In the old joke, a man goes up to an old-timer and asks how to
get to the local library. The old man thinks for a minute and
then says "It's quite simple really, but I wouldn't start from
Sounds silly? Well why do so many people design their web sites
It is a basic human need to know where we are at any given
moment. If we were to be blindfolded and set down in a strange
city, most of us would panic. It isn't a logical, thought-out
response - simply a wired-in emotional reaction to feeling
Almost every tourist center in the world provides maps and
guidebooks for their visitors. They don't do it just to make a
few dollars extra - they do it to stop thousands of folks from
asking their staff directions the whole time.
Yet how many web sites are 'designed' without a single thought
for making it easy for visitors to find their way around?
Most people have a need to build a mental picture of where they
have been, and where they are now. If a web site does not help
them satisfy that need, they will form an unconscious negative
impression. Then, the quality of the information on the site
becomes secondary to their basic human instinct. They will
quickly click away and look for an alternative, better organized
Site navigation is not simply about a nav-bar on your home page.
It encompasses three tightly interlinked factors:
* Home page navigation * Site 'look and feel' * Reassurance
Taking these things one at a time, let's look at how your site
can be friendly to your visitors, and how they will feel good
Home Page Navigation ---------------------
Every site makes some kind of stab at this. Whether it is a side
bar or a top bar, an image map or in-text links, virtually all
web designers make some attempt to move visitors on into the
depths of the site.
But wait - let's think about how it is often done.
Too many links. Why throw a link to everything onto the front
page? A few themed links directing visitors of discrete sections
of the site are more comforting.
Too few links. Unless there is a very good reason to make people
follow your site in a linear fashion, it is much better to let
them browse in the order they choose.
Unclear links. However you decide to design your page, ensure
that the links are clear as day. Use of underlined text on a
page that is not a link is confusing, as is changing the default
way that links are displayed. If you do play design games like
this, make sure you have a very good reason, and that your
visitors have no choice but to understand.
Dead links. Do I really need to mention that this is a no-no?
Apparently, because so many sites still have links that either
do nothing or point to 'under construction' pages. If you don't
have the content - don't make the link.
Site Look and Feel ------------------
If you are walking around Paris, New York, London, or any other
major city, there is a particular look and feel to the place.
Visitors like that: it addresses that instinctual need to know
where we are.
What cities and countries do with architecture and landmarks,
web sites need to do with design.
Many people sneer at the pre-designed templates that come with
web design software like 'FrontPage' and 'HotMetal', but the
idea is sound: creating a themed 'look'. In this way, visitors
know they are on your site, whichever page they are on.
Just as well-drafted maps and effective signposts help tourists
to confidently find their way around, so too must we ensure that
our site visitors never feel lost.
The easiest way to do this is to put the whole site's navigation
system on every page. An effective device is to color-code menu
items and page backgrounds so that folks know intuitively which
section they are in.
Provide browsers with familiar landmarks and they will be
content to keep on looking at what you have to offer.
Redesigns are often a quick way of making your visitors uneasy.
Now, I have no problem with redesigns - most sites get dated
after a while - but not at the expense of functionality.
In fact, it seems to be an Internet rule that the more a site is
'redesigned' the more it becomes impossible to navigate. I had
been visiting one ISP's site for a couple of years to pick up
occasional emails. Then, suddenly, they decided they needed a
redesign. After their (probably vastly expensive) designers had
made it modern, the link to email was hidden way down the page.
It took me 5 minutes to find it.
Guess which email account I am no longer using?
The Internet is, more than almost anything else in this
fast-moving world of ours, all about instant gratification.
Unless your visitor can get to what they want in three clicks,
the likelihood of them exiting increases dramatically.
That is important enough to repeat: you have only three click to
keep your visitor's attention.
Even beginners to the Internet know that it only takes one
click, in their favorites list, to leave you forever.
About the author:
Martin Avis publishes a free weekly newsletter: BizE-Zine - your
unfair advantage in Internet marketing, business and personal
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