I develop a Firefox and Chrome extension, and I'm adding a button. It seems like a page action (button in the address bar) is the "correct" choice, as opposed to a browser action (button on the toolbar).

Here's a page action in the address bar of Chrome:

The "page action" icon is in the address bar, not the browser's toolbar.


Here it is in the address bar of Firefox:

The "page action" icon is in the address bar, not the browser's toolbar.

The icons shown on the right (outside the address bar) are browser actions.


However, I've done some (limited) informal user surveying, and it seems that literally nobody realizes that the page action icon is a button – they think that it's just informational.

(This is exacerbated by the fact that {a} the mouse doesn't change to clicky hand or the like on hover, and {b} in Chrome there doesn't seem to be a way to change the icon on hover to indicate interactivity. This is parenthetical because most users won't even know to try to hover.)

This is less a problem on Firefox because it's possible to put a button in both places. But in Chrome it's strictly either/or.

Are page actions obvious to the user that they are clickable? Does anyone have experience or know of user studies regarding them?

  • What is called <browser action> does not need to be browser action. It's just a name and names change (sooner or later) to reflect what they are. Same goes for <page action>. Repeat this 10 times. – Pacerier Jul 27 '17 at 12:42
up vote 6 down vote accepted

This purely anecdotal, but I work in the web industry, and use chrome everyday, and didn't realise the page actions were clickable. I agree with you that they look more like signifiers than they do clickable buttons.

Most people are familiar with the 3 horizontal lines signifying a menu button (highlighted below), and as such, being part of the same visual grouping with the menu button makes it obvious that the icons next to it are also buttons.

enter image description here

I'm not sure what your extension does, but if it's possible to make the button a browser action I feel it will be more obvious to users that it is clickable.

Page Actions aren't useless as they convey actions and status that relate to the current page. For example:

  • The Add-to-Bookmarks button is a Page Action to toggle the current page on your bookmarks list.
  • The FlashBlock extension uses a Page Action to show if the current page is globally blocked from showing Flash elements.
  • The extension Chrome Sniffer uses a Page Action to show what platforms and libraries the current page is using.

But I agree that they don't function well as buttons, perhaps this is by the design of the icon (not "raising" the element to give it depth).

FlashBlock and Add-to-Favorites Page Actions

The answer is not entirely black-and-white. It depends on other factors besides the action type, so the action type just might become a bit more irrelevant.

Page actions may be a little bit more obvious to be clickable once the user hovers them and you have assigned page action a title that tells to click on it.

Also you may try to design the icon to be button-shaped, in 2D or even in 3D.

  • Welcome to the site, @Roland. Your post doesn't appear to answer the OP's question about whether a page-action or browser-action button is preferable. Perhaps you can edit it to answer that? – Graham Herrli Feb 17 '15 at 16:15
  • @3nafish I think it does. It tells that the answer is not a black-and-white yes or no, rather - the effect is conditional on the icon form and title. Is it more understandable now? Perhaps you can please edit to make that more clear? – Roland Pihlakas Feb 17 '15 at 20:59
  • 1
    The "once the user hovers" part is tricky, since users just don't know the icons are clickable and therefore will never hover over them. I think you're correct that they could be probably be made to look more clickable (3D, etc.) -- but I've never seen one that was. I ended up writing a blog post about this: crypti.cc/blog/2013/03/24/pageaction-interaction – adam-p Feb 19 '15 at 3:24

Basically both pageActions and browserActions work in the same way but developers use them in different scenarios.

For example if you need an action to work on a particular webpage or few websites then you will have to use pageAction which appear to be in the url. But if your action is not specific to a website but to all the websites then you use browserActions which appear on the browser toolbar unlike pageActions which appear on the right side of the url box. This applies for both Chrome and Firefox browsers.

  • But isn't it true that the browserAction can be selected to appear on selected URLs too? – Pacerier Jul 27 '17 at 12:44
  • Yes! By default it is enabled on all tabs. However you can disable it for a particular tab using browserAction.disable() method. Find more info here< developer.mozilla.org/en-US/Add-ons/WebExtensions/API/… >. However from a engineering perspective, you are supposed to use pageAction if you want your add-on to work only for a particular website. – Santosh Jul 30 '17 at 14:17

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