Hey gang, we’re back, and this time we’re tackling another aspect of web usability. This week’s topic: navigation and information retrieval – specifically, how to make that simple and easy. Before we get to that though, let’s discuss something pretty important: the fold.
Stay above the fold
The fold is the imaginary line where your web page meets the bottom of your browser window. What your readers see on your page without scrolling down is above the fold. Anything that requires scrolling before showing up is below.
Different experts may disagree on the origins of the term, but we like the one that compares it to a newspaper. The top half of the front page is the very first thing you’ll see on a paper, and this is where you find the most important items: the name of the paper, of course; the headlines, weather updates, and other things the paper wants to highlight. Items on the bottom half, below the fold, sometimes get lost or just glossed over.
On your web page, items that show up immediately on your web page attract more attention. The links up here – the ones your readers see immediately – are the ones that your readers are most likely to click through. This is where you want to keep the things you want to highlight, like your navigation bar, subscription options, and recent comments, among others.
Don’t get me lost
Since we mentioned it already, let’s talk about navigation. Some of the things most websites have in common are: a link to the home page, an about page with information on the owner of the site, and a contact page. Though some try to come up with creative names for these links, they are usually labeled “home,” “about,” and “contact,” respectively. The main reason they’re labeled this way is to avoid confusion – not everybody will understand, for example, that “Take me back to Kansas” means take me home, or “Gimme a holler” means contact me.
On a similar vein, many sites use the main banner or header lead back home. Clicking on that blue pepper up top, for example, will send you back to our home page.
Walk with me
You don’t want to limit readers to just a few pages on your site, do you? To help them navigate around your site, you need to give readers an idea of what else you have to offer. One suggestion is to put a list of related topics at the bottom of each post or article. You don’t have to do this manually, by the way – this function might be built into your CMS already.
Another way to help your readers get around is to add links for your categories, tags, and archived posts. This helps them find other articles related to the page they’re on, or quickly find posts from a specific time frame. Of course, another great navigation aid is a search bar – they’re often (though not always) found on the upper right corner of a page.
Put up some signs
Yet another way to help your readers navigate your site is by adding descriptions to your page titles. Our page title, for example, suggests what you can do (or what we want you to do) if you need an assistant. Indirectly, it also describes our company and what we do.
Adding descriptions to your titles tells your readers about you even before they land on your page. Your page titles show up in search-engine results pages (or SERPs, as they’re commonly called) – having a description there means your readers know a bit more about you immediately, making them more likely to click through.
Lay out a map
You can’t plan every single action your readers make on your site, but you can definitely make it easy for them to get around. Even better, you can nudge them to certain pages by highlighting certain paths or locations on your site.
The main point is to help your readers find what they want on your site. The navigation options, archives, search bar, and other elements on your site serve as a map that helps your readers get around your site.
This part four of Pepper’s Web Usability series. You can check out the other posts in the links below. Before you hop away though, we’d like to know: how do you make sure your readers don’t have trouble getting around your site? Share your ideas in the comments section.
- Keep it simple: the basic philosophy for web usability
- Don’t be a snob: make sure that everybody can access your site
- Identify yourself: don’t make it hard to figure out who’s behind your site
- Show me around: make it easy to navigate your site
- Say it, and say it well: make sure you get your message across
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