Report From a 1994 Web Usability Study

Users had low tolerance for anything that did not work, was too complicated, or that they did not like. They often made comments like "if this was not a test I would be out of here" or stated that they would not want to visit a site again after a quite small number of problems. With non-WWW user interfaces, the technically oriented users in this study would normally persist for some time in trying to figure out how to use the system, but with the WWW, there are so many sites out there that users have zero patience. Thus, the demands for good usability are probably higher for WWW user interfaces than for normal user interfaces, even though the designers' options are fewer. "Under construction" signs should be avoided and the server should always provide a response within a few seconds. If the requested information cannot be provided, a meaningful error message should be given instead.
I found that users wanted search and that global search mechanisms should be globally available. Even so, users were poor at specifying search strings and they often overlooked relevant hits. Thus, we cannot rely on search as the main navigation feature. Navigational structure and overviews are necessary to avoid user confusion and should be provided both in the large (server structure and location) and in the small (structure for the individual pages with iconic markers for the various types of information). Users liked the feeling of being part of a two-way communication with a site staffed by real humans and not just the recipients of a stream of bytes coming in over the net. Care should be taken to provide a "high-touch" feeling in addition to the "high-tech" image of a WWW server.