the upper right, and the rest of the clicks dispersed around the page.

If Gizmodo wants to push its social presence, it really needs to bring this information up the hierarchy. Even if it’s not concerned about it’s social presence, it needs to clarify the meaning of the hot stories button because this test has shown us a huge number of users have been very confused by this icon.

How would you search the Gizmodo site?

Search the site - old design

Search the site - old design

Search the site - new design

Search the site - new design

In this question the old design had an average click time of 5.15 seconds, and a success rate of 92% – you can see there were a couple of clicks on the ‘share a tip’ bar, and a couple further down the page. They should really consider the ‘share a tip’ bar design because it does look awfully like a search dialog box, and is in a common location for search bar.

The new design did better on this question with a 100% success rate, and an average click time of just 4.84 seconds. Really a very good result. One thing to mention though, when you click the search icon, the search box actually appears below the advertisement which is rather counter-intuitive. If they wanted to optimise this page more they could consider the position of the search bar.

How would you advertise on this site?

Since the ‘advertise’ text was so far down the old design, I’ve just looked at the new design for this question, you can see the results below:

Advertise on this site - new design

Advertise on this site - new design

There was a 91% success rate on this page, and an average click time of 11.1 seconds. Not too bad. I think this reflects the fact the many people expect to look to the bottom of a page to find certain information such as advertising details. Following conventions such as these is always a smart thing to do.

Interestingly, the 9% that clicked in the wrong locations were all clicking on different ads around the page.

Recommendations for the Gizmodo site:

 
Hopefully after reading through that you can see some of the flaws in the Gizmodo site. Based on this test, and my own observations there are a few simple changes I would suggest. These are changes I would make to the newer design:

  • Pull the links to social media sources further up the page
  • Pull the RSS link further up the page
  • Think of the value of links and icons at the top of the page; how many people use the hot stories link? Is the icon clear enough?
  • Rather than having a text talking about blog formatting and a funny icon to show the blog view, just use the text to change to the blog view; screen real estate at the top of the design is very valuable
  • Consider popping out a search box immediately below the search icon, or creating a separate search box entirely – look at analytics to see how many people use search
  • Try and follow website design conventions; in the areas where conventions are followed, users responded both much faster and much more accurately
  • Make sure the subscribe text leads to the right place

There are obviously more changes that could be made to improve the site, but these are some good starting points that could make an immediate difference to a users experience of the site.

Conclusion

 
Considering how popular this site is, I’m surprised to see how many problems have cropped up during our testing. Although by themselves, none of these issues are enough to make someone stop using the site, the more issues that crop up, the less enjoyable the user experience will be.

With sites like Gizmodo, the switching cost of changing sites isn’t awfully high, and there are a number of other sites competing in this space. I imagine it would be well and truly worthwhile for them to invest some time in making some simple usability improvements across their sites.

Final Score: 6/10

While Gizmodo has a huge amount of interesting content, there are a number of simple usability issues which prevent the site from reaching its full potential, and contribute to a less than perfect use experience.

What do you think of the Gizmodo site? What changes would you make? Are there any issues holding you back from using the site more? Be sure to let us know in the comments below. You can also run your own tests on IntuitionHQ.com and see how your results stack up.

Don’t forget to subscribe to our RSS feed, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook to share your thoughts on what we should test in the future, and to keep up with all the latest usability news.

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  • Malachite

    Although Gizmodo might really prefer people sign up to their site, I’m sure most people would prefer to browse their site.  Which has now become impossible.  I stopped visiting their site altogether as well as other Gawker sites due to the poor navigability and discoverability of information.  Too bad.  They used to be a good site.  I guess some marketing idiot told them that people don’t like to scroll.

  • Vijay

    As first time visitor to Gizmodo site, content is overwhelming and too confusing. First impression is bad and I might never visit the size again. Apple site is much more pleasant and easy on eyes to browse.

    Though Apple have to deal with lots of technical details, it has managed to do so in a much more effective way.

  • http://intuitionhq.com Jacob Creech

    Yeah, I really can’t understand why they made this change. While there are some elements of the new design that I like, it’s just so unusable in so many different ways. 

    You are right about the scrolling too – it’s made the whole site almost impossible to navigate.

    Thanks very much for the comment.

  • http://intuitionhq.com Jacob Creech

    Thanks for the comment Vijay. Interesting to hear your perspective as a new visitor to the site as well. As I pointed out in this post, there are a lot of things they need to change to improve the usability of the site.

    Apple is an interesting case, and I think the site is pretty well done. We are looking at doing a test on the site in the next few weeks to see how well their site stacks up. Keep an eye out for the results of that one.

  • http://twitter.com/AToyane Alexis Toyane

    The old version is still living here : http://www.gizmodo.fr/

  • http://intuitionhq.com Jacob Creech

    Thanks very much for that. Seems http://www.gizmodo.com.au/ is still working as well, which is pleasing.

    The French version sure has a lot of ads on it though!

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