Why bother with navigation structures?

24 September 2015

I was arguing with a colleague of mine the other day about the importance of a good navigation structure. My colleague didn’t think they were important any more: “These days everyone uses Google. They don’t need to navigate a site, they just search for the page they want and click on the link”.

OK, fair point. We are all rather addicted to Google and the shortcut it gives us into websites. But does that mean we don’t need navigation anymore?Let’s look at this another way. Imagine you’re in a department store. You’re looking for a present for you mum. You ask the information chick at the entrance, our ‘Google’, where you could find gifts for mums. He sent you to the ‘gifts for mum’ section, level 4, down the back of the store.

You look around, nothing looks appealing. So what now?

Well, you know you mum loves biographies. You could see if the books department has any good ones.

But the department store doesn’t have any signs to show you where the departments are. They want you to go to their information people and ask them – their ‘Googles’.

Can you see where I’m going with this? We may be happy to use Google, Bing, Yahoo or even DuckDuckGo to get into a site, but once we’re in there, isn’t it easier to just use the navigation?

So maybe we do need navigation structures.

I believe that not only do we need them, but we need them to be good.

Let’s go back to our department store. Let’s say that it does label its departments.

You’re on L4 in the area the ‘Google’ sent you to when you ‘searched’ gifts for my mum. Now you’re trying to find a biography to give to you mum for her birthday. You find a directory by the escalator:

Say what now? How are you supposed to know each of these mean?

You may laugh, but I’ve seen navigation structures that use terms just as confusing, if not more so. This kind of terminology is the result of a company labelling its navigation with marketing terms that are meant to give the site personality.

It can be very tempting to use in-house or ‘branding’ terms in your navigation. Sadly, they are not very helpful to your customers.

So, back to the department store. In the time that we’ve been chatting, a helpful information architect has edited the store directory:

OK, it’s not as punchy or filled with personality but I’m guessing you can find your biography now. Yes I know, this store is very female oriented. I’d say the men’s store is across the road.

Websites are a lot like department stores. Only it is a lot harder to ‘walk’ around a website and ‘just browse’.

Take pity on your site visitors when you create your navigation structure. They don’t know what’s on your site and making them guess is not going to make them stick around and transact.

And as a wise friend of mine reminded me, much of Google’s knowledge of your site and the content in each page comes from crawling your navigation structure. So either way, a lot is riding on getting it right.

If you’d like some help with your navigation structure or your site content in general, have a chat with F-Two consulting. We can help you teach your website how to talk your customers’ language.