Gary wrote a post entitled Forget Select – it is Browse, Browse, Browse in which he was surprised by the results of a usability test involving a select list, or more specifically users ignoring the select.
I was not surprised by the results of Gary’s test, and for a long time have only used select element with extreme caution. Because the first site I ever worked on some 11 years ago, the designer decided to use as much space as possible for two lead promotional pieces on the home page and placed the navigation in a select element, with some explicit instructions on how to use it.
Unfortunately, visitors did not use it. The figures where pretty scary, of those who started on the home page and visited another page. Roughly 30% used the select list to navigate away from the home page to content. Less than 20% went to a lead article and over 50% went straight from the home to the search page (which was a separate link from the navigation). Where the majority after three searches left the site.
Armed with these statistics, the home page was redesigned, the select was replaced with a visible content list, the number of promotional pieces dropped to one. The results were dramatic, the number of people who visited more than one page increased by more than 10%. The number of visitors who went straight from the home page to search page went from over 50% to less than 20%. In other words, the number of people using the navigation more than doubled, going from 30% to well over 60%.
Another interesting fact was the average number of searches per visitor to the search page went down from 3 to a little over 1. Which indicated search orientated people, went straight to the search page, knowing what terms to search for. Instead of frustrated visitors not knowing where to find the content and unsure of the terminology used.
This experience, which showed that over 50% of all visitors did not use a select element. Has made me very cautious about using select elements. Sure it was 11 years ago, but I do believe that user behaviour has changed that much since then.