6 Crucial Questions for Simplifying Website Navigation

website navigation

There’s good reason designing user experience, or UX, was named among CNNMoney’s list of the “Best Jobs in America.” Solid web design helps users quickly find what they need. “You’re giving your user control over their own experience,” says veteran web designer and consultant Carrie Dils.

Poor web design makes it easy for them to bounce — and never return.

With a mind on the former, we offer six key questions for your team to consider in designing or redesigning your company’s website.

What are people trying to do?

Good navigation starts with how you organize information, which will be most obvious in the site’s menu structure. “It’s vital to hone these conceptual groupings by applying the most basic question of ‘What are people trying to do?,’” says UX consultant Annette Priest.

Starting with user needs helps you avoid reflecting your company’s organizational structure on the website —“A cardinal sin of UX,” says Priest.

To figure out how people think about information, consider leading a card sort study. In this activity, participants arrange concepts written on cards. When focused on a company’s offerings, a card sort study can define how information should be grouped.

How is mobile different?

One-quarter of the U.S. population accesses the Internet only via phone. This means they may parachute into your site by asking questions to Siri, rather than typing in search terms.

Asking, “How do mobile visitors use the information differently?” might change the way you organize a responsive site. For example, long drop-down menus or menus with several tiers of hierarchy may work well on your desktop site but may be impractical for mobile users to navigate.

Are headings structured correctly?

Beyond site architecture, you want to make your pages visually consistent and easy to scan.

HTML has an inherent hierarchy for this:

  • H1 tag designates the page heading
  • H2 tags indicate major subheads
  • H3 tags indicate minor subheads

“If you’re going to use H1s, H2s, and H3s, use them in the order they were intended, not because you just want a really big font in that spot,” Dils says.

Search engines also pay special attention to H1s, H2s, and H3s. Including the most helpful terms for users in those headings boosts page rank for relevant searches, making it easier for people to find your site in the first place.

What words do customers use?

Priest says companies tend to wrongly focus on their brand names and internal lingo. This forces visitors to translate corporate-speak in order to get what they want done. “It slows them down,” Priest says.

From top-level menu items to individual subheads, speak in the language of your customers.

Also make sure links offer context. For example, replace generic “Click here” calls to action with specific language, such as “Download our free guide.” This helps users to skim and identify actions they want to take.

Is the text on the page easy to see?

This seems like a basic question. But consider how differently your 24-year-old web designer sees pages compared to people with low vision or colorblindness—or the majority of people over 40 who experience vision changes. For older visitors, contrast is vital. The free Colorable contrast tester makes it easy to confirm the pretty colors your designer likes have enough contrast to be easily read.

Does your site work with keyboard navigation?

In most browsers, using the tab key will rotate among elements on the page, such as menu items, form fields, and buttons. The function helps people who can’t use a mouse, including blind people and those with arthritis or Parkinson’s disease.

Bottom line: It’s not enough to pay lip service to UX as a discipline.

Asking these questions and acting on what you discover will smooth the path for your visitors to get in, do what they need to do, and get out — with no frustration in the process.

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