Back to Basics: Logical Site Navigation

March 31, 2009

Crafting a logical navigational structure is one of the most effective ways of making your web site inviting, user friendly, and useful. 

Navigational cues like this? Not helpful!

The following approaches help ensure that visitors can readily find pertinent information on your site:

  1. Make your navigational categories clear, consistent, and descriptive.  Sounds obvious, but AxisPortals too often sees sites that include “Contact Us” links that offer very little in the way of contact information, “About Us” links that shed precious little light on the purpose or philosophy of the organization, and “Our Products” links that offer practically every sort of advice and reflection under the sun, but do not lead to a helpful list of actual products.  Clarity matters.  Think of your navigational links or buttons as road signs, and proceed accordingly.  If a road sign says “Our Team,” then it should lead to pictures and descriptions of your team members.  If it says “Our Products,” then product pictures and descriptions should surely be in the offing.  Navigation is all about predictability.  “Main Street” should include the Post Office, the Barber Shop, a Drug Store, and maybe the Hardware Store.  “Industrial Way” should include foundries, factories, and heavier industries than those found on Main Street.  Just so with navigation.  When it comes to finding our way around in new places, we’re all traditionalists.  Stick with the clear and predictable when devising the road signs for your site.
  2. Ensure that visual devices such as rollover and flash effects are used sparingly and complemented with  accessible textual cues and pointers.  Sometimes, we create flashy effects because we can, because they’re new and attention getting, and because bells and whistles so neatly demonstrate our technical skill.  AxisPortals has, historically, been quite as guilty of this as anyone.   Ultimately, though, there’s nothing quite as frustrating as a visually appealing site that’s nigh on impossible to navigate successfully.  Indeed, we’ve known for a long time that fussy splash pages and flash features tend to annoy web readers, driving them away in droves.  So, it’s best to keep things simple.  Non-fussy CSS text rollovers with color changes help readers keep tabs on where they are and where they’re going, look sharp, and don’t detract from the clarity of text markers.  When we do choose to employ somewhat fancier effects, we should work to ensure that their basic navigational function is never diluted.   Usability and accessibility trump bling.
  3. Include a site index, map, or table of contents:  As a student, AxisPortals was always extraordinarily fond of books that included detailed TOC’s and indices.  These remarkable tools meant that AxisPortals could very quickly find precisely the information she needed to complete a project or a paper, and wouldn’t have to page laboriously through an entire tome to find them.  Any content container of significant length that actually helps you find your way through it is a thing to treasure.  Indeed, the very best of these references rapidly become indespensible.  When they are books, we keep them always at hand, growing fonder and fonder of them as they grow ever more dilapidated from lovingly regular use.  When they are websites, we bookmark them, turn to them often, and pass them along to others.    Whether your site is about movies or pizza, social networking or healthcare managment, baseball or vintage records, the users who visit it are looking for something specific.  Provide them with the tools that make sorting through your content and locating their desired information as simple as possible, and your site could easily become a much loved, often returned to favorite.
  4. Consider embedding a site specific search tool.  Many free, easily embeddable search tools (e.g. Google Site Search) are readily available.  A site search feature is particularly appealing on large sites, but can enhance a small to medium sized site, as well.  Why not make it easy for your web visitors to locate the particular person, product, or phrase they are after? 
  5. Check your site statistics periodically to determine how users are actually navigating your site, and make ongoing changes accordingly.  Once you’ve cleaned and polished your navigational structure and tools, be sure to routinely reconsider and update them as your site evolves.  The nested menus and deep structures that wouldn’t make sense or be at all user friendly for relatively small sites might make perfect sense as your site grows to encompass upwards of a hundred pages.  The keyword that visitors often search for on your site might deserve a page of its own, and a prominent place in the navigation scheme.  Keep in mind that just as a web site is never really done, a website’s navigation is never entirely final.  Your site will best support your business, your team, and your clients when it is organized in logical, easily navigable fashion that evolves along with the site.

AxisPortals Aphorism:  The easier you make it for site visitors to find exactly what they’re looking for, the more likely they are to hang around and explore the rest.

Well, thanks--that narrows it down!

Well, thanks--that narrows it down!






Physician, Heal Thy Web Presence

March 12, 2009

It seems that for every doctor who twitters and blogs his or her way to an effective web presence and utter transparency,  there are thousands more who are nigh on impossible even to locate online, much less to discover anything substantial about, and from a medical consumer’s standpoint, that can be very frustrating, indeed. 


This week, AxisPortals has been in full-on mom mode, tending to a child who zipped right from rosy good health to the chest racking coughs of acute bronchitis without even pausing to develop a measurable fever along the way.  Like many consumers, AxisPortals started with Google to track down the relevant doctor’s contact information.  Much to her surprise, AxisPortals (whose web search skills are pretty highly honed) came up almost totally empty handed. Thanks to ubiquitous online phone books and physician directories, finding the office phone number was no problem.  (However, one of the two locations has long since been closed.  I knew that, but what about the patients who didn’t?) Still,  where was the website?  And wasn’t it, after all, somewhat troubling to discover that this excellent pediatrician’s entry in the local hospital’s “Find a Physician” search tool hadn’t been updated in over four years?  In internet time, that counts as eons.


So, while administering the rapidly healing kiddo’s nebulizer treatments, AxisPortals got to thinking like the combination of a mom and web designer that she is, and came up with the following physician practice web site checklist.   These simple things would breathe new life into any doctor’s web presence:  



When AxisPortals is in either mom mode or patient mode and goes searching for physician information, those are some of the things she expects to find. 


How about you?  What are some of the qualities and features that would make a doctor’s web presence most effective from your perspective?  

AxisPortals Aphorism:  A Healthy Physician Web Presence Makes for A Confident and Informed Consumer






Your Health Online

March 11, 2009

Should we  look for medical information online, and if so, where?

Well, our doctors might not always like it, but when it comes to searching for health information, there’s just  no going backwards:  when we have health questions and issues today, we are likely to turn to the internet first in our quest for information. 

Fortunately, there are some good guidelines we can follow to ensure that we’re finding solid, reliable information, and to ensure that we are using that information wisely.

Guideline Number One:  No matter how tempting it might be, don’t give into the urge to Google your way to self-diagnosis.  Unfortunately, the internet can be a hypochondriac’s paradise, and  can make arm-chair doctors of us all, even when, intellectually, we know better.  All of us, then, must work  to resist the urge to plug our symptoms into Google, expecting to find authoritative explanations for them.   In part, it’s the sheer volume of medical information available online that makes the search engine approach unwise.  Plugging “fever and cough” into a search engine, after all,  will yield thousands of results that are nearly  impossible  to sort through at all, much less objectively,  especially when we or our family members aren’t feeling well.  When we believe that our symptoms might indicate something more serious than a common cold, or when we suspect that they have persisted beyond the point at which an ordinary viral illness ought to have run its course, then it’s always best to start our search for answers with a call our doctors’ offices.

Guideline Number Two:  Although we should be careful not to let internet sources take the place of expert medical advice from our doctors, we shouldn’t hesitate to use the internet to become  better informed health consumers:  When we are trying to decide whether or not to see a doctor, when we actually have a solid diagnosis in hand, when we are scheduled to undergo a specific test, or when we’ve been prescribed a particular drug, then there are some high quality internet resources available that can help us learn more about all of these things. 

Here are a handful of these “best in class” online medical resources for consumers:


  1. Close to home resources:  Turn to your local hospital’s website.  Many local hospitals offer resources such as physician search tools, patient guides, and links to solid consumer information.  These resources have been built with our specific communities in mind, so these sites tend to be excellent places to launch online health research.  When we’re looking for health information online, we should definitely keep our local medical institutions in mind.
  2. Comprehensive  Resources:   When we just can resist looking for potential explanations of our symptoms prior to making a doctor’s appointment (and many of us really can’t resist!), then  WebMD’s interactive symptom checker is a far better place to begin than a general web search could ever be.  Best of all, though, this highly regarded site offers thorough and up to date information about treatments and conditions, and encourages web users to stay in close contact with their physicians.  WebMD also sponsors Medcape and eMedicine, both of which can also serve as excellent resources for patients, parents, and caretakers.
  3. Government Resources:  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  (CDC)  site is another that  offers complete and authoritative descriptions of conditions, tests, medications, and treatments.  What makes this site especially appealing, though, is its overall emphasis on supporting both personal and community health.  The National Institutes of Health and  National Library of Medicine  are similarly good resources, particularly for more in depth reading.
  4. Resources with Excellent Reputations:  A good reputation is hard to earn, and hard to keep.  Two resources with solid reputations and names we all undoubtedly recognize are the Merck Manual and Mayo Clinic, both of which offer terrific consumer facing websites. 
  5. A Search Resource:    Health on the Net Foundation’s  search tool  limits its searches to accredited sites.  Even with this tool at our  disposal, we must of course still always exercise due caution, but it definitely offers a much more manageable set of results than Google tends to, guiding users  to independently reviewed sites that meet a clearly defined set of principles for quality and reliability.


Guideline Number Three:  Find community support and connection online.  When we or our loved ones are suffering from chronic diseases and conditions–or any sort of illness or health challenge–we can find excellent community support online.  In this area, the internet really excels.  Often, we have a relatively limited amount of time to spend with our busy doctors.  They can provide medical information and treatment, but often don’t really have the time or the ability to  provide the kind of extensive discussion, interaction, and emotional support we might need or desire when we’re coping with medical issues.  Online, we can connect to other parents who share our frustrations and hopes, we can talk to other patients who understand our challenges, and we can bond with other caretakers who truly appreciate  the  sacrifices and frustrations involved with tending to a chronically ill relative.  MedHelp is one of the best sites for fostering this kind of connection.  The site offers an extensive variety of discussion forums (some led by physicians, others led by users), provides users with tools to create online medical records, and also makes it easy for users to establish personal blogs to record and explore their health journeys in the company of  their online network of peers.  Anyone looking for support and understanding about medical issues would do well to visit MeldHelp.

Guideline Number Four:  We must keep our teams of medical experts involved.  We should let our doctors know about the kind of research we’ve undertaken online. We should ask questions.  We should solicit feedback. When we have questions or concerns, we should ask our doctors, our pharmacists, our nurses, and the other experts at our disposal for their input and advice.

The key to using online medical information really well is to make it one part of our overall approach to developing and maintaining health.  Even the best, most reliable medical websites are no substitute for the health professionals that know us and our histories personally.  We have the opportunity to be more informed than ever, but it’s an opportunity we must exercise responsibly.

AxisPortals Aphorism:   Support your health online without putting your health on the line.