The (Un)Usability of Wellness Websites

Recently, I was asked to conduct a usability evaluation of three prospective vendors’ wellness websites that my company is considering to offer our employees.

Shortly into the exercise I realized that my ultimate recommendation would come down to which of the sites sucked the least.

All three of them suffered from the same problems:

  • Home pages are way too busy, loaded with boxes, “portlets,” headers, sub-headers, announcements, promotions, etc.
  • There are way too many links, and they are labeled similarly to each other, making it difficult to choose the correct one. For example, one site has links labeled “Health Record,” “Health Center,” “Health Assessment,” “Complete a Health Assessment,” and “Health Actions” in the left navigation alone. Plus they all have something nebulous like “Resource Center.”
  • Functionality is nested inside areas that are hard to find or remember where to find. This leads to a longer-than-appropriate path to finding information and a steep re-learning curve every time the employee logs in.
  • Some of the health assessments are overly complicated or do not appear to remember entries that people entered earlier in the assessment. One of the self-assessments took me nearly an hour to complete. Who has that kind of time?
Similar Links

This wellness site contains a potpourri of similar sounding links, making it difficult to choose the right one.

Home Page that doesn't look like home page

This site's home page looks more like a checklist than a landing page.

Too many choices

I find 0-10 ratings to be too many choices. What's the difference between 7 and 8?

Too much functionality

This screen has so much functionality on it that it quickly becomes easy to get overwhelmed -- and this is just *one* health area to work on.


For one of my health areas (stress), the site spawned various circles that I was to interact with. Problem is, I have no indication of what I've completed or not.

Too many simliar links and portlets

This wellness site has so many similar sounding links, many of which are duplicated elsewhere on the page. The page design is not great, with lots of boxes, clickable image headers, and lame-ish stock photography.

Clearly these sites are trying to do too much. Given that employees infrequently access our wellness sites (compared with the sites and applications they use regularly), cluttering the sites with never-used options is really harmful. Sure, these vendors probably all believe that by offering so much content and functionality they will drive up usage. But the reality is that most employees want to interact with these sites as little as possible.

Part of my evaluation also included a remote Chalkmark study, where three groups of randomly recruited employees looked at the three wellness sites. In a Chalkmark study (brought to you by Optimal Workshop), participants are provided with a task and then shown a screen shot of the wellness site. The tool aggregates participants’ initial clicks-on-screen for each of the tasks. The end result is a heatmap of each screen showing where people first clicked and how long, on average, it took them to click the mouse. Ideally, you see very few colored blobs on the screen – which means people mostly clicked in the same area. If you see many small purple dots scattered on the screen, that’s bad; it means there is no clear-cut effective label that draws people to click it.

Suffice it to say – without boring you with all of the data from the study – our employees’ responses pretty much mirrored my own findings.

Here are some of them:

  • On tasks that required them to make a choice among several similarly worded links, it took a very long time (78 seconds for certain tasks on one site) and the click results were scattered across several different links (lots of purple dots).
  • For a core task like reading your personalized health report, across all three sites, less than 25% of people actually clicked on the correct link.
  • Scheduling a health screening saw an average success rate of 27%.
  • Sadly, the best-performing task was changing a password, where 62% clicked the correct link.
Can't find schedule

In this Chalmark screencap, you can see that only 21% of the people clicked the "Biometric Online Scheduler" link. In studies like these, it's best to have concentrated blobs, rather than scattered purple dots.

78 seconds

Notice that it took an average of 78 seconds for people to make that first mouse click to schedule a health screening. And only 55% actually clicked the right area.

Here are some quotes that customers entered directly into the survey:

“I struggled to find and decide what to click on.  I would likely get frustrated and want to call a help line or just give up on using the site.”

“I found it quite difficult to find the area to click. It seems to take too much time to find the right topic.”

“The list on the left of the main screen [left nav] is where most websites list things I search for.  But that list didn’t seem helpful in answering any of the survey questions.”

“It seemed like there was way too much information on one screen, and unless you continue to scroll and scroll, you miss what’s at the bottom.  Too jumbled; too much to look at; too busy.”

“Some of these slides were very difficult.   Specifically I had no idea how to schedule my annual health screening.  Seemed like too much on page — if I wanted something I wasn’t going all the way to the bottom to find it.   Having a quick links at the right or left would have been better.”

In the end, I did sort of recommend one vendor over the others, mainly given that its health assessment process was much shorter and had less hidden functionality – and that our employees gave it the least number of negative comments compared with the other ones. It still suffered from all the other usability issues I’ve mentioned, but it had the most potential. Provided the vendor can make certain customizations – including removing much of the unnecessary “resources,” “centers,” “tips,” “actions,” and other little-used links, then it might be something worthwhile.

What about you? Do you have a wellness website at work? If so, what do you like or dislike about it? How often do you actually use it? What could make it better?


4 thoughts on “The (Un)Usability of Wellness Websites

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