Friday, February 24, 2012

Small Steps To Stay On Track - Navigation

A website's navigation is an essential element that is often overlooked. Below is a list of DON'Ts and DOs for your site navigation. First the bad news:

What NOT to do in your Site Navigation
  • Don't have link-appearing titles that are not links.  When you go to a website, for example,, there are a list of links at the top of the page such as "Women" and "Men." These links denote different departments in their store/website. When you hover over these links, there are many sublinks that are available. Here is the don't, even if a link-appearing object has sublinks, still make the link-appearing object link somewhere.  Yes, many customers will hover over "Women" then find the subcategory that they want and click that subcategory, but there will be some customers who keep trying to click "Women" and may become frustrated when it doesn't go anywhere. This is good for customers who are not sure what subcategory they want, as well as for customers who may jump the gun and click on a link before the page loads enough to have the sublinks even appear.
  • Don't have too many levels in drop down menus. I am a firm believer in drop down or flyout menus in top or side navigation bars.  However, if there are too many levels, chances are that a customer's mouse will slip and they will lose all the levels they have gone through.  This is a similar idea to avoiding too many clicks before a customer can purchase. There are some websites that need to have that many clicks or need to have that many levels, but if you can avoid it, do. 
  • Avoid vague links.  A single link that says "Customer Service" is less helpful than a series of links that say "Returns," "Shipping Information," and "Privacy Policy."
What you SHOULD do in your Site Navigation
  • Build navigation with your customers in mind. The first navigation bar that you see on the page (no-a-ways this is typically the top navigation bar), should contain your main categories or your main site links.  I would not suggest using the top navigation bar for informative links like "About Us" or other customer service related links.  Those links are informative about your company, but they are not as useful to the customer.  Start your navigation with major categories.  If you look at, the first categories on their page are "Women," "Men," and "Baby." Looking at, you will find that their main categories at the top of their home page list the main products that they sell. Toys "R" Us starts their navigation with "Category" and "Age" pull down menus to immediately help their customers sort through the thousands of products available.
  • Do create a navigation menu that is straight to the point with meaningful text.  Don't include links called "Products" with a flyout menu.  Instead, include major categories at the top and any non-major categories in the side navigation bar or a flyout selection. 
  • Do have interactive links.  If a customer mouses over a link, something should happen.  The link could change background color, change text color, become underlined. The customer should be visually shown what link they are mousing over, and be able to see that it is in fact a link. 
  • Do include link titles.  In the HTML for an href statement, you can include the href location, as well as a link title.  This is not only good for search engines, but it is good for customers, especially for links of images.  
  • Do make the navigation stand out.
  • Do have clear breadcrumb menus.
  • Do make it simple. I like the idea of getting to any category page on your website from any category page on your website. Repeat customers or customers on a mission will know exactly what sub category they would like to view.  Having a categorized navigation with all of your sub categories will make it simple for customers to get exactly where they want without having to dig.
  • Do include company information links in the footer.  Just like the top navigation, the footer navigation can have categories of links.  Group your links in categories such as "Company" containing "About Us" type links, "Customer Service" containing "Shipping" and "Returns" type links, and "Stay Connected" with links to blogs, Facebook, etc.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Small Steps To Stay On Track - Home Page

If you are anything like me, it is about this time in the year that you realize you aren't sticking to your New Year's Resolutions.  I start off the year with so many goals and ambitions, but I realize that by trying to take on everything at once, I end up failing on most of my goals.  So what I propose is to relax a bit, and take those New Year's Resolutions one step at a time.  This series of blog posts will take various elements on your website and evaluate the good vs the bad. You can make improvements to your website one section at a time.

Home Page
The home page on your website introduces your company to potential clients, advertises your top products and promotions, and gives information on the various categories in your store.  With those three goals in mind, your home page should have some of the following features:
  • Clear call to action.  This may be a current promotion or sale, a top product, or a seasonal product line.  Whatever it is, have one, and only one, clear call to action that you change periodically.  You want your customers to come back and see what's new in your store.
  • Full navigation. Have your page setup so that either in your top navigation, side navigation or footer navigation, customers can go directly to what they want.  With ShopSite you can create categories or top navigation fly-out menus so that customers can find the main category (for example, Women's Clothes), and view a list of sub categories (such as Shirts or Tops) to go directly where they want.
  • Links to additional resources. You are an active business owner so you'll have Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, blogs, newsletters or other ways to keep in touch with your customers.  Let your new customers know that you are current with many online resources. 
A few things to watch out for that could hurt your home page are the following:
  • Too many calls-to-action. Trying to pull your customers in 5 different directions could distract customers or overwhelm customers. If a customer comes to your website with a purpose, for example to buy pants, they will look at your navigation and find exactly where they want to go.  If a customer finds your website some other way, direct them with one call-to-action.  If you want to direct them to more than that, have your additional features (such as other best sellers or promotions) highlighted as cross selling items on another page, not all on your home page.
  • Slow Speed. Your home page should be the attention grabber, but a slow loading page does not grab attention.  Make sure that your home page is clean and loads quickly. 
On the right I have the home page of four popular brands,,, and You can see that each of these home pages has one main call-to-action. is advertising their iPhone 4S; is advertising their swim line; is advertising their new sport band; is advertising their waterproof shoes. With each of these sites, the main thing they are advertising will take up nearly all the space 'above the fold' when viewing.  In order to view the categories below, a customer would need to scroll down.