R.I.P. Navigation

Posted by Tom LarsenFeb 12, 2020 Design, Marketing, Planning, Sales 11 Comments

Assorted signs pointing in different directions
The last time you took a trip, did you take any paper maps? If you’re like almost everyone, you carry in your pocket more computing power than it took to land Apollo on the moon, so you use an app. You type in a destination and you are provided with the entire routing from your exact point to the destination. All in a few seconds. Your online map will even guide you the entire way in real-time.

What if that routing took the app 15 or 20 seconds to deliver? Would you still wait and wait until the app figured it out? If you’re like most, you would simply look for a new app that would get you what you now see as an easy answer, in only a couple of seconds.

What you have just done in this metaphor is what visitors to every website do every day. They come to a website and are confronted with a page full of information (the entire map). provided their vocabulary and that of the website are aligned. Visitors are expected to self-navigate through clicks on the navigation bar to uncertain destinations for the information they are seeking. Here’s why that’s a crazy approach.

What Waze, Google and the other map apps do is take you to your destination, not simply provide you with an overview of all your choices to get there. Your website can do that to if you choose to let it.

There are large percentages of your visitors coming to your site who are seeking the same information which is “show me why I should consider doing business with you, then show me how”. What if your home page gave those groups direct pathways to exactly the place they need to be in order to completely answer this inquiry? What if at that destination you put all of the information they might need to make a decision about your business or offer, right there in scrollable form, not additional pages? That makes sense right?

It does to some website creators and companies and not to others. Why? Since this is a foundational premise of our website design practice, here are 3 reasons why developers may have missed the mark for your website presentation.

Asking visitors to select a path, deselects other paths.  Developers generally want to suit all visitors all the time, lest an actual prospect departs the website. We all know that lots of people who come to websites are not going to ever become customers. Smart business people also know that having a site that conveniently discourages the wrong prospects isn’t a bad thing at all. Additionally, relying on visitors and serendipity to find their answers increases bounces.

Developing a thoughtful business presentation is not what developers do.  Presentations require an understanding of the business, the needs, and expectations of the Customers of the business and the need to create a compelling and progressive reveal of the business for the visitor. The art of appropriate customer encouragement through a sequence of steps to generate familiarity and trust is generally not part of the developer’s skill set.

Developing a multi-section page for different groups is redundant.  Developers are generally looking for the most efficient way to get lots of information on a site. They divide it up by topic and layout a directory of the locations. That is how a developer sees information. Think of it like a library with a card catalog. It’s about organization, not the needs of the visitor. The navigation tool (which was the card catalog in a library) becomes a default to leaving all decisions up to the visitor. This thinking is tantamount to saying “here is all the information, and a wonderful directory, we hope you enjoy your journey”.

Why “hope” that the visitor takes the next steps that data can already tell us they will take if presented clearly? A revision of a website with a clear understanding of what the business is trying to accomplish can create the website journey that is most efficient for the visitor (least number of pages needed to visit) instead of for the developer (the most efficiently organized site).

If your website is for your visitors, then offering the most direct path to meet their needs is the only approach to take. Any other way ensures that you are asking the visitors to navigate.






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