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How We Use the Web: We All Satisfice

By Erin  |   Business Website Tips

Man sitting on a chair, working on his laptop computer

Your parents do it. Your friends do it. And it’s quite likely you do it. We all do it, actually. We all satisfice.

“Satisfice” is a lovely combination of satisfy + suffice, and refers to a decision-making strategy we use that satisfies the minimum requirements of achieving a goal.

Your sister is a chocoholic.

Consider the following scenario.  You know your sister is a total chocoholic who also happens to love almonds and blueberries. As her birthday is quickly approaching, you fire up your web browser with a goal of finding a chocolate gift basket that can be sent to her next week. Upon arriving at a gourmet food site’s homepage, you’re immediately dazzled by gorgeous close-up shots of five featured chocolate boxes, each one overflowing with handcrafted, beautifully decorated truffles.

The second box of chocolates looks especially enticing and falls beneath the max price you’d set for yourself. You click the “Learn More” button, skim the info on the details page, then hit “Buy Now”. Within 3 minutes the gift is scheduled to be shipped and you’re out the door.

You felt the odds were good that your sister would like your choice. You didn’t comb through each section of the website to see if there might be other chocolate options she’d actually find more appealing. You didn’t explore the site to see if you could put together a custom box of almond and blueberry chocolates. You hit upon an option that seemed reasonable; it met your basic requirements (needed to be chocolatey), so you went with it.

You satisficed.

Satisficing isn’t bad; it’s a necessity.

There’s simply not enough time in a day for us to carefully review every link, ever option, and every product in every site we visit in hopes of making the best decisions possible. We can’t review thousands of books before choosing the next novel we want to purchase, we can’t analyze every single available vacation condo when planning a trip, and there’s no way we read every single FAQ in a site’s Help section before picking up the phone to call tech support.

We usually aren’t penalized for making bad decisions on the web. We know that making a poor choice and hitting the Back button takes less time than carefully studying an entire page of links, photos, and text to determine what we should do next.

This is interesting. But why does it matter?

It matters because this knowledge can help us make more massively more effective websites.

Let’s keep this information when we evaluate, develop strategies for, and review our websites. Knowing our website’s users will often choose the easiest (and not necessarily the best) options, we can:

  • Refrain from writing content that assumes visitors will be reading and remembering every last word.
  • Include links within the main text of our pages that guide visitors to other content in which they might have an interest.
  • Consider using clear diagrams, images, charts, and tables to present relevant data and allow site visitors to absorb information easily and more quickly.
  • Break up paragraphs into bulleted or numbered lists, when applicable (lists are far easier to skim through than lengthy blocks of text).
  • If selling products, place the items we’re most interested in selling right up front—on the homepage or at the beginning of our product list. Why? Because people often satisfice by clicking the first item they see. (This same tip holds true for portfolios of work; you should put your most impressive work at the top or beginning of your list.)
  • If possible, provide visitors with multiple ways of reaching the pages, sections, or content they care about.
  • Remove what’s not critical. If extraneous graphics, text, or photos clutter your site’s pages, they’ll compete for visual attention and make it even more difficult for our visitors to locate what they’re looking for (and what you want them to see!).


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