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!






Technology in 2009: Resolution Number 4

December 29, 2008


Sometimes, we all lean just a little too hard on our computers, relying on them to function flawlessly no matter how hard we use them.  Usually, this works out just fine, but every now and then, things do fall spectacularly apart.  This year, make it a priority to back up your crucial documents.  There’s nothing worse than losing that one precious, irreplaceable picture, or trying to rewrite a long and complicated report from scratch.   With a solid backup to turn to in emergencies, you’ll always have peace of mind. 

Carbonite, Symantec, and others offer inexpensive online backup packages that are worth exploring for personal documents.  For SMB corporate documents, consider exploring online office and document portal solutions that include automatic backup programs.

AxisPortals Aphorism:  Lean on Backups