Author Avatar Web Disasters IV – Navigation

by Webnme2 on Mar 20th 2010


It ought to be axiomatic that visitors want to navigate to specific information and that websites ought to make that easier. Sadly many sites are consumed with looks and feels and less concerned with making the visitor’s experience a little easier.

1. You Lost Me In The Navigation Shuffle

There are experts that advocate streamlined navigation with a minimum of choices to make it easier to get started. This sometimes is useful if the navigation catagories make sense to the visitor. But, it can also lead to misery for users, if the links are ambiguous. One popular computer discount house has a very nice clean interface with main catagories. Now I want to go buy a gizmo, but I have no idea whether it is computers, home electronics, consumer electronics, gadgets, or what. I think that the catagories are a mirror of the company’s inventory system or store departments, but they aren’t very helpful. Next I try the search box. Oh boy, I get 20 results for the gizmo and none of them are close to what I want. Finally I back of the site and use Google and three links down I find a deep link to the site with what I want. Now why couldn’t the site make it this easy and why did I have to use Google to find something on their site? Navigation is the key. If I visit, I need to be able to find something and find it quickly. Give me useful navigation whether it is streamlined or with lots of links. Hint: Get feedback from users that are not part of the business management and preferably customers. See what they think before launching a navigation nightmare.

2. Where’d It Go and How Did I Get Here

Oh don’t you love redirects that take you to surprise destinations? Site navigation ought to take you directly to where it says it is going to take you and not somewhere else. When you change content, maybe you should update your website’s navigation? If you move files around to new addresses, maybe you should update your website’s navigation. Think about it webmasters! If you were out on the Interstate and followed a sign to Denver, but were rerouted to Laramie, wouldn’t you be a tad put out? No surprises! Take people where you promised to take them.

3. Don’t Make Me Guess

In the early days of webmastering we were all bitten by the bug to use icons for navigation. Sites popped-up with cool divider bars, navigation icons, and the like almost instantly. Everybody had to have icons. It was the rage. So where did they go? Well most of us learned that people had no idea what the icons meant and didn’t want to learn a different set of icons on each website. They were like hieroglyphs and about as useful.

The lesson has been lost on some flash based websites that have way cool navigation with circles, squares, images, and the like that light up, make noises, and show text when there is a mouseover. If you look at the page, you have no idea what each icon does. You have to guess what goes where or pretend it is a game where you have to solve the puzzle or find clues. Come on folks. Wake up. If people wanted to guess or play games, they’d buy a game and play it. Visitors at a website want to get to information and not be bogged down with learning the site or guessing.

4. Totally Useless Navigation

Perhaps the worst offenders for bad navigation are the sites that pop-up a predefined window that you can’t resize that forces you to scroll up and down and side to side to see something in a small space. It becomes so hard to navigate that the site becomes useless.

Recently I wanted to see a story on MSNBC about Denzel Washington called “In Denzel Washington we trust.” I found it with Google and went to the page. Off to the side was a short column advertising free video with a launch button. The caption indicated it would take the visitor to an interview with Denzel Washington on the Today Show. Well I clicked on the link and MSNBC popped open a link to MSN Video. That’s when navigation became an exercise in frustration. The window was presized. You can’t make it change. The top half was filled with images for other stories and none of it was related to the interview. The bottom half was a box only 199 pixels high. To see the sidebar menu, it was necessary to scroll within this window. Eventually I wound up at the bottom of the menu and decided to pick a topic, it generates links that were way up at the top, but not visibile in the area where I clicked. Scroll back up. Nope that wasn’t it. Scroll down to the menu and try again. Now after a few times of this, I realized that this was pretty nutso. Who has time to fight navigation like this. It sure doesn’t promote finding anything quickly. In this case none of the links led to the interview, which was even worse. Even the search box did not lead to anything identified as an interview. That’s probably the last time I’ll click on a video on that site. If I need to see a story, I’ll probably look to a competitor for coverage. This could have been fixed by allowing the window to be resized or by launching a full browser window.

Its all about navigation. Make it easy to find stuff or lose customers.

About Webnme2

The author's first experience with computers was with Fortran IV. Wow that's ancient. After graduate school, he taught history for a number of years at a community college before becoming an attorney. In 1997 he changed careers to become a web developer/designer with an interest in all things web related. He currently maintains several dozen websites. This is his personal blog. The opinions expressed are his own.

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