Designing Useful Navigation
much has changed in the year since Jakob Nielson wrote,
"Most sites have miserable information architectures
that mirror the way the company internally thinks about
the content and not the way users think about the content.
Predictably, users ignore such unhelpful structure."
Typically, they ignore by bailing, pronto.
employ useful navigation that helps your customers shop
and moves them ever closer to the close? Then design your
site the way your customer thinks, so your site anticipates
the way your customers want to interact with your
"store." And remember the three cardinal rules:
keep it simple, make it intuitive and be consistent.
out, it isn't all that difficult to figure out what your
customers probably want to do when they get to your site.
Studies demonstrate people search for and gather
information in fairly predictable ways. And navigation has
a very simple role to play. It orients the customer
by letting him know where he is, and it directs by
letting him know where he can go as well as how to get
“user experience” consultancy reported, “39
percent of test shoppers failed in their buying
attempts because sites were too difficult to navigate.
The potential benefit of improving a website's
usability is staggering.”
optimize your site, you need to recognize users are
task-oriented, or "goal-driven." They pursue
what they are looking for rather single-mindedly, and
even when they are browsing, they browse within a
rarely look at logos, mission statements, slogans, or
any other elements they consider fluff."
a page does not appear relevant to the user's current
goal, then the user will ruthlessly click the Back
button after two or three seconds."
users don't understand a certain design element, they
don't spend time learning it."
users hate distractions, such as flashing gifs, and
also hate un-requested intrusions, such as pop-ups.
are many different types of navigation schemes out there.
What is usually successful, though, is to combine pieces
from several and come up with a scheme directed to get your
customer to the “close” of your sales process,
whether that “close” is a purchase, a subscription, a
phone call or whatever else it is that you want your
visitors to do. Let’s talk about some of these schemes:
Hierarchical - that
sideways, tree-like line of text that indicates where the
user has been. It reminds me of those little kids in the
fairy tale who “left breadcrumbs” so they would know
how to get home and often looks like this:
Page > Automobiles > Classics > Convertibles
this scheme offers access to all areas of your site, using
tabs or a running list. Take a peek at the site of my
Future Now <http://www.futurenowinc.com>.
See the tabs across the top? Real simple and easy to use.
You can access this navigation from any page of the site,
because Future Now makes the system consistent over every
- allows users to get to related information within a
category, not between categories. This is most helpful
when your visitor landed on your site via a search engine,
but hasn’t landed on quite the right page. Take another
look at Future Now <http://www.futurenowinc.com>.
See the right bar of information with links? There you go;
also very easy.
- This is another very easy scheme. You simply place a
hyperlink within the body of some text. You just have to
be careful how you phrase the link to suggest where it
will take the user. (NOTE: the links in the following
examples are not real.)
effective use of embedded links: I am writing
about a woman who was murdered.
that link to how to write a novel? Thoughts about writing
a novel? The novel itself? It's not terribly clear.
use of embedded links: I am writing a novel about Jack
the Ripper. Want to read an excerpt?
user can more easily assume these links will take her to a
discussion of Jack the Ripper and a sample of the
- hate to tell ya, but most folks skip these completely.
It’s too much information for most visitors to bother
with, nor does it strike most users as being as creative
as some designers would like to think. You could argue a
site map does have some value as a supplemental navigation
tool just in case your customers can’t find what they
were looking for using your primary navigation. But in
that case, redesigning your primary navigation would be a
much more effective use of your time, budget and site
FOR NAVIGATION DESIGN ‘A LA GROK’
here come my secret tips and tricks for great navigation
design. As I said earlier, a perfect blend of
schemes usually works best to get your customer closer
to the close. It always depends on the type of
product/service you are offering. However, keep these
pointers in mind as you create the structure for
successful and painless movement throughout your website
and you’ll be on the right track.
standard icons and conventions whenever possible.
For example, people recognize what a shopping cart is
for and know that blue-underlined text means hyperlink.
Leverage on what they already know. Contradict it just
to be “original” and you will lose sales.
it simple and make it intuitive. Ease of
use makes for happy customers.
your scheme consistent from page to page. Your
customer should only have to figure it out once.
basic structure of the navigation system. It helps your
visitors feel more confident, and more confidence leads
to more sales.
to clear, concise labels for your navigation
elements. This is not the place to get creative or coy.
Use text for navigation elements; avoid graphics.
Graphics take time to load, and also don’t always load
properly. Some folks even go so far as to have images
turned off in their browsers,
which case, all those pictures you created to direct
your traffic were a waste of time and money. If you feel
you must use pictures, always include accompanying text.
· Don't link everything to
Less is more. Anticipate where your customer is likely
to go and build that into your scheme. And above all,
keep your links within your page; don't require your
customers to use their browser's back button. If you do,
you hand them a chance to leave your site completely.
(On the other hand, never disable their browser’s
back button. Hijacking their computer is a great way to
lose customers forever.)
· Don't overuse embedded links,
and make sure they clearly identify what they link to.
· Test! Test! Test!
On lots of different users, different browsers,
different viewing options. Remember the Mom
· Provide help,
online and offline.
it’s all about designing your information architecture
around the searching patterns and psychology of your
visitors, not coming up with something that looks cool but
sends your visitors clicking for the hills. When you make
it easy for your visitors to find what they want to buy
quickly and intuitively, more of them will buy. And that's
the point, isn’t it?