How consumers move through your website is down to so much more than the navigation bar sat on your home page. Modern day users are busy and aren’t willing to put in the time to find the information they need. By carefully designing your websites Information Architecture and Navigation functionalities you can delight users by helping them find what they need with minimal effort.
Information architecture (IA) is the structure of the all of the content on your website, linked or unlinked. Good IA begins by ensuring a user centered approach to understand the user's mental model of how they group and label content. To create an effective IA it’s a good idea to start by conducting user research, create personas and user journeys to visualise your user’s goals.
Navigation is the functionality which helps the user to navigate through the website by providing links in the user interface to relevant content. The navigation can be provided in a main navigation bar, a website's footer, breadcrumb links, and inpage links amongst others. Navigation should enable users to find content quickly, be consistent across different devices and be scalable. Global navigation elements should be available on every screen, behave consistently and have labels that match page titles.
The IA informs how the navigation will work and should be well organised. When creating an IA you should start by considering how users will find their way around the site and how to organise the content so it makes the most sense for each user and the content.
Evaluating the IA and Navigation
There are a number of tools and activities you can undertake to design a user centered IA and Navigation. These are a few of my go to techniques.
1. Content audit
At CTI our UX and SEO teams work collaboratively to understand existing and new content. Both teams work to ensure content meets the user's needs whilst performing well in search. A content audit involves going through all the content on the site so that nothing is missed. This is an essential step as it’s how we learn what we are working with and if it meets our user’s needs.
2. Website analytics
Looking at website usage data is helpful when evaluating how users are finding content on the site and which content they prefer. It also highlights any issues with the structure or labels. For example, if key pages are buried deep in the site structure they will be difficult for users to find and likely have lower page sessions than content higher up in the structure. If navigation labels are ambiguous users can end up going down the wrong path trying to find information causing frustration. We also review search terms to help us understand how users label the things they are looking for so that we can include this in our thinking.
3. User interviews
User interviews help understand users navigation requirements. However, what people say can be different from what they do and should only be used in conjunction with other research techniques such as user testing or analysing data.
4. Card sorting
We use card sorting to find out how people group content and label it. We then use this information to define the IA. If the website is large and the structure is complicated we break up the content into sections and run separate card sorts.
5. User testing
User testing is an effective way to evaluate how users are interacting with the navigation. By observing users completing tasks on an existing site we can uncover potential problems. Also once a new navigation is created we can test it to make sure it works for users. Tree testing is a relatively quick method of evaluating if a people can use a navigation structure.
Other things to consider
Users should be able to learn your navigation effortlessly and navigate around the site from any page. You also need to factor in that users won’t always arrive at your site on the homepage. Appropriate page titles help users know where they are on your site from any page and is essential for a good user experience. When creating navigation for large websites, consistent behaviour of the navigation elements will help reduce cognitive load on users as they look for information.
Start by understanding your users. Think outside the box and don’t just rely on surveys and interviews, use data and user testing to learn more and understand what is really going on. Split up websites with large amounts of content and tackle each section separately. Avoid using ambiguous labels in the navigation for difficult to categorise content. Finally, always be prepared to change things if your research uncovers new issues over time, constant testing is important for a great IA.
If you're looking to inprove the navigation and architecture of your website, please leave us a message on our contact page.