The Back Button is one of the most important Web buttons on any Web page, and yet most Web designers don't think of it when they're building their pages. In fact, it's very common to see "back to home" or "back to start" or just "back" links built into the pages that they are designing. But unless these links have built in logic that knows exactly where the customer was before they clicked (like the browser back button does), then these links are just a sham - a guess at the path that the customer took through your site.
How Most People Browse the Web
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.
In fact, most people don't even realize they're doing it. They sit at a Web site with their mouse hovering over the scroll-bar area, just in case they need to scroll the page. Then, unless something really interesting comes along, they pull their mouse up to the upper left side of the browser and go back to their previous location.
Web Designers Can Impact This
You might be thinking, "but I don't want them to leave." And many designers do think that. So they do things like pop their site in a chrome-less window (ie. no back button). I've even seen sites actually go so far as to close down the original window and open the site in a window without controls. This is annoying. And it doesn't make your site more usable, it makes it less usable. Because the standard methods that your customers use to get around are blocked. Once they figure out how to get out of your site, they'll leave, and not return.
Don't take away the back button from your readers. You won't stop them from leaving, but you might stop them from coming back.
Take Advantage of the Back Button
Now, I am not, by any means, advocating that you suggest in your text things like "click the back button in your browser to go back." Most people know that already, and your saying it sounds, well, stupid at best. Instead, be aware that your customers want to use the back button, and plan for it. For example:
- Place your branding up near the back button
While most people don't really need to look when they're clicking back, placing your brand up there will get it more attention when they leave.
- Make items in that area clickable
Your logo should be clickable, but other text elements that are in the upper left area of your page should be clickable as well. That way, if they miss the back button, they might go somewhere else useful on your site.
- Use server logs to find out where they came from
If you know what they're going back to, you can address that right on the page, perhaps even with dynamic elements that only display when they come from that location. For example, someone coming from a search engine might not know the best ways to search your site. If you include details like how to search on the pages when they come from a search engine you might get them to stay longer.