5

I am working through a problem with path names. The previous version of a site used short codes for url paths. Coming into this for a new project and the short code based paths, while deterministic, seem user-unfriendly to me.

Example current

as1/u2/m4/s7

Example longer

assume-1/unify-2/mobile-4/sturgeon-7

The words are changed so client info isn't released. The content is linear and so numbers have meaning in context.

My question is this. Have there been any UX studies done to show whether or not this makes any difference. SEO is no consideration as all this content is behind a paywall and is internally indexed/searchable.

  • The first one looks like a suspicious shortcut that tries to hide its destination. – trollingchar Sep 17 at 14:06
10

Jabob Nielsen in his article URL as UI from 1999 highlights the importance of human-friendly and hackable URLs. Updates from 2005 and 2007 mentioning eye-tracking studies suggesting that people pay attention to URL.

Another article by NNGroup, Navigation: You Are Here states that:

Well-chosen, human-readable web addresses are important to sharing, credibility, recognition, and recall. A page’s web address can be used to reveal some of the information architecture to help contextualize the content.

I'm not sure how often your users will see full URL instead of link text, but I do not think there are any benefits to making links less meaningful.

For me personally, readable links are important, I assert more trust to links with information scent. Besides, then I navigate any interlinked documentation or wiki, I often mouse over the link to view URL in the bottom left corner to see if I have already visited it or have it open. In this scenario, human readable URL in much proffered as well.

1

The results in the study linked in the updates to that NNGroup article on URLs are limited to users viewing links on a web search results page with the intent to click one of the links to visit that webpage. Clearly, investigating suggested webpages could and does involve inspecting the URLs of said pages for many users. The study linked, however, provides no guidance whatsoever on the eye fixation time of users on the URLs on intermediate stage webpages in a webapp or other web-based workflow with which they are familiar. That is, we shouldn't be generalizing an eye-tracking study that only looked at search result links to eye fixations on the URL bar on general webpages.

The web-browsing public is also more accustomed to unreadable strings of nonsense as URLs now than they have been at any point in the history of the internet. Just have a look at any link from a CDN, such as facebook's ubiquitous fbcdn or at any Google search result URL. Even your bank's website, a trust-critical application, uses URLs consisting of a bunch of flags and ?= options that aren't particularly human-interpretable, even if some of then are dictionary words. Not that this is "good design", per se, but that the effects of bad URLs on the browsing public may not be as large as some fear.

URL clarity is still important, especially if you expect people to share or bookmark your pages. But in the context of an app's internal pages, URLs aren't as important. As the article Jurjis' linked indicates, URLs can help with You-Are-Here, but on the other hand, do you really want people trying to URL-navigate themselves to the middle of some app workflow you didn't design to be started in the middle?

Of course, certain kinds of URL clarity are important to another class of user: developers. As this article points out nicely, you want your URLs to make sense, at least at the routing level, to the devs, if no one else. But in the context of a security-sensitive application, you also don't want your URLs to be so specific that they leak information by existing.

  • Please cite some sources. Users rarely do what we want them to do. If they do it regardless then we should design those pages. The content that I talking about is hierarchical and linear in nature. It isn't an email app or a search page. – Frank Robert Anderson Sep 17 at 5:50
  • You state in your question that the words that make up the URL longcodes you're talking about are words that are changed to prevent information leakage, so I don't understand how the hierarchy in your pages will be relevant to your users. If your content is totally linear, why do you have different URLs at all, rather than using pagination or routing on a single webpage? Edit: Unless you meant that you were using fake words in your example, which I would have thought was obvious. Surely you're also obfuscating the URLs in the real app to prevent data leakage, right? – sintax Sep 17 at 13:41
  • No, I obfuscated the words when posting publicly here now. The site doesn't obfuscate the contents to the user. Even physical books (which one could argue is a very linear form of content) can be organized hierarchical: Book > Part > Chapter > Page. Anyway, my OP was about UX studies, thank you for pointing to the article. Sorry to lead you to thinking this was a security related question. I just didn't want you to think my app was about unifying mobile sturgeons. – Frank Robert Anderson Sep 18 at 18:25

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