December 2, 2009

Usability Check: Radio Buttons vs. Checkboxes


Hostway Team

By Hostway

If you're running an ecommerce Web site or collecting information about your visitors on any Web site, creating a simple, quick experience for visitors seriously helps your conversions. One easy way to streamline your Web site is to make sure you use radio buttons and checkboxes correctly.

When to Use Radio Buttons

Radio buttons are little circles that fill with a black dot when clicked. Radio buttons should only be used when there is a list of two or more options, and the selection of one option negates the other(s). Put simply, use radio buttons when you want users to select a single item from a list. Set one option as the default, and make sure that if another radio button is selected any previously selected button clears.

Because this is the standard use of radio buttons, users will expect this functionality. Additionally, Jakob Nielsen advises in a usability alert to use radio buttons instead of drop-down menus so that users can easily weigh all of the options without having to execute precise mouse movements.

When to Use Checkboxes

Checkboxes can be correctly used in two different ways:

  • With lists of items where visitors may select zero, one or more items
  • A single box with a standalone yes/no type question

Checkboxes are a good way to ask users whether they've read an agreement before converting or survey readers on specific actions they've taken, brands they've purchased, etc.

While the differences may seem insignificant at first, the correct usage of radio buttons and check boxes creates a better user experience because the site behaves in a way they expect. And, you can cut down the amount of instructions given--creating a cleaner, quicker way to convert.

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