In old joke, a man goes up to an old-timer and asks how to get to local library. The old man thinks for a minute and then says "It's quite simple really, but I wouldn't start from here!"
Sounds silly? Well why do so many people design their web sites like that?
It is a basic human need to know where we are at any given moment. If we were to be blindfolded and set down in a strange city, most of us would panic. It isn't a logical, thought-out response - simply a wired-in emotional reaction to feeling out-of-place.
Almost every tourist center in world provides maps and guidebooks for their visitors. They don't do it just to make a few dollars extra - they do it to stop thousands of folks from asking their staff directions whole time.
Yet how many web sites are 'designed' without a single thought for making it easy for visitors to find their way around?
Most people have a need to build a mental picture of where they have been, and where they are now. If a web site does not help them satisfy that need, they will form an unconscious negative impression. Then, quality of information on site becomes secondary to their basic human instinct. They will quickly click away and look for an alternative, better organized site.
Site navigation is not simply about a nav-bar on your home page. It encompasses three tightly interlinked factors:
* Home page navigation * Site 'look and feel' * Reassurance
Taking these things one at a time, let's look at how your site can be friendly to your visitors, and how they will feel good about you.
Home Page Navigation ---------------------
Every site makes some kind of stab at this. Whether it is a side bar or a top bar, an image map or in-text links, virtually all web designers make some attempt to move visitors on into depths of site.
But wait - let's think about how it is often done.
Too many links. Why throw a link to everything onto front page? A few themed links directing visitors of discrete sections of site are more comforting.
Too few links. Unless there is a very good reason to make people follow your site in a linear fashion, it is much better to let them browse in order they choose.
Unclear links. However you decide to design your page, ensure that links are clear as day. Use of underlined text on a page that is not a link is confusing, as is changing default way that links are displayed. If you do play design games like this, make sure you have a very good reason, and that your visitors have no choice but to understand.