We’ve already looked at website navigation, and established that it’s crucial that every website has a clear and consistent route map.
Websites have to be user friendly and intuitive to be successful. In part 1 of this article I mentioned the 6 key rules of website design – the fundamental building blocks of all usable websites. Well, it’s time to look in more depth at these core principles, and put a little more flesh on the bones.
The easiest way of making any website accessible and easy to use is to make sure that the navigation structure of the website is universal. In other words, keep the route plan simple and apply it consistently across every page. If a website designer sticks to the same navigational hierarchy throughout the building of the website, then the user knows how the site functions and realises how to move from one area of the site to another without any undue bother.
Universal navigation also brings other advantages. Search engine spiders find it easier to navigate websites designed on these principles and can move seamlessly about each page. This is advantageous for seo. Moreover, clear navigation also lessens the chance of websites finishing up with dead-end pages – a sort of online cul-de-sac, accessed from a hyperlink that has no additional hyperlinks to other pages. The only way to exit these dead-end pages is by hitting the back button or completely exiting the site. That really doesn’t look professional, and will ultimately stop users returning.
People generally don’t like surprises, particularly on websites. It’s back to the map analogy again, I’m afraid: users like to know where they’re going and how to get there. They know if they look at a map that it will always have ‘north’ at the top, and therefore they can easily get their bearings. It’s the same with website design. If the navigation menus are consistently placed on the same area of each page of the website, then users will be happy and confident they know what they’re doing. Some websites have different navigational menus – one for their main page, and another for all subsequent pages. This isn’t really recommended. It’s much better to stick to just the one: if users come to your website, you want to keep them there and keep them sweet, not alienate them.
Textual Navigation Instructions
Not everyone is a fan of text, as they consider it a little dull and boring. However, text is clear and easy to understand. If a website designer uses a brief piece of text to communicate the meaning of each hyperlink, then there is little room for any confusion for the user. Text makes it plain and simple, whereas images, whilst prettier to look at, can be misleading. It isn’t always clear what the image means or how it relates to the hyperlink it’s attached to. The last thing any designer should do is force the user to interpret what the image means and how it relates to the bigger picture. People can be easily bored, and need little encouragement to look elsewhere. Think text – think clearly.
Part 3 of this article will cover the remaining 3 principles of accessible website navigation.