Website navigation is often a hindrance to user experience
by Ali Carmichael, Managing Director and Owner

Website navigation is often a hindrance to user experience

A website navigation is there to help a user to find their way to the content they need or want. However, this feature that is meant to play the role of map and compass, often creates confusion and frustration.

This can occasionally be due to the design of the navigation feature itself, but more often than not the issue lies with the structure and/or the terminology used.

Fortunately, updating the wording is, technically, quit easy. But getting it right can be more difficult. The answer lies, firstly, in understanding why the issues exists. There are three common website navigation issues:

1/. Internal structure

This was more prevalent in previous decades but we still see this issue arise – where the website is structured in a way that matches a previously defined internal structure. A simple example is when the products are categorised as per a warehouse system.

Short term solutions include reducing the navigation to drive users to landing pages, and utilising page design to guide people to relevent content. We also recommend ensuring your site search is effective, both in its algorithm and how it presents results, as users instinctively turn to search features when the site navigation is unhelpful.

2/. Internal/industry language

Let’s be honest, we all fall foul of shortening regular work terms into TLAs (three letter acronyms). This happens more often where the language is technical or there just isn’t a simple word to use instead. This can lead to complex terminology, leaving users unable to absorb the options presented in the navigation, let alone find what they are looking for.

The chances are, you’ll already have a strong inkling that this is an issue, but knowing where to start can feel uphill. The first step here is to establish what works and what doesn’t work from a user perspective. Remove the guess work and pick up the facts. Usability testing is good for a broader look, or you can run a card sorting exercise to establish the words your customers use to categorise your content and see how they compare.

It makes sense to begin with the top level of your navigation and work down. But it is likely that, as you progress this work, the site structure will need to change too (see #1).

3/. Your amazing product or service

Everyone is so involved in the product, which is built a certain way, offers specific features, and uses exciting technology. It make sense the site is designed around the features, and how they might fit together.

The only problem here is that often, the user doesn’t care so much about what you care about, and they just need to find something that works for them and information that supports their journey.

This isn’t a knock to your product or service, but finding out how it looks from your customer’s perspective and establishing what they need and expect will ensure greater engagement. Pay attention to how potential customers react, in what order do they digest information, and what questions do they ask? How does their perspective differ to yours? Design your website for your customer, not for you.

Why always the user?

The long term solution to all the above is to redesign the site structure around your user, the terminology they use, and how they structure your products and service.

It’s funny how it always points to user research and understanding, but so many websites still fail to grasp the easiness of designing user first. Website are over complicated and, once built and live, become difficult to focus on improvements.

Knowing which aspects are intuitive, where users hesitate, get stuck or confused is critical to prioritising change. The good news is that there are often quick win options and, whilst making short term improvements, you can build evidence for a longer term solution.

You might also be interested in this previous article about website navigation:

4 tips to increase conversions by improving your navigation and drop down menus


UX Consultant Emma Peters

Let’s Chat

Got a question? We’re here to listen and help you and your organisation become more user-centric. Talk to us about how usability testing and user research can help you. Contact us today.

01202 293652