Where and what people click on is crucial for any organization that conducts business online or has an application. In email marketing, clicks are engagement, and engagement is dollars. One of my first duties as an email marketer was compiling click reports for sponsored content for e-newsletters my employer sent. Unfortunately, a high click rate does not guarantee a high task success or conversion rate (e.g., getting people to register for a seminar). The sequence of clicking is as important as engagement. Research has shown that people who click on the correct link first have an 87 percent completion rate. Conversely, if people click on an incorrect link first, their success rate falls to 46 percent.

In the digital landscape today, we have a handful of seconds to grab user attention. It behooves designers to create user interfaces that are easy to navigate and facilitate task completion (get folks to register for that seminar). When redesigning its website in 2006, one of the primary goals of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was to optimize the usability of its homepage. Bob Baily, the president of Computer Psychology, Inc., and Cari Wolfson conducted the first “first click” test for the CDC. The research on completion rates described   above is based on totals collected from twelve usability studies the pair conducted for U.S. government agencies between 2007 and 2009.

Baily describes the process, “For each study, we reported data on (a) the overall success rate, (b) the percentage of correct ‘firstclicks’, (c) the percentage of incorrect ‘firstclicks’, and (d) the ratio of correct to incorrect clicks. All studies were conducted on different websites, and used different participants.” (2013).

Their findings demonstrate the importance of what people click on first. “When participants had difficulty with their original decision, they frequently had problems finding the overall correct answer for the entire task scenario” (Baily, 2013).

What is a First Click Test?

First click tests examine what participants click on first in order to complete a specific task. According to Usuablity.gov, they can be performed on a functioning website, a prototype, or a wireframe. However, for the most part, first click tests use a series of screenshots. There is helpful software available for remote testing like Chalkmark from Optimal Workshop.

To set up a first click test, gather images of the interface, and upload them to software (if you chose to use any).  Next, create tasks for participants to complete. Require participants to click on the image to indicate where they would go to complete the prescribed task. Track each click and how long it takes participants to click. The results are often compiled into a heat map of where participants clicked.

Here’s a mockup of what a heat map might look like for this site if participants were tasked with the following question: “How would you search for user experience articles?”

First Click tests are not always facilitated or monitored. Sometimes website visitors are sent an invitation to complete the test on their own. This format requires question or task phrasing to be precise, unambiguous, and easy-to-understand. In first click tests, participants will spend a few seconds on a webpage, scanning for task-specific features or links. The rest of the design is only viewed peripherally.

Kirstie Charlton and Autumn Wang of HMRC Digital recommend aiming for 50 to 100 first click tests to be included in a study and to include a minimum of 50 participants. However, Neon Insight helped a Canadian university library team with a ten-task first click test that took participants only four minutes to complete. The volume of first click tasks is dependent on the scope of an organization’s research. Charlton and Wang also recommend comparing the same task with different designs and where most participants click if there are two correct answers to one task.

In Practice

Charlton and Wang redesigned the UK’s homepage for the personal tax account. They asked participants where they would go to find out “why they didn’t pay enough tax last year.” Only 38 percent of participants clicked the correct area—a highlighted blue link in the title.

“We found that users expected the tiles on the page to be clickable. From this insight, we then iterated the design to make the whole area clickable, and tested the homepage again. The success rate went from 38% – 57% and the average time spent on task decreased from 5.8 seconds to 5.33 seconds” (Charlton and Wang, 2019).

In their study for a Canadian university library, Neon Insight found that students had trouble with find Research Help because it was buried under a Services link. Only twenty-five students clicked on the correct link.  Neon Insight concluded that “The easiest solution is to bring the Research Help link out from under the Services heading onto the home page”


  • Inexpensive. You can print the pictures of a layout and have participants circle where they would click to complete a task. Also, software like Chalkmark has a free version that allows users to test three tasks with unlimited participants.
  • Easy to analyze. Success rates and heat maps created for first click tests are good for illustrating findings to stakeholders.

First-click tests provide a cost-effective way to shed light on unforeseen navigation problems and compare the utility of design alternatives. Next time you need to redesign a website or application, try a first click test. The results may lead to design choices that yield more conversions (registrations for that seminar), not just a high volume of clicks.


Bailey, B. (2013, October 8). FirstClick usability testing. Retrieved from http://webusability.com/firstclick-usability-testing/

Charlton, K., & Wang, A. (2019, January 17). Getting the first click right. Retrieved from https://hmrcdigital.blog.gov.uk/2019/01/17/getting-the-first-click-right/

First click testing. Retrieved from https://www.usability.gov/how-to-and-tools/methods/first-click-testing.html

First-click test to find and solve 3 common usability problems. (2012, September 8). Retrieved from http://neoinsight.com/blog/2012/09/08/first-click-test-to-find-and-solve-3-common-usability-problems/

An introduction to first click testing. Retrieved from https://usabilityhub.com/guides/first-click-testing

Mitchell, E., & West, B. (2017). DIY usability: First-click testing. Library Journal, 142(3), 20.

Sauro, J. (2011, October 19). Getting the first click right. Retrieved from https://measuringu.com/first-click/#

Whitenton, K. (2018, June 17). How to test visual design. Retrieved from https://www.nngroup.com/articles/testing-visual-design/