Imagine a web surfer chancing on a website with a haphazard layout, a remotely comprehensive navigation system, huge blocks of dreary text, illegible fonts in garish colours, annoying graphics and distracting banner and text ads, loitering around in futile circles desperate for some kind of direction, losing almost all hope of finding the information he wants….Lost in cyberspace, frustrated and confused,thinking of the precious time he has lost, vowing never to return to that site again….
Any website when designed in an apt manner is sure to appeal to its visitors. Apart from being user friendly it should also have an intuitive navigation system to increase web traffic. Here are some steps for giving visitors want they want in their very first visit:
1. Get the brass tacks right
Prepare a blueprint of the site’s optimal navigation system by looking at it from the visitor’s perspective. The site should be able to reflect his thoughts and not the way it is designed to perform. Plan and accordingly construct the subject matter, the mode of access and the presentation keeping the target audience in mind.
Take a trip through the visitor’s mind and visualize his expectations – What is he looking for? How will he find it? A visitor’s first visit to a website should be an exceptionally good experience.
2. Define your navigation space
A fine layout, a clear-cut navigation system, crisp and relevant content and the right amount of white space to improve visibility enhances the look of the site. Consistency is the key to help users get familiar with a site. To keep the focus on the content, make sure that all pages or a group of pages have a common design template.
3. Channeling information access
A well constructed and uniform navigation system is mandatory. If webpages will be updated, modified or added periodically, the navigation system should be flexible enough to accommodate any number of additional links. The more the content, the greater the need for effective and fast navigation will be. Consider a redesign from time to time to ensure smooth flow.
The website’s pages should be effectively structured by a navigation toolbar or breadcrumb links to provide simple, fast and organized navigation and to help the viewer understand the structure of the website.
4. The nucleus of the site
The homepage, the leading page on a website, is the central hub that connects to all other pages on the site. The most essential link on any page is the homepage link as visitors can come back to the place where they started and move to other sections within the site. A logo can be used as a homepage link as it also serves the purpose of branding.
5. Pigeonhole the content
Arrangement of the links is vital in website structure. Keep your main links together as much as possible so that visitors can assimilate their substance en masse. Showcase the important links that are likely to interest the visitor. If the site has graphics aplenty and there isn’t much space for putting in all your links, have a separate visually appealing home page and group the rest as content pages.
6. Time tested codes work best
Apart from the freedom to personalize the navigation structure through the use of colour and text-formatting, stick to standard icons and conventions. Visitors should be able to easily identify a link and know what the corresponding page will contain. To avoid ambiguity, make the text link short and self explanatory so that visitors need not spend time trying to decipher a link.
Colour links can follow the rule of the thumb but a visitor should be able to figure out if a link has been clicked on before or not. Underlining text that isn’t a link is bound to confuse people. Bold,
italics or colour can be used to accentuate text. Adhere to a basic underlying framework to ensure that the site is simple to navigate no matter how it is spruced up.
7. Trash the extraneous links
Each page should have a reasonable number of links. See to it that every web page is not cluttered with links to the other sections of the site. If there are too many links then drop-down menus or fly-outs can be used for the main topics. Do not use unnecessary images and distracting graphics. Check the site regularly for broken links.
8. The fewer the clicks the better
It is important to help visitors locate the information they seek as quickly as possible. No page on the site should be farther away than a few clicks from any other page. Create shortcuts using site maps, tables of contents, and pulldown menus.
9. Offer assistance
Provide a search tool to help in navigation. A well-designed search tool has a variety of features that include linking to a help page, searching based on key words, finding related search criteria and enabling the users to narrow down or expand search results.
10. Do an extensive test
Thoroughly test your site’s navigation on as many browsers as possible. Also ensure that it is tested on different screen resolutions.
A navigation system that seems to be intuitive and crystal clear may still leave a visitor totally confused. Pilot project testing will reveal how the visitors respond to the site’s layout, the time taken to search for specific content, identification of navigation aids etc.
Make notes,ask for feedback and work on suggestions to refine your navigation system. Check and make adjustments. Verify and fine tune. And finally your site is a navigational success!