Forrester (Re)Emphasizes Need For Good Web Navigation

Significant points and recommendations regarding web navigation from two recent Forrest reports caught my eye.

1. The first is a brief overview of their survey results of 60 web improvement projects across Europe [1]. One of the top areas of concern is good navigation. They write:

Navigation. Users don’t just want good content; they want content that’s easy to find and use. Companies that provided intuitive category names in menus and efficient online processes improved metrics like conversion rates and increased sales.

Note that here their definition of “navigation” is broad, including aspects of the site structure and of search.

(The other two main areas of concern, BTW, are value–or aligning with user needs–and design presentation).

Fixing issues with an existing navigation system or creating an effective one from scratch will have the most positive impact on usability when prioritizing issues to address, according to the report.

2. The second report is a little older–from August 2010. In this document, Forrester gives advice in the form of seven indicators to tell you when a relaunch is needed [2]. One of the indicators is a troubled navigation scheme. From the report:

Navigation system breakdown. Web sites are subject to a cycle of accretion, as contributors add links and content, and erosion, as out-of-date content gets removed. These changes wear site navigation systems down over time. Warning signs include complaints from contributors who say that they can’t find a home for their content; “quick links” tacked onto pages to get users to the critical content they can no longer find through menus; and alternative overlapping menu structures layered onto the site. Until 2009, USPS attempted to meet a diverse set of user needs by adding new categorization schemes to the site over the course of several years. The result was a confusing blend of competing menu structures and shortcuts. In 2009, USPS redesigned its site to address these navigational shortcomings — creating a more streamlined site that features both menu category and task-driven navigation.

They recommend:

Monitor navigation system health. Every site will have some deterioration of its navigation system over time, courtesy of accretion and erosion. To track the course of this natural process, employ analytic tools that check users’ paths through the site. Then at least once per quarter, review critical paths, like those from the home page to customer service, for warning signs like an increase in the number of users who pogo-stick up and down between menus and submenus or a surge in users who start out with menu navigation and then turn to search. If you see a 25% or greater increase in the number of visits during which these redflag behavior patterns occur, take it as an early warning sign of navigation system failure.

Social media, mash-ups, and ajax are all great. But even in the world of Web 2.0, Web 3.0 and beyond, the fundamental problems of navigation and findability in web design still remain.

There’s no silver bullet in designing web navigation. Instead, it’s about your approach to solving the problem and way of thinking about navigation. This is what I put forth in Designing Web Navigation (i.e., a way of thinking, not guidelines), and this is what I teach in my workshops.

If you’d like to find out more, I have two sets of workshops already planned for 2011, in English and in German:

1. In ENGLISH: Part of UX Fest in London, February 9-10
a. Designing Web Navigation
b. Faceted Search & Beyond

2. In GERMAN: Workshops in Hamburg by NetFlow, April 11-12
a. Prinzipien der Informationsarchitektur
b. Elemente des Navigationsdesigns
[details and online registration to come]

See my workshops page on this blog for descriptions of the sessions.


Forrester Reports Referenced

[1] Adele Sage. “Europe 2010: Fixing Known Usability Problems Pays Off,” Forrester Report, November 12, 2010.

[2] Vidya L. Drego. “When To Redesign Your Site: Seven Indicators That It May Be Time For An Online Overhaul,” Forrester Report, August 17, 2010.

About Jim Kalbach

Head of Customer Experience at MURAL

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