Gerry McGovern talks about the importance of your website visitors' first click, referencing Bob Bailey's research findings and suggesting some tools to refine your site.
I wrote about this last month (Importance of your users first click - October 2011) when Jeff Sauro also commented on Bailey's research, providing some great tips on how to run research yourself to improve your site.
Gerry McGovern has also written about this research, emphasising how important it is to get the first tier of your navigation right, and to be ruthless in refining it to ensure it works best for your visitors' top tasks.
I think this kind of activity is really important, but keep in mind that it's not the be-all and end-all. Time and again in usability tests I see participants getting to the right page on a website but not successfully completing the task.
Why? Because the structure of the content on the page was so poor that they couldn't find the information they wanted on the page. A quick scan and they moved on to continue their search on other pages.
Gerry also recommends some tools to help you test and improve your site in this area. They all have free plans that allow you to run online tests with small numbers of participants which could be of use during the early stages of site planning or appraisal.
Chalkmark is an online version of an approach I've employed for years in person. Sketch your homepage (I often use Visio or more recently, Balsamiq) and show it to someone after setting them a task and see if they start off the right route. After a small number of participants you can begin to see if your website structure or labelling is causing confusion. Or perhaps you just need to cross reference certain areas to catch the visitors heading off down the wrong route.
I'd recommend taking a look at Chalkmark and the demo they've set up, if for no other reason than to see a good example of how to execute research like this. Personally, I'd always go for in-person testing if I had the choice as I find the follow up questions after the test to be as useful as the test itself. But this online version is also great if what you need is something quick and easy.
I've played with 5 second test.com in the past too and it's much the same (How quickly do website users form an impression? - April 2011). A useful approach to be aware of as part of your range of user testing tools.
The vital importance of the first click - article by Gerry McGovern
First click usability testing - article and research by Bob Bailey
Chalkmark online usability testing tool - details, demo and signup
The makers of Chalkmark - Optimal Workshop - also have a couple of other tools, one of which caught my eye. Treejack is a way to test out a site structure before the site is built. Potentially very useful, but it does concern me that this approach can encourage us to plan site structures before writing the content - a sure fire way to content bloat.
Treejack online site structure testing tool - details, demo and signup