The question I pose today may seem really obvious, but I’ve noticed lately that many organizations try to make their web sites look simpler than they actually may be. I think it’s often because the web site has grown and evolved so much that its navigation and design is no longer suitable. Great news though – there is a way to ensure your navigation evolves along with your web site! I posted a long while ago about navigation best practices. Today, I want to hone in on one of my navigation test questions: “Is your navigation representative of your entire site?”
Starting with a content inventory is always a good way to test this out. Content inventories, though perhaps not so fun to make, will make maintaining, optimizing and eventually redesigning your web site so much easier. I cannot stress enough the benefits of keeping an up-to-date inventory of every page on your web site.
Snapshot of a Content Inventory
Now that you’re going to run out and make one, keep it consistent with your web site’s navigation and/or sitemap so you can easily see where everything fits. As you evaluate your content and add new content, there should be a logical “home” for each item. If there isn’t a natural fit, flag the item in your inventory and consider changing your navigation once you observe several flags. A few questions to consider when testing whether your navigation reflects your sitemap…
- Are there important pages on my site that are only accessible from the homepage or from the footer?
- Are there sub sections in my site that don’t exactly fit in the area where they’re found?
- Is there important content that users never seem to be able to find?
- Do I rely on the search function or a sitemap page to get users to certain content?
- Do we create microsites for new content because we can’t decide where to put it?
Keep in mind that your navigation should scale with your web site so that you’ll easily be able to change it as you begin answering “yes” to many of the above questions. Unfortunately, your web site will never be done – continuous evaluation and iteration is key to staying successful online. Have you noticed any of these symptoms on your own site or on other web sites? Feel free to share ideas in the comments.