Poor navigation makes us think. Better navigation makes us think less. Great navigation is so obvious we don’t have to think at all.
This is such an important concept that Web usability author, Steve Krug, titled his book, Don’t Make Me Think. That is the bottom line answer to every question about Web site navigation.
How much thinking do we not want to do?
If someone who’s been living in a cave since the Web took off, can get online and figure out what a site is all about without help, that is just about the right amount of thinking.
That may be a silly example, but worrying about PageRank and not worrying about usability, is a waste of time, effort and finances. Yes, get visitors to the site, but don’t let them sit staring at the page, trying to figure out what to do next, or where to go, or how to find what they’re looking for. If the back button to the search results is the only thing that’s easy to find and use on the page, guess what. That’s the button that will be used.
Today, in about ten minutes on the Web, I came across two common examples of poor navigation:
- On the site of a major software company a link that goes like this:
Main nav link: PRODUCTS > Sub link: CopyDesk > Sub link: undefined (doesn’t link to anything)
- On the site of a national printing company: three links to “business cards” in three different navigation bars all on the same page. Only after waiting for all three to load do I learn that they all go to the same place: an order form. None of the three gives me more information.
Solutions to navigation problems are not always easy. Large, complex sites may have no choice but to offer multiple navigation. Sites with lots of pages and lots of links may need additional work to address these challenges. And then there’s all the juggling to include search engine optimization. Some compromises may have to be made. Yet, keeping the user in mind, clarifying choices and eliminating confusion whenever possible, not only makes for happier site visitors, it offers the bonus of also helping search engines.
Navigation that makes us think:
- Multiple navigation with duplicate or conflicting links.
- Vague links or links that don’t go anywhere.
- Current page is not indicated.
- No navigation on page, forcing use of back button to get out.
- Active links to the current page.
- Not linking directly to the item named.
- Navigation that reflects the company’s structure rather than division or classification meaningful to content and user goals.
Navigation that doesn’t make us think:
- All pages have at least basic site navigation.
- The navigation indicates the current page.
- Meaning of link text is clear and each is unique.
- All links go somewhere specific and unique.
- Categories related to product or service offered, not company organization.
- Repetitive links, if absolutely necessary, are clearly indicated as repetitive.
If something is hard to use it doesn’t get used very much.