Thursday, February 14, 2008

Navigate Through Usability Poem


Keep Your Navigation Simple!

Navigation must be simple. Since it's the backbone of your site, it's imperative that visitors be able to understand it. Here are two tips on how to make simplicity a reality in your site:

1. Your link titles need to be understandable.

Visitors need to know exactly what link to click on for the info they need. Unfortunately, visitors frequently get confused and don't understand what a link means. Consequently, they aren't sure what info they'll find at the other end of the link.

Often, a link name that makes complete sense to you will mean nothing to the visitor. For example, I once used a link called "Resources" in the navigation bar of a site for a client. This section of the site contained various articles and links to outside sites with helpful information.

However, after a little bit of testing, I discovered that most people had no idea what I meant by "Resources". They didn't know what kind of information was in that area. Also, when visitors tried to look for articles, they didn't think to check the Resources section.

In other words, the link wasn't doing anyone any good.

The difference between your understanding of a term and a visitor's understanding of the same term can be rather drastic. This happens because you are so close to your own business and your own site.

It's important to remember that visitors don't know nearly as much about your business as you do. They often have no background knowledge, and they might not know standard terms in your industry. Sometimes, you'll have to work to come up with terms and phrases for your links that are meaningful to the visitor.

Here's one general principle: Don't use clever terms.

Although clever attention-getters often work well in the offline world, it's different online. In character with their generally hurried attitude, web users want to know exactly where they are going and what they will find when they click on a link. They don't like guessing games and are usually not enticed by clever lead-ins. What lies beyond them is simply not clear.

Cleverness doesn't belong in navigation unless you're positive the meaning will be understood by everyone. You should avoid anything that isn't straightforward and clear. Steer away from any terms that obscure what your links are really about.

Also, you should be very careful about using industry-specific terms. You might be suprised to find out how much of your lingo doesn't make sense to people who aren't familiar with your industry. Carefully evaluate each of your links to make sure you're not using a confusing term.

2. Navigation options need to be kept to a minimum

The second way you can simplify your navigation is to make the amount of options manageable. Visitors tend to get overwhelmed if you give them too many choices. They aren't able to focus. Rather than seeing each individual option, they only see a mass of links.

An additional reason not to include too many links is that you ordinarily shouldn't send visitors in a lot of different directions. If you've established a primary goal for your site (you have, haven't you?), your site should revolve around accomplishing that goal. So it's in your best interest to keep the options down. That way, you're able to steer your visitors in the direction you want them to go.

Keep your navigation menus to 5-7 options or less. That's the max amount you can have without losing your visitors' concentration. Any more than that, and they aren't able to discern an individual choice.

If you find yourself having more than 5-7 options in each of your navigation menus, try to pare them down. It's better to simplify the list and make sure visitors can evaluate everything than to cram everything in when visitors will miss most of it.

If you really need more than 7 links, group the links into a few categories. Although this can still get overwhelming, it helps significantly if you categorize links for visitors. They can latch onto one category and narrow it down from there, rather than having to deal with the whole list at once.

Overall, try to objectively evaluate your navigation from the point of view of a visitor. If you can, get input from people who aren't familiar with your site or your business. They'll be a great resource in helping you determine whether or not your links are confusing or overwhelming.

Written by Jamie Kiley. There are 605.6 million people online. Can they find your business? Jamie Kiley creates powerful and engaging websites that make sure YOUR company gets noticed. Visit http://www.kianta.comfor a free quote. Get a quick, free web design tip every two weeks - sign up for Jamie's newsletter.

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