Is your global navigation hindering visitors?

Posted on August 9, 2008 by admin

Website navigation should help users quickly accomplish their tasks. Unfortunately, we often see websites maintaining a fixed set of global links on every page, most of which are no longer pertinent to the task at hand once a user makes his or her first click. They only hinder progress.

You usually come to a website to DO something! It may be to research a car, book a flight, buy a book or answer a question. The visible navigation links are the only way for you to move forward and accomplish your task or goal. If navigation is done well, it helps guide you to your goal in a quick, direct manner.

Once you’ve indicated your intent by clicking one of the top level links, the website should respond by providing the next set of links which will quickly take you to your destination. As Gerry McGovern stated in his New Thinking newsletter article (April 2, 2006) [1]:

“The primary purpose of web navigation is to help people move forward. It is not to tell them where they have been, or where they could have gone.”

There is growing consensus that most large websites (e.g. government, enterprise, news and entertainment sites) benefit more from use of task-oriented and context-sensitive local navigation than from maintaining a large number of global navigation links on each page.

“Although it has some limited use, global navigation is overrated. Contextual navigation offers much more value, providing direct links to elements that are highly relevant to the user’s current location (and presumably their current interest [task]).”– Jakob Nielsen

“Similar to how a home page provides an overview of the entire site, landing pages provide an outline of the content in a given section.”– James Kalbach

“While global links to top-level categories help reinforce the breadth of a site’s offering, they also consume significant screen real estate for links that arguably are not as relevant to users as page-specific content. This is particularly true at the lower levels of the hierarchy, where there is a larger amount of semantic distance between the global links and the page content.” – Heidi Adkisson

In our May 2008 Insighter [2] we commented on the potential pitfalls of maintaining the top level navigation in the left column of all web pages. However, based on a recent sampling of government websites, we were pleasantly surprised to see that many websites are adopting and implementing context-sensitive navigation in the left column. This change seems to have coincided with the transition to Common Look and Feel version 2.0 (CLF2.0).

The Health Canada website [3] provides an excellent example. Once a user selects a subject of interest on the Home page, the left-hand navigation changes to provide links specific to the new context – in this case Consumer Product Safety information.

Health Canada website showing use of context-sensitive left-navigation

Check your websites. Once people have selected a link from the Home page, does it make sense to maintain the global navigation or provide the links they will be looking for next? More often than not, task performance can be improved significantly by providing contextually-sensitive links.

Contact us [4] to find out about our new tools for optimizing navigation for your website.

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Contact us to buy or upgrade to Morae 3 [7]

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Quote of the month

“We read website navigation like we read a car navigation system. We’re looking for that exact link (next turn) we need to click on. We have a destination in mind and we want to get there as quickly as possible.”

Gerry McGovern, New Thinking newsletter – June 1,2008

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URLs in this post:

[1] New Thinking newsletter article (April 2, 2006):

[2] May 2008 Insighter:

[3] Health Canada website:

[4] Contact us:

[5] Back to Top: #top

[6] Morae 3:

[7] Contact us to buy or upgrade to Morae 3:

[8] fill out our feedback form:

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