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How to Create an Effective Navigation Structure for Your Site - Part 1

A ship captain traversing the open seas without a good navigation system will surely get lost. Maybe he'll strike sharp rocks and his ship will sink. A visitor who arrives at your site and can't navigate it for the information they seek, will surely get lost also and leave in frustration. Your ship (your web site) will also sink if this continues to happen.

Good site design means a good navigation structure for your web site. This means the visitor can find the information with ease. Put yourself in the shoes of your Grandmother. Would she quickly and effortlessly be able to find the information she wants, or know what to click on to make the purchase? Don't think that just because it is easy for you, it will be easy for others.

Visitors should not need to click more than three times during their navigation, to find the information they are searching for.

1. Navigation Styles These can range from navigation buttons, navigation bars, plain text links, fancy animated graphics or drop-down select menus. You can also use illustrations, photographs or graphic images to show your visitor around. For example, an image map contains one graphic with different "hot spots"(invisible buttons) that link to other pages.

2. Primary and Secondary Navigation Primary navigation consists of the navigation elements that are accessible from most locations within the site.

Secondary navigation elements allow the user to navigate within a specific location. For example, many sites have a page that offers information about the company. The primary navigation element may be an About Us link.

Once the user arrives on the About Us page, there will be other links (secondary links), which navigate within the About Us page.

These could be links to Press Releases, Corporate Locations, Investor Information and so on. These links are secondary navigation elements because they are relevant to the About Us page but not the other pages of the site. Therefore, these links will not be found in other areas of the site.

3. Guided Navigation This is a popular technique, in which you guide the visitor through your site. Links are provided for the next step and establishing links that keep the users on track continues the process. These links should supply the necessary information, as well as an alternate course clearly marked to allow the visitor to exit. For example, an online purchase should lead the user through shipping information, then on to payment information, then to receipt information.

4. Creating a Navigation Action Plan Determine goals and needs of your audience Decide what the purpose of your site is and who your target audience will be. For more in-depth information on this subject visit: "How to Target Your Customers and Put Them in a Buying Mood" (www.isitebuild.com/target.htm)

Learn from navigation that works Visit several successful sites that show good navigation e.g., Fedex.com. These sites show good navigation planning.

Generally, good navigation includes several characteristics:

Offers easy to learn elements Remains consistent Provides feedback Appears in context Offers alternatives Provides clear visual messages Offers clear and understandable labels Remains appropriate to the site's purpose Supports visitors goals and behaviors.

Providing feedback has the biggest impact on users. Navigation should tell people, where they are and if possible, where they have been. Visitors should also be able to easily determine linked or clickable material.

They need to know whether they successfully made a purchase,conducted a search, or completed some other task.

Navigation that allows visitors to find information easily and quickly will contribute to your web site's success. Ask your grandmother (or someone who is not familiar with the Web) to navigate your site. If they can find the information they want within 3 clicks, your navigation structure must be a success. Congratulations!

Part 2 of this article will show "How to Design Your Navigation Structure and Common Navigation Mistakes to Avoid".

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