I’m such a rebel when I shop at IKEA… I’ll take short cuts and walk against the flow – ignoring the big blue arrows on the floor. But then, I’ve never liked to be told what to do! IKEA uses a “forced flow” retail model. Your shopping experience is controlled through the store from curb to cash.
Today I was explaining to a client that you can’t control the way website visitors navigate through your site. Her jaw dropped when I told her that visitors to her website might not come in through her landing page; that a Google search may bring them first to her Artist Profile page. Visitors like to find their own way around your web site. They may have been there before and know exactly where they want to go, they want to go straight there. They don’t want to be controlled. I must have made my point because she agreed to have me place global navigation on her landing page replacing the current “click here to enter the site” message.
I know this is old news but I’ll say it anyway, frames are really bad; bad for navigation and bad for search engine optimization. Just yesterday someone asked for a quote to do some work on their existing site. The site was in frames so I recommended that the entire site be redeveloped. Each frame displays a different HTML document. The problem is that a search may deliver the content of only one of these documents. Your site visitor may arrive at a page that is not displaying the site navigation frame rendering your well thought out navigation to other pages redundant.
10 Principles for Clear, Consistent and Complete Website Navigation:
1. Conventional navigation design makes the reader more comfortable – it isn’t a good idea to do something “new” when it comes to navigation
2. Use global navigation running across the top of the site such as… Home | About Us | Contact Us
3. Your organization’s logo should appear on every page. It should be placed in the top left of the page and should be linked back to home
4. Header, Footer, Left or Right Column files should include files that remain consistent site-wide. Users don’t want to have to look around from page to page to find where the navigation has moved to
6. If a link is to a .pdf or other file type, tell your users that so they know what to expect when they click. Use a .pdf icon next to .pdf links.
7. Provide a user sitemap and link to it in your footer
8. Use “back-to-top” anchors for longer pages
9. Use text-based hyperlinks embedded within copy to relevant pages within the site
10. Provide a site search for large sites
Finally, test your navigation’s usability. Find a friend or family member who is a total luddite and have them search for your site and navigate through it. Don’t give them any help! Just observe what they do and then fix anything that wasn’t clear.