Simple Website Navigation – Part 1

Simple Website Navigation – Part 1
Numerous studies have shown that a well structured website plays an essential role in directing visitors toward an end goal like a newsletter subscription or sale. It’s the result of applying key components of user experience design, which aims to improve usability for content consumption. Unfortunately, not all sites provide a sound structure, and some of those that try do so in such a confusing way, its organization contradicts with what visitors may expect. 
 
Fortunately, simple website navigation solves this problem while organizing content in a smart, intuitive manner. The following describes how to apply simple website navigation to make any website of any genre look professional.
 
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Plan to Plan
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All site navigation requires pre-planning. Questions need answers and articles need designations. The end-result turns chaos into order and provides a clear map of what belongs where and why. So begin by asking what type of content can and should be grouped together. Then ask how this content should be labeled. Labeled, grouped content creates an information architecture that’s sensible and predictable to the end-user.
 
Other considerations address dynamic arrangements. That is, they address the *time* in which certain kinds of content are appropriate to show or hide. This dynamic presentation helps reduce clutter so that visitors aren’t distracted with irrelevant information. 
 
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Basic and Ineffective Organizational Structures
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The most basic organizational structures are dead easy to implement. There’s the alphabetical structure, which organizes content by title name, the dated structure that organizes content by the date in which it was published, and the searchable structure that organizes content by query. Each of these structures can point visitors to the information that they’re looking for, but they assume visitors already know what they want to find: a title, a date, or a search term. 
 
Very few people interact with websites this way. At most, visitors will use a related-keyword to search for information, but browsing through alphabetical and/or dated lists is often a last-ditch effort to locate something. 
 
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Categorization is a Priority
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Because every piece of content, whether it’s an article, picture, sound file or even a video, can be assigned to a group of some sort, categorization should be given priority. Categories make the process of showing and hiding information (referenced above) much easier, especially when they respond to things like importance, available options and irrelevance.
 
Of course, without a sufficient amount of user feedback, determining what is important, optional, or irrelevant isn’t easy. That’s when tools like traffic analysis programs and search engine query data come into play. The information provided by these tools help designers ascertain (1) what’s important (indicated by the type of information that visitors seek the most); (2) available options (indicated by the series of clicks that occur on a regular basis); and (3) what’s irrelevant (indicated by where visitors typically abandon a website). 
 
Once information is identified as important, optional or irrelevant, it can be labeled and placed into a graphical map that demonstrates that information’s status. Groups of important information can be labeled and presented on a horizontal navigational bar, for example, or as a menu inside a blog’s sidebar.
 
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Subcategories are Important Too
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Categories all by themselves don’t give visitors a personal glimpse of what’s inside a website. Their generic characteristic, instead, provides little more than a mere outline of what can be found. Relevant subcategories, on the other hand, move information into a thought process that matches what most people expect when they’re interacting with a website. And when correctly implemented, they seem almost predictive.
 
This predictable nature lends to an intuitive user experience that not only facilitates usability, it enhances it in a way that encourages further interaction and coveted visitor retention.
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