How Can Navigation Transform A Website’s Usability? (Part 1)

If you’ve ever driven round a strange city without the benefit of either a map or a satellite navigation system, then you know how frustrating it can be.  Even those with a good sense of direction need a little help at times. The more you drive, the more lost you become, and invariably you’ll reach a point where you’ll vow never to return to that place again as the experience has been so disheartening. Well, the internet’s no different. If you visit a website that’s either poorly designed or impossible to navigate, then the chances are you’ll bounce right out of the site and vow never to go back.Website Navigation

The importance of clear and logical website navigation really can’t be stressed enough. It’s crucial not just to the success of the web design, but also to the future success of any business built on the back of it. Navigation has to intuitive and has to function seamlessly. Users have a short attention span, and if they can’t find the information they’re looking for within 2 or 3 clicks, then they’ll be of to look elsewhere. If you’re still unconvinced, have a look at these figures released by the U.S. Government website,

  • User Interface Engineering Inc. found that 60% of users fail to find the information they’re after when they surf the web.
  • Forrester Research discovered that 50% of all potential sales are lost because users can’t find what they’re looking for, and 40% of users won’t return to a website if their initial visit is a negative experience.
  • Zona Research found that 62% of potential online buyers won’t commit to a purchase if their experience is poor.
  • discovered that even the ‘best’ websites are only usable around 42% of the time.

I know statistics can be misleading at times, if not confusing, but these are unquestionably a damning indictment of the current state of website design. The key to good website design is ‘usability’: if the layout and architecture of a website is either poorly designed or unclear, then bounce rates will be high and potential sales will be lost.

So, what makes one website’s design better than another? Is there a sure fire way to guarantee that your website design is as good as it can be? The answer in short is yes. All successful websites designs stick pretty much to the same formula, though there are obviously variations depending on the nature of the business involved.  The key to successful website design is simple:

  • Make sure your navigation system is clear and universal – the same method of navigation should be consistent on every one of your web pages.
  • The navigation instructions should be consistent and appear in the same place on every page.
  • Navigation instructions are better in a text format: images can often be confusing and are difficult to follow.
  • Make sure that there is a clearly identifiable trail that enables users to return to their point of entry into the website.
  • Avoid flash navigation if at all possible as it can take forever to load: it might look great, but it isn’t always logical and easy to follow.
  • Include a site map as a navigational tool for visitors: you can display this as either a table of contents or a simple index that lists all the relevant hyperlinks for the website.

It may sound simplistic, but it’s effective and definitely does work. Part 2 of this article will look in more depth at how these 6 key principles can transform any website’s design and make it a much friendlier and usable place to visit.

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