Think + Do » an exploration of nonprofit marketing and design

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

The shopping experience at my local “super” retailer often goes something likes this: I walk into the store hoping for a quick trip to pick up a roll of masking tape. After half an hour searching in “Office Supplies,” an employee finally takes me to find it in the hardware section.

When we’ve conducted web usability tests, we have seen a lot of people with experiences similar to my shopping trip. They enter a website with a specific task, then get frustrated when the information they seek is not in the expected section.

When web users get frustrated, they tend to give up. A recent report on university websites underscores the importance of easy site navigation:

  • 92% of prospective students will be disappointed or walk away if they can’t find what they’re looking for.
  • 65% said that they would be more interested in a college because of a good web experience.

In our research, we have found web users overwhelmingly prefer indexed navigation. The idea is similar to a sitemap, but instead of showing the whole site the navigation shows only the most relevant information. Indexed navigation eliminates much of the site users’ guessing by showing what kinds of things each category includes.

Image of indexed navigation.

Indexed navigation (highlighted) is organized by topic and provides users easy access to the information they seek.

When creating an indexed navigation it’s important to ask users what information is important to them, and where do they expect to find it. What kind of categories are they looking for in the main navigation? What kind of information do they expect to see under those headings? Does the wording in the navigation reflect what falls in those categories?

The answers to these questions may be surprising. External audiences often view your website differently. What seems obvious or interesting to you may not be important to someone who’s visiting your site for the first time.

When organizing a site, it’s important to show your users the big picture. The easier it is for people to find what they’re looking for, the better the website experience will be.

Examples of sites with indexed navigation

University of Minnesota

Boston University

 

– Claire Napier

 

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