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How to Create an Effective Web Site Navigation Structure -  Part 1
Copyright 2002 Herman Drost 

A ship captain traversing the open seas without a good navigation system will surely get lost. Maybe he’ll strike sharp rocks and his ship will sink. A visitor who arrives at your site and can’t navigate it for the information they seek, will surely get lost also and leave in frustration. Your ship (your web site) will also sink if this continues to happen. 

Good site design means a good navigation structure for your web site. This means the visitor can find the information with ease.

Put yourself in the shoes of your Grandmother. Would she quickly and effortlessly be able to find the information she wants, or know what to click on to make the purchase? Don’t think that just because it is easy for you, it will be easy for others. 

Visitors should not need to click more than three times during their navigation, to find the information they are searching for. 

1. Navigation Styles
These can range from navigation buttons, navigation bars,
plain text links, fancy animated graphics or drop-down select menus. You can also use illustrations, photographs or graphic images to show your visitor around. For example, an image map contains one graphic with different “hot spots”(invisible buttons) that link to other pages.  

2. Primary and Secondary Navigation
Primary navigation consists of the navigation elements that are
accessible from most locations within the site. 

Secondary navigation elements allow the user to navigate within
a specific location. For example, many sites have a page that
offers information about the company. The primary navigation
element may be an About Us link. 

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Once the user arrives on the About Us page, there will be other
links (secondary links), which navigate within the About Us

These could be links to Press Releases, Corporate Locations,
Investor Information and so on. These links are secondary
navigation elements because they are relevant to the About Us
page but not the other pages of the site. Therefore, these links
will not be found in other areas of the site. 

3. Guided Navigation 
This is a popular technique, in which you guide the visitor
through your site. Links are provided for the next step and 
establishing links that keep the users on track continues 
the process. These links should supply the necessary
information, as well as an alternate course clearly marked to
allow the visitor to exit. For example, an online purchase
should lead the user through shipping information, then on
to payment information, then to receipt information. 

4. Creating a Navigation Action Plan
Determine goals and needs of your audience Decide what the
purpose of your site is and who your target audience will be. 
For more in-depth information on this subject visit: 
“How to Target Your Customers and Put Them in a Buying Mood” 

Learn from navigation that works Visit several successful sites
that show good navigation e.g., Fedex.com. These sites show good
navigation planning. 

Generally, good navigation includes several characteristics: 

Offers easy to learn elements
Remains consistent
Provides feedback
Appears in context 
Offers alternatives 
Provides clear visual messages 
Offers clear and understandable labels 
Remains appropriate to the site’s purpose
Supports visitors goals and behaviors 

Providing feedback has the biggest impact on users. Navigation
should tell people, where they are and if possible, where they
have been. Visitors should also be able to easily determine
linked or clickable material. 

They need to know whether they successfully made a purchase,
conducted a search, or completed some other task. 

Navigation that allows visitors to find information easily and
quickly will contribute to your web site’s success. Ask your
grandmother (or someone who is not familiar with the Web) to
navigate your site. If they can find the information they want
within 3 clicks, your navigation structure must be a success.

Part 2 of this article will show “How to Design Your Navigation
Structure and Common Navigation Mistakes to Avoid”
Herman Drost is a Certified Internet Webmaster (CIW) 
owner and author of iSiteBuild.com 
Web Site Design and Low Cost Hosting

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