There are few things more frustrating on the web than not being able to find what you are looking for on a website. After all, you came there with a purpose, invested your time, clicked your mouse. The least the website designer could have done was provide a cogent, intuitive layout for you to follow!
This is part of our Website Design Errors series. You should be able to see the entire Web Design Errors series.
No one expects you, the website owner, or your designer to be mind-readers. But there are a certain number of best practices you can use to make sure your site helps your visitors and keeps them happy. Here I break them into Navigation errors – the getting from place to place.
Top 5 Ways to Poor Website Navigation
1) Missing ‘Home’ button, or Menu Bar
Nothing more basic than this. Sometimes your user will follow a link and be directed to the exact content they were searching for. Sometimes they won’t. Be sure to provide a way for them to access the top hierarchical content of your site with a home page link and other core resources. Key pages are also great to have on a single, persistent navigation bar. Whatever your method, keep the navigating consistent across all pages. There is no reason to make a user re-learn how to use your website because they are in a different section.
2) Broken back button
Like we just covered, sometimes you click on something by mistake and you want to go back to your previous page. Everyone is trained to click the back button. Some power users navigate by using the keypad. It is very frustrating when the back button does not work. A prime example of this are flash-based websites where, because of the nature of flash, no matter how deep you are into the site clicking the back button brings you all the way back to the beginning! Flash is evil.
3) No Search Functionality
Any website with even a moderate amount of pages will not be able to serve every viewers need immediately. Why not cut to the chase and offer a search box so the user can find exactly what she is looking for? If your website visitors cannot find what they are looking for immediately, they will leave.
4) Broken Links
Not much to say here. When you click on a link, you expect it to take you to a new page. Broken links look unprofessional and interrupt the user’s flow. Find your broken links and fix them with .htaccess or metatag redirects.
Be sure to include an automated 404 error so your website handles broken links gracefully. Michael Donohoe, a developer for the NY Times agrees. “If something goes wrong, help your visitor! Custom and helpful error messages with meaningful information are a huge asset and often forgotten about.”
(Note: If you are unsure what a 404 page is or how to set one up, drop a note and I will create a ‘How to’ page.)
4a) Suspect Links
Each link you have leading away from your site can be considered a vote for the integrity of that site – both by your users and by search engines. Make sure your links are helpful and trustworthy.
Consider your audience – if you’re trying to sell a quality product, don’t include links to other sites (no matter how tempting) unless you know their product or service is at least as good as yours. People make assumptions and if you link to another site, they’ll assume you recommend it. If that leads to a bad experience, it’ll reflect badly on your site not just the linked one. -
5) Silly Introduction Pages
Give the user what they want. Your Home Page should be a like a point guard – assessing the situation and passing the user off to where he wants / needs to be. When the front page instead shows a time-consuming flash presentation or video, the distribution of information becomes inhibited. How many NBA point guards will be sent to the bench if they can’t pass the rock?
Siddharth Sethi, the CEO InfoBeans put it to me this way: “I think a flash introduction that adds no value is a total let down for me. Using flash to create a splash page only to have 90% users click the skip button is a waste of everyone’s time.”
Bonus Error – The Unnecessary
Again from Tracy:
Anything that gets in your audiences’ way – intro’s, irrelevant pop-ups, too many adverts, poor content, unnecessary ‘extra’ pages. People go to websites to do something – whether its shopping, interacting with friends, watching films, researching a product/service etc – they go with an intent in mind. If you randomly put unnecessary ‘stuff’ in the way, you won’t hold their attention for long or you’ll irritate them. Either way its not a good experience.
In the end, it is all about making it as easy as possible for a user to get from point A to point B, and remain happy in the process.
Thanks to everyone who sent input to this article. If you didn’t get a chance, here’s your shot. What kind of poor website navigation design (or lack of design) drives you to distraction? Let us know, below.