Website Navigation: Don’t Leave Me Lost

This article was written while I was on holidays in Queensland, taking a break from the Melbourne Winter.

As I’m not familiar with the roads in Queensland, I am relying on the presence of clear, logical road signs to get straight to where I want to go.  Website navigation* should be similar; simple, clear and logical, allowing your web visitors to get straight to where they want to go, without any frustration.

Taking a walk in a National Park to see a waterfall seemed like a lovely way to spend a few hours. The walk was reasonably well sign posted at the beginning, with a map showing “You are here” as well as the different walking tracks that are available.

And the waterfall was pretty impressive.

But as we got hear the end of the walk, we reached a point where the path went three different ways. The paths were marked:

  • Lookout – 300 m
  • Restricted Access Path
  • Camping Grounds – 700m

Given that we were headed back to where had parked the car, it seemed logical to take the path to the camping grounds.

But no, actually that was the wrong choice. The “camping grounds” path led to a big expanse of grass with narry a parked car in sight.

At the Camping Grounds there was another map showing “You are here” but the map was totally different to the first map we’d looked at and gave no indication of where the car park was. In fact, according to the map, we could have been in the place that we started from. Except that we weren’t.

The only option was to walk back to where we came from.

When we got back to the fork in the path we passed some people who confirmed that the car park was “just down there” (along the “Restricted Access Path”).  After reading the sign more closely, even though the big “Restricted Access” made it seem like you shouldn’t be walking on that path, it turned out to be the main route to the car park. The sign was actually pointing out that you must stay on the path, to avoid damaging the fragile environment on the national park.

To me “Restricted Access Area” was an interesting choice of words.

If the sign had read “Stay On Path at all Times”, or something similar, we wouldn’t have wasted so much time walking up the wrong path.  An additional sign, consistent with the others, stating “Car Park – 300m” would also have improved our user experience by confirming the correct route to the car park.

Aside from venting my frustrations with inadequate signage, I can hear you wondering what the point of this article is.

After all, no one got hurt and we didn’t have any time demands so there weren’t any implications due to the badly sign posted paths.

But, when we left we were frustrated. And despite the beauty of the waterfall that we walked to, my over-riding memory of the visit to that National Park was the inadequate sign posting.

In a similar way, if the navigation of your website doesn’t help your web visitors find what they are looking for efficiently (or at all), they may leave frustrated.

With a negative view of your business.

Feeling lost.

But, in this case, all is not lost!

Using good website navigation will contribute to a positive user experience for your website visitors.

Here are some tips for good website navigation:

  • Keep it clear and logical.
  • Use simple labels like “Home”, “About Us”, “Products”, “Services”, “Articles” “FAQ” and “Contact”.
  • Use consistent navigation labels from every page of your website, don’t change them depending what page you are on.
  • Ensure that key information can be reached in as few clicks as possible. Ideally all important information should be within one to two clicks of the home page.
  • Get feedback from people who have never visited your website before. Ask if they can find the information they need quickly and easily.

It’s also good to keep in mind that if your website is well optimised for search engines, each individual page can generate traffic from Google, direct to that page.  View each page of your website as if you were a first time visitor arriving there. Make sure it is easy for them to work how to get to the Home Page and how to get straight to the information that is most important to them. And if there is any hint of doubt, take the opportunity to improve your navigation.

My biggest frustration, as far as sign posts and website  navigation are concerned, is the lack of testing. After all, it’s relatively easy to ask for feedback from a first time visitor, and to use that feedback to make improvements if necessary.

Is the navigation on your website simple, clear and logical?

Until next time

Search-Mel

* The Main Navigation of your website is the menu of links that appears on every page of your website, generally in the header area, or along a left hand column. For example, our Main Navigation is at the very top of the page. It reads Home, About Us, Blog, Courses, Services etc