Each month for CommunityNet Aotearoa I write a Site Tip of the Month. This month’s item is called: Getting Around and I thought it useful to reproduce it here.
Continuing our Tips for Terrific Sites, this month’s Tip suggests making sure your visitors can find their way or navigate around your site.
[August 2004] Getting Around.
Any well-nourished website grows. You feed it news, articles, information, resources, links, photos and reports and before you know it the once svelte website of your youth has become a lumpy, bumpy site suffering the effects of gravity. Where once visitors could easily travel from one item to the next they now find that if they are in the News section they can’t find their way to the photos from last year’s AGM and heaven forbid they try to reach the downloadable resource kits!
How visitors get around in your website is very important. You need to make it as easy as possible and don’t ever leave them guessing. At best they’ll leave never to come back. At worst they’ll tell everyone they know how useless your website is.
For one thing, make sure that every page has a link to at the very least the Home Page, but preferably also a site map (a list of all pages or major sections on the website). Ideally a search engine which works is also very helpful.
It’s common to use the organisation’s logo at the top of the page (frequently on the left) and to make the logo a link to the Home Page.
A website which has only a dozen pages will be able to contain links on every page to every other page.
Larger websites will want to define major sections. Each page should contain links to each section. Within one section you will also find links to all the pages (or subsections, for really big sites) in that section.
Be consistent with the navigation links too and don’t go removing the link for the page the visitor’s on — just make it inactive and preferably marked out in some visually distinctive way.
Websites where some pages link to all other pages but certain pages link only to some other pages are incredibly confusing. With this type of random linking a visitor never knows what they have seen and what they have not. Design a navigation system and stick to it.
Have some fun with icons for the different pages or sections but don’t rely on people understanding the icons alone (or even seeing them as pictures). Be sure to provide visible text links for those who can’t get the pictures and include text explaining what each icon refers to. A visitor looking for the downloadable resource kits wants to click on a link called “Resources” not click around nameless cutesy pictures of flowers, dogs, spirals or blobs to eventually land up (maybe) in the Resources section.
See Vincent Flanders’ excellent and humorous article on Mystery Meat Navigation for information and tips on helping visitors find their way around. Have some fun with the real-life examples of poorly thought out navigation.
Reproduced from CommunityNet Aotearoa Panui, August 2004.