In a recent study looking at the best and worst of Web site design, Forrester Research also examined the best and worst of site navigation. Of the 20 sites studied, nine buried essential content more than four steps away from the homepage, making it difficult for users to accomplish their goals for visiting the site in the first place. The best sites on the Web, Forrester said, use flat navigational structures and fewer steps.
Here are three ways to ensure that visitors to your site can reach essential content quickly and easily:
1. Devote homepage space to navigation, not decoration. If you’re struggling with providing more Site Navigation aids on your homepage, you may want to rethink what’s there. According to previous studies, Forrester said it found that attractive homepages do little to get people to stay and buy. A good way to collapse navigational levels and cut steps out of user paths, then, is to replace white space and feel-good graphics with the content and functionality users need to accomplish their goals.
2. Prioritize and group. The first step here is to figure out what the most essential content is for the most important set of users visiting your site. Then, you can prioritize and group this content, keeping essential links on or near the homepage. When categories are displayed in groups, users can skip over entire lists of links they don’t need, ultimately shortening their navigational process – and the steps they need to take to buy.
3. Compensate for buried content. Chances are, your site will still need to place lower priority content and functionality more than three steps from the homepage. In those cases, it’s even more important to stick to tried-and-true design practices. For example, make sure your menu choices are clearly written and that users have good Site Navigation page-location feedback at each step of the way. Content that is clearly written and laid-out helps users scan pages and quickly determine if the content they’ve found is the content they need.
For more on Forrester’s Web design study, see:
Seven steps to better overall site design
Four Web design errors to avoid
Mini USA: Driving Web design to the next level: