Skip to content
Fragmented Development

Making Navigation Work

Out of all the projects I've been working on, one issue continually crops up. That issue is site navigation, and it is the single most important part of your site.

I'm not mincing words here, because there is nothing, nothing more important than your site's navigation. You can have the greatest site on the entire planet, with the richest content and the most to offer to your visitors, and if they can't get to it then you're sunk.

One of the common fallacies of site navigation is organizing your site based on the hierarchy you see. We have an example of this at Warren County – we started life with a single, alphabetical list of departments as our site navigation. It made sense to us, because Health Services kept up the Health Services site, and the County Clerk kept up the County Clerk site. The essence of simplicity, right?

Well, yes, that works wonderfully – for us. For the rest of the world that would actually be using our site, this didn't help them one bit. Only the department name was shown on the homepage, so if they were looking for a passport application, they needed to know beforehand that the County Clerk takes care of passports, and then logically that web site would hold the application.

You need to take a look from outside, and see what your visitors see. Instead of being a county employee, I had to take the point of view of a citizen who didn't know anything about the workings of county government. We began by creating four general categories of "stuff" that we have in the county: citizens, visitors, business, and government. It's really just a loose arrangement: there are citizens interested in business, visitors interested in business, and everything on the county web site is technically about county government, but you get the idea. Then, we took the pages of each departmental site and sorted them into one of these categories. So instead of first seeing a listing of department names, they'd see the a list of things for citizens to do.

This allowed them to get where they were going in one click. We're still halfway there at the county: for right now, we still have the departmental listing, and only show the top five or ten links from each of the categories. But the important thing is that it's a start, and we can gradually move to a more logical navigation scheme.

This all would have been much easier if we had designed everything this way from the onset. The important thing to remember is to put yourself in your visitor's shoes, and then make decisions from there.

Tags: content

Add Your Comment