Five Ways to Navigate

The most important Web usability issue is probably site navigation. It won't matter how good your content is, if users can't find it!

There are other site navigation systems, but we won't go into them here, as they aren't generally accepted as good usability tools. For example, pull-down redirection menus, and multi-level cascading menus.

Your site should provide the following five navigation systems:

  • Hyperlinks: The World Wide Web is an enormous storage of information content connected by an enormous number of hypertext links (also known as hyperlinks, or just links). A hyperlink is a selectable text, picture, or information object connection to another. It's the primary method of moving around the Web. I recommend that you stick with the standard convention of blue colored, underline text for unvisited text links. Don't use other colors, or leave out the underline. That will only confuse your users;
  • Basic Site Search: A site search engine is one of the most popular functions on a site. You should include a basic search form at the top of every page;
  • Advanced Site Search: Advanced search allows users to refine a search. This is especially useful if your site has hundreds, even thousands, of products, or pages of content, and is broken down into departments or categories. The most common place to display the link to your site's advanced search page is to the right of, or underneath to the basic search form;
  • Site Map: A site map is a visual model of a site's content that allows the users to navigate through the site. Site maps are organized in a hierarchy. Main categories are broken down into increasingly specific subject areas. There are many different visual models. I suggest you examine site maps in other sites for ideas on what works best for your site; and
  • Alphabetical Index: A alphabetical index is similar to the site map, except it organized in alphabetical and numerical order, instead of in a hierarchy. The index consists of a list of keywords, with each keyword linking to the page that is most relevant to the keyword topic.

Tab Divider Navigation Bars

You have probably come across tab divider navigation bars while surfing the Web. Some of the most popular sites, such as Amazon.com and Drugstore.com, use tab divider navigation bars.

For tab divider navigation bars to work:

  • graphics are designed to give the impression that the active tab graphic is in front of the inactive tabs; and
  • each active tab uses a different color to further enhance the illusion that each tab represents a different section of the site.

Benefits of tab divider navigation bars:

  • They are hard to miss;
  • They are more self-evident than navigation bars which use buttons or text links; and
  • Users get the impression that a site is divided into different sections or areas.