Like a call center system that can drive you to distraction (press one for English), the labels and hierarchy of the “menu” of buttons on your Web site organizes content and helps people find things…or get hopelessly lost. Given that role, many conclude that the success of your navigation is the leading indicator for building confidence in your organization.
Web developers often call the navigation the “information architecture” of your site – an organizing logic that will help users find what they need without a lot of hunting and pecking.
There are two important principles to keep in mind. If you follow them closely and avoid common mistakes, you are on the road to a great Web site. The principles are:
- Establish level of importance
- Group related elements
MISTAKES ARE EASY TO MAKE
It is easy to spot mistakes that show the level of importance has not been established. The first common error is home button placement. Although many ready-made templates now opt to have the home button function replaced by the logo, when a true home button is available I like to use it.
I think some users get frustrated when the home button is missing altogether. Other times Web managers put the home button at the bottom of the navigation bar or off in a separate location, but not in the primary navigation system. This will disorient users who expect the home button to always have a primary position, i.e. the top most level of importance. Users rely on a home button as a reliable way to guide them back to the top of the site at all times.
The second common mistake is when a good chunk of “above the fold” real estate is taken up by a static “Welcome” message instead of dynamic content. This screams “1995” to most Web site visitors and represents the state of sites at the dawn of the Internet. At the least, include feeds from your Twitter and/or Facebook pages on home.
Today, more robust sites strive to keep this important real estate fresh to entice users to come back. If you must have a welcome message, label it on top to attract First Time Visitors and let users drill down deeper into your site for the information.
When you create your categories of information it is best to avoid organization names and instead use names that represent the content from the user’s point of view. Include the organization’s real name for search purposes, but for way-finding stick with user-friendly words. Congressional websites are a case in point. It works best to use topics such “services” instead of Hill jargon like “casework”. It also makes your site “sticky” and interesting when you use active voice and verbs. Think about the impression made when you use the label “Meet Joe” instead of Biography, for example, when you label the link that will guide users to your lawmaker’s biography.
ADOPT THE LATCH METHOD
The Rule to Follow: L-A-T-C-H
The issue of grouping related elements can also be tricky. One great tip is to follow the method used by many Information Architects called L-A-T-C-H. This means that you should organize your content along one of five methods:
Adopting the LATCH method will help users anticipate your organization structure and find what they are looking for. A common issue on Hill sites is that lengthy lists of links are provided and updated without any regard for grouping them in a recognizable fashion. Experts also recommend that you sub-group your list into categories when your list of links gets lengthy – using a hybrid of the LATCH idea to best advantage.
A GREAT PAYOFF
Organizing your site in a logical and methodical way has a great payoff. Your order will enhance the user’s ability to navigate your site with ease. It will also ensure a visual consistency that will keep them satisfied.