Many web developers do not consider the importance of the browser’s back button when building web pages. Even when they do, it is usually not considered as something that can be avoided. According to some experts, “the back button is one of the most important web buttons on any web page… most people come to a web page and skim. If it doesn’t look like what they needed to learn or wanted to read about, they leave. And the quickest route out of any web site is, you guessed it, the back button.”
This is a huge problem as we obviously want to keep visitors on our website! To encourage people to stay on your web site, web developers often code their sites to open in a pop up window without the browser controls, so people cannot use the back button or they make the back button to be grayed out. However, this is generally not a good idea because many people find this annoying and will simply close out of the site and leave anyway. Another technique web designers utilize is creating their own button that takes the visitor “home” or to “continue shopping”, but without clear indications on the button telling where the user was these links are worthless. Since the standard back button is the way most people have learned to navigate a web site, they will continue to do so whether or not other means of navigation are available. People are creatures of habit, when they browse a site; they do so in the most customary way. Therefore, we need to design around the fact that people are going to utilize this feature and just make the best of it.
So how can you use the browser’s back button to your advantage? Well, the best thing you can do is to place your logo near the back button so it is the last image they see when they leave your site. You should also make other items in the top left area of the screen links or “clickable” so that if people miss the back button they will be directed to potentially interesting areas of your site. Finally, server logs (web analytics) will help you in discovering how people are entering your site and exactly how they are exiting it. This can give you great insight and generate ideas for ways to keep visitors on your web page and help decrease the use of the back button. A good example would be people who find you directly through the search engines for specific keywords. Usually, these visitors are looking for specific information, so include easy ways to find that specific information, which will keep your visitor, engaged longer and minimize them leaving your site. In the end, it really just boils down to employing good web design tactics and incorporating relevant content so to discourage your visitors leaving too easily with the browser’s back button.