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The Case for Simplifying Website Navigation

Written by Taylor Hawes

Monday, February 24th, 2014

The Case for Simplifying Website Navigation

In world of online shopping, a website should be thought of as part of your product or service. Derek Halpern of Social Triggers recently asked 15 participants to give feedback on a website which was purposely ill designed to study the effect that website design has on buying influence. 94% of the feedback focused on the design and layout; 6% was focused on the business. The most common complaints were things like complex layout and lack of navigation aids, and caused customers to trust the site less. Below are some common layout mistakes, and how to fix them.

 

Three Clicks Rule

Website navigation doesn’t need to be complicated; in fact, simpler navigation is often more effective. The Golden Rule of website navigation is the 3-Click Rule: all pages on your site should be accessible by three clicks or less. Customers aren’t the only ones who don’t have the patience to go past three pages; neither do search engine crawlers. Any content or information past three pages won’t be seen and might as well not exist.

 

Use Tags to Categorize Pages

Organizing an index of products or services can be tricky; the content of a site is expected to be unique, but the navigation of a site is supposed to be as predictable as possible. Poor structure is likely to turn off users who are unable to find what they are looking for. The least complicated way to structure pages would be an A to Z index of all pages. Of course, this makes a couple of fatal assumptions: it implies that the user knows exactly what they’re searching for, and that they know the exact name under which to find it. Because these conditions are very rarely true, the best option to organize content neatly in the navigation bar is to start off with broad terms that gradually become more specific.

Assigning pages to each category requires tags. In website navigation, there are three types: crucial, optional, and irrelevant. Crucial categories are categories that are important to all users, and have very little—if any—overlap. Examples of crucial tags for a clothing site would be “Men’s”, “Women’s”, and “Kids’”. Using only crucial tags, it should be possible for a user to find relevant information.

Optional tags further refine the search results, but are not necessary for all users. Sticking with the clothing store example, an optional tag would be the brand. Only after a user has chosen gender (“Men’s”) and type of clothing (“Pants”) would they be presented with the option of selecting a brand. It is entirely possible that a user cannot select an optional tag, and simply browse all Men’s pants, but the option to further refine the search is available.

Irrelevant categories, in short, are irrelevant to the users and are used for organizational purposes on the back-end of the site. These sorts of tags include word count and date added.

 

Go Home

On every page of the site, there should be the option to immediately return to the home page, whether it be a link that states “Click here to return to the home page” or by clicking the logo at the top of the screen. This gives users the option to restart their search and explore the site further.

 

Create a Sitemap

Sitemaps serve multiple functions. They give users a complete overview of your site as well as assist search engine crawlers in navigating your site. In fact, failing to incorporate a sitemap can pose a serious threat to your search engine rankings. Best of all, a sitemap is painfully simple to make. Sites like www.xml-sitemaps.com/ will create a sitemap for you, then all you have to do is add it to the “public_html/” folder of your site.

 

Conclusion

What’s been detailed here is only the tip of a very complicated iceberg, but taking the time to properly categorize your site will make it easier for customers to find the information or products they are looking for. Customers can be surprisingly fickle when it comes to online experiences, and a poorly structured site could be costing you countless customers and killing your search engine rankings.

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