The Effects of Hyperlinks and Site maps on the Memorability and Enjoyability
of Web Content
Marlin D. May (MA Student)
Dr. S. Shyam Sundar
Dr. Russell B. Williams
For a complete report of this research, see:
May, M. D., Sundar, S. S., & Williams, R. B. (1997, May). The effects
of hyperlinks and site maps on the memorability and enjoyability of web
content. Paper presented at the 47th annual conference of the International
Communication Association (ICA), Montreal, Canada.
The presence of hyperlinks differentiates World Wide Web (WWW) documents
from documents presented using other media. WWW users navigate within
and between documents using hyperlinks. However the presence of hyperlinks
can also make a website difficult to navigate. This difficulty can probably
be alleviated by providing a map of the website. Does this have an effect
on the memorability of the website? In addition, does it affect users'
enjoyability of Web content? This study attempts to discover the linkage,
or lack thereof, between the use of hyperlinks and/or the use of site
maps in websites and the memorability and enjoyability of website content.
Previous research findings indicate that a site map can help a user navigate
through a WWW document, while using fewer mental resources to maintain
orientation, and therefore having more mental resources available for
memory tasks. This leads to the following hypothesis:
H1: Users exposed to WWW-delivered hypermedia that includes a map of
the hypermedia object will have higher scores of recognition memory than
users exposed to an identical hypermedia object without the map.
Previous research findings also suggest that a user exploring a document
composed of relational hyperlinks will be more likely to get lost and
spend more time navigating, thereby leading to a decrease in memorability
of the document. This leads to the following hypothesis:
H2: Users exposed to hypermedia that includes relational hyperlinks will
score lower on recognition than users exposed to a document containing
identical information without hyperlinks.
Thirty-six participants took part in a mixed-design experiment, wherein
they browsed one of four websites designed especially for this experiment.
The four experimental conditions were: No links and no site map; No links
and a site map; Links and no site map and; Links and a site map. Participants
were exposed to the relevant condition for a period of 15 minutes. They
were allowed to explore the document however they pleased, but their access
to the wider Internet from the document was blocked. After exposure, participants
were asked to fill out a pencil-and-paper questionnaire, containing items
pertaining to recognition as well as enjoyment.
H1: Not Supported. The presence of site maps did not lead to higher recognition
H2: Not Supported. The presence of relational hyperlinks did not lead
to lower recognition scores.
However, an interesting interaction effect was found such that when both
site maps and hyperlinks were present or absent from a document, participants
tended to have lower story memory scores than when one factor was present
and the other was absent.
The negative interaction between the site map and hyperlinks indicates
a specific situation a website designer would be wise to avoid, as users
encountering such a site would find it less memorable, less enjoyable
and more confusing than sites using just hyperlinks or a site map. Also,
the findings from this study indicate that website developers should construct
and provide a conceptual map of the document, one which depicts how the
ideas in the document relate to one another. An important implication
is that the prudent website builder should test the nodes he/she is considering
introducing into a site to verify that users interact with them in the
way he/she intends.