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Text Analytics

The #1 reason customers fail to have a successful website visit

by Naoko Tomioka, Ph.D., on Sep 15, 2014


When visitors provide feedback about their website experiences, it allows you to see your website from the visitors’ perspective. This feedback leads to the discovery of your website’s weaknesses and the issues that cause visitors to leave your site. To understand and correct such issues, it is important to identify which website visitors did not accomplish what they had come to do, and then ask them what prevented them from accomplishing their task.

Recently, iperceptions has been working with a number of clients to explore the most prevalent reasons for failed task completion and whether they have changed overtime. The issue of information – ensuring efficient assess to it while managing its breadth and depth – is a continuous design challenge for digital property owners.  

As mobile access grows information management becomes even more critical since mobile caters to diverse intents in a tighter space and time frame with visitors who are often on the move.

Taking a look at a sample of 50,000 English responses per month, from over 4000 websites across all industries and site types (this maximized the randomness and ensured that the patterns we observed were independent of any particular site, site type or industry), we explored using text analytics what constitutes the most pervasive issues that customers really perceive during their website visit.

For this exploration, we used our in-house concept categorization tool to classify the visitor responses into key semantic categories. This analysis helped identify those website issues whose prominence had been relatively stable, and those which had risen or fallen in prominence over time.

Month after month, year after year visitors want information!

Indeed the most common reason for not completing the purpose of the visit related to “finding information”.

Graph of top 3 Reasons for customers not having a successful website visit

Graph 1: Top 3 Reasons for Visitors Leaving the Site without Accomplishing their Purpose of Visit

That is, visitors most frequently expressed that not finding the information they wanted was the primary reason they could not complete their task on the website. Finding information (“finding info” in the graph) was by far the most prevalent issue; outweighing other common issues such as the availability of the product or service sought (“availability”), or the usability of the site (“usability”), as shown in graph 1. But what was most striking was that the prominence of this issue had remained constant at around 18 percent of responses, month after month, across all sites and industries.

The ubiquity of “finding information” issues was indicative of the heuristics used by typical website visitors. Website visitors usually make a quick judgement whether the website has the information they want and as soon as they feel that the site does not have the desired information, they will click away. Usability only becomes an issue when the visitor decides to stay on the website. The quality and quantity of information is important, but first and foremost, websites have to convince the visitor that they have information the visitor is looking for. Compared to "finding information” (18 percent of responses), far less respondents mentioned “insufficient information” as the reason for not completing their intended task (3 percent).

Therefore, before adding more information, website designers should ensure that the visitors are not failing to find the information that is already on the site.

Visitors make up their minds about your site faster than ever

Graph of trend of “undecided” as the reason for not succeeding in completing the intended task on the website.

Graph 2: Trend of “undecided” as the reason for not completing the intended task on the website.

While the importance of finding information has remained steady, the speed at which visitors evaluate the website and what they expected to see during their website visit had changed over time. When we asked website visitors why they did not accomplish what they came to do, a portion of them said that they had simply not made a decision yet. Interestingly, the proportion of this “undecided” group had steadily decreased since 2009 by 67 percent, indicating that the customers’ decision making process was getting quicker and quicker.

In other words, it was becoming less and less likely that visitors would leave the site without a decision, or with an ambivalent conclusion of the site’s usefulness.

Humans are naturally inclined to seek information

Why are website visitors so concerned with problems relating to finding information?

Information and closely related notions, such as knowledge, truth, and facts have been the central focus of philosophy from the time of Ancient Greeks. More recently, information has become a subject of quantitative sciences such as mathematics and physics, in which information is seen as a quantifiable element that can be measured in terms of the amount of entropy.1

This notion of information as a measurable entity has greatly influenced various domains of cognitive science, including those concerned with decision-making, perception, memory, and learning.2 In addition, cross-linguistic and cross-cultural studies have shown that all languages have a way to distinguish information such as fact-based messages from other types of communication.

For example, Aikenvald (2004) estimates that one-fourth of all the worlds’ languages have a way of grammatically coding evidentially, i.e. of distinguishing direct, knowledge-based information from inferences and hearsays.3 Languages may also distinguish counterfactual statements (e.g. discussions of possibilities) from statements about what actually happened, or what actually is. What this demonstrates is that people cannot help but have a strong interest in learning facts. It thus follows naturally that information is at the forefront of a site visitor’s mind.

Information is critical to the purchase process

Graph of top 3 reasons why customers are leaving the website

Graph 3: Top 3 reasons why purchasers are leaving the site

It is not surprising that, for those people who visit websites intending to gather information, not finding the right information is the most commonly expressed issue. However, it is important to separate people who visit websites with another intention, such as to purchase (“purchasers”) from visitors whose main purpose of visiting the website is to gather information, so that websites can be optimized for the purchasing processes, especially for e-commerce sites.

Looking into the comments from site visitors whose stated intent was to purchase, we observed that the most common issues have actually changed since 2009. Availability of the products/service had been the most common issue until 2012. Finding information became the most prominent issue since then. The third most common issue relates to price (i.e. price being too high).

This pattern suggests that the need of online purchasers has changed in recent years. The availability of the product is no longer sufficient; purchasers expect e-commerce websites to provide the information that they need in order to make purchasing decisions. Given that a sizeable proportion of purchasers attribute lack of information as the reason for not completing their goals on the website, we can calculate the impact of this issue on the online revenue for the organization. Identifying and correcting the information-related issue of a website thus has a dollar value attached to it.

Not surprisingly, the issues for visitors whose intent is to research (e.g. learn, gather information) had remained consistent during this period. The most common issues they mention were finding the information, followed by needing more information, and the usability of the site.

Moving towards smarter sites and experiences in real-time

The desire for Information is a key driver of digital success when building experiences, and information has become a crucial ingredient in a successful online purchase process. However, while the general need is ubiquitous, the specifics within the need are diverse, at the visit level. In other words, we can safely bet that a website visitor wants some information, but what particular piece of information a visitor wants depends on the purpose of visit.  A digital property manager has two choices, pick the most representative experience and cater to the majority.  This has been traditional marketing strategy. The alternative is to take advantage of the richness of real time data, and to shift the focus towards building intelligent management layers that customize the content based on the visitor’s need. Investing in a content management layer to deliver customized experience based on data such as visitor intent will solve the challenge of balancing the volume of information and the need for fast information access and thus drive down ‘finding information’ as the common reason for failed visits.

1Adriaans, P. and J. Benthem. 2008. Introduction: Information is what information does. In Adriaans, P., & Benthem, J. (eds). (2008). Philosophy of information. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: North Holland.

2Boden, M. 2008. Information, computation and cognitive science. In Adriaans, P., & Benthem, J. (eds). (2008). Philosophy of information. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: North Holland.

3Aikhenvald, A.2004. Evidentiality. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Naoko Tomioka, Ph.D.
Naoko Tomioka, Ph.D.

Naoko Tomioka is an experienced data scientist with a Ph.D. in linguistics from McGill University. As a data scientist, Naoko works with some of iperceptions’ biggest clients developing integrated linguistic analyses to extract actionable insights from text-based customer feedback.

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