Three Indispensable Rules for Website Navigation

A recent client request to review their website usability prompted me to codify some of the rules with which I approach web navigation. These 3 principles work 100% and every deviation from them only brings confusion to the end user and thus lowers your ROI (Return on Investment).

Rule Number 1:  Don’t-Make-Me-Think.

Also the title of a best-seller book by Steve Krug, this principle is violated in many websites because perhaps the developers love their craft so much that they forget what the whole site is for the end user or a customer who is there to either a) find information on a specific topic, or b) solve a specific problem.

Navigation must be 100% transparent for the user to trust the web content and the business entity behind the web content. If the user starts thinking about the quirks of navigation, you will lose her as a prospect as well.

If your visitors start asking questions or silently chew on statements like the following, it means you have failed in the Don’t-Make-Me-Think test:

“Wow, that’s interesting, why did they put this link here?”

“Oops, what happened to the left sidebar?”

“Oh, great, I have no idea how to get back to that page now…”

“Why does this thing keep blinking?”

“I swear to god it was here just a second ago…”

“Now, why would anyone have a 3-layer drop-down menu with 20 options each?”

“Jeez, this lime-green text on pink background is just killing my eyes!”

The finger that points at the moon must not call attention to itself. If it does, we all start to watch the finger, not the moon. And your customers are lined up to pay for the moon’s beauty, not the up-close anatomy of a finger.

Rule Number 2:  Less-Is-More.

A great universal principle that was made famous by the legendary European architect Mies van der Rohe.

Your web site should include only the essentials and nothing else. People are busy, tired and already bombarded with information and infomercials all day long. We have to respect their time.

Eye candy does not respect anybody’s time. It is pure diversion for the aimless. It is great for a few seconds. Then your visitor clicks the mouse and moves on to somewhere else that perhaps does not look as jazzy but has the needed information, right there on the Index page, easily accessible. Case closed. Money lost.

Make sure your links have the minimum possible number of words.

If “Careers” is enough to do the job, do not label your link “Available career opportunities in our company.”

When “About Us” is a simple and well-accepted link label for corporate background information, do not call it “Our Past, Present and Future.”

Make sure your web page content fits a single screen and your visitors would not need to scroll vertically or (God forbid!) horizontally to read your content. Even if they need to scroll down, make sure it would require a minimal effort and not a toilet-paper-roll scroll (unless you own one of those single-product single-page “micro sites” which are anything but “micro”).

Do not include any links, offers, affiliate plug-ins, ads etc. in your web pages if you have less than 5,000 visitors a day (which probably represents over 90% of all the web sites out there). In my personal experience, until and unless you attract 5,000 unique daily visitors, all those links, plug-ins, ads etc. just clutter up your web site with no significant ROI benefits.

Ask yourself if $10, $30 or $50 a month of “ancillary income” is worth diluting your message, distracting your visitors, and losing them by inviting to click on a link that would take them to another site.

Rule Number 3:  Mutual Exclusivity.

Make sure all your navigation bars and pages have mutually exclusive content, with two exceptions:

1) The footer links should mirror the header links since in long pages people lose track of the links they’ve seen earlier at the top of the page. It is a great relief to access the same or similar links at the bottom of a long page without having to scroll up to top.

2) When you have a page element that requires action on the part of your visitors and is crucial to your ROI, like a membership form, a product order button, repeating it on different pages is acceptable since some studies have shown that on the average it takes seven exposures before a visitor considers taking action on such an element.

Two major navigation blocks on a great majority of commercial web sites consist of 1) the vertical navigation links on the left sidebar or frame/pane of the page, and 2) horizontal navigation links, tabs (with or without drop-down menus)

The links in these navigation blocks should not be repeated in each other since it creates confusion and needless over-clicking. Anything that causes the user to expand extra energy for the same results would create psychic friction and frustration.

A good rule of thumb is to reserve the vertical navigation links (usually on the left side of the page) to the HOME link (should always be the first on top) and information links such as “Calendar of Events,” “Careers,” “Newsletter,” “Map,” or “Troubleshooting.”

It is important to stick to the very same vertical links in every page to provide a solid perceptual anchor for the visitor. It’s much easier for a visitor to feel “lost” if the vertical links keep shifting and changing.

The horizontal navigation links (usually placed on top of the page, right under the main header/graphics) should point at main sections or pages of the web site that can further serve as a mini-gateway to other related subordinate-level pages.

For example, for a Travel Agency website, one of the horizontal/header links can take you to the “Bargains.” Once you are in the Bargains page, a second set of dynamically-displayed horizontal links can point at individual travel bargain deals: “Disney,” ” Hawaii,” “Miami,” etc. without changing the vertical links.

Sticking with these 3 simple rules should solve 90% of all your navigation issues. Let me know how these principles work for you and I’d be happy to share your feedback with my other readers and clients.

By Ugur Akinci, Ph.D.

About the author

Ugur Akinci, Ph.D. is a Creative Copywriter, Editor, an experienced and award-winning Senior Technical Communicator specializing in fundraising packages, direct sales copy, web content, press releases, movie reviews and hi-tech documentation. He has worked as a Technical Writer for Fortune 100 corporations since 1999.

He is the editor of Private Tutor for Sat math Success web site. He is a Senior Member of the Society for Technical Communication (STC), and a Member of American Writers and Artists Institute (AWAI). Visit his Copywriting Web Sitefor more information about him and his work.

Article Source: EzineArticles


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