If your site hasn’t seen a redesign in the last five years or so, chances are you’ve still continued to add tons of content. Content is all the rage these days, but it falls flat if you don’t consider one of the most important aspects of your site: navigation.
Ask yourself whether your site’s navigation still aligns with your company’s business objectives. Does the site meet your visitors’ needs? Are content areas grouped together in meaningful categories?
You don’t want too many choices for visitors, increasing cognitive load and making their eyes spin. Abundant choices succeed only in driving away users to look at more pictures of cute cars and, at the same time, increasing your website’s bounce rate.
So how do you make certain that your site is meeting your business goals and visitor objectives?
First, identify what your visitors want out of your site. You could ask them directly, but if that’s not an option, odds are you should have a pretty good idea what they’re looking for. Once the objectives of your visitors are defined, you can create a projection of how your visitors would guide themselves through site content.
Second, identify what your business goals are. Keeping your visitors’ goals in mind, how do you inject your business goals into their site journey? This approach could be as simple as regrouping a few items in the navigation so they’re more relatable and easy to access.
For instance, if we look at the site www.duluthtrading.com, we can see that visitors can easily access any product category in a variety of ways, but the “Recommended” section is isolated from the “Men” category in the navigation. Would Duluth benefit from adding the “Recommended” section to the “Men” category? Or maybe the company could eliminate the “Underwear” category and replace it with “Recommended.” Knowing what your users are looking for can help you answer these questions.
A simple exercise you can do to help see a picture of your site’s category structure is paper prototyping. Write down every site page on an individual piece of paper and put the papers on a table so they’re easy to rework. Now start shifting things around into different categories that make sense from your visitors’ goals and your business goals. Do some of the pages need to be removed? Do you need to add new pages? Having everything laid out in front of you provides better context about what’s on your site and how accessible it is to your visitors.
Here are a few guidelines to keep you on track:
– Observe the rule of plus or minus seven. Visitors can handle only so many options before they become overwhelmed. In general, the number of options an average human can process is seven, so try to keep categories at this size. If you find that the choices are becoming too plentiful, create subcategories and feed content into them to aid visitors.
– Most of your visitors come from a search engine first, and it is highly likely they will not land on your home page. Therefore, your categories must make sense if a visitor is on the “Home” page versus the “Risks of Bears in the Office” page.
– Finally, keep in mind that you’re (hopefully) still a growing business. You need to have locations for all future content and to give visitors answers to their most common questions. That means to be sure categories are ready to scale for future business growth.
Bottom line: Your website should be a reflection of your business growth. It also needs to be nimble, simple and easy to navigate for your audience.
Frank Lockwood is Associate Creative Director of gyro, New York
Follow Frank @iwillbefrank