Improve bounce rates and time on site with an intuitive context driven navigation rather than category driven navigation.
23rd July 2011

This month we have to redesign, revamp and reorganize the content of two client sites with a lot of information and pages. Normally we would take a linear approach, categorize the content and then provide a simple navigation to browse the content by categorized listings. There is only one problem with this approach. It hits a ceiling in terms of customer retention on the site.

People read by context not category. Create a context driven path rather than a category driven path for the visitor to follow.

This is sometimes counter intuitive to web designers who like to segregate everything into neat little categories.

In a nutshell people like to follow a trail of thoughts rather than a category. Phrase or even words in an article can get them thinking along a "thought tangent" and they will follow that tangent in the next article they read. The smart webmaster provides visitors with a ready set of tangential links with which they explore instead of trying to freeze them into a preset category.

Lets take a normal scenario with say two categories.

Now the obvious path would be A -> B -> C -> D -> E

However visitors reading patterns are not that obvious. A more likely pattern would be A -> B ->H ->I ->E

Ideas for making your site navigation paths more intuitive & visitor friendly

  • Identify "Thought Tangents" and provide links: Any article will have tiny inflection points I like to call "thought tangents". They could be triggered by a word, phrase or an entire para. What they do is make the visitor go looking for related information not directly connected with the current article/page and completely change the browsing direction. A good idea would be to identify these in your site and ideally provide fodder for these in effect guiding the path the visitor takes.
  • Come at it from all angles: Visitors rarely visit your site with the same requirements. Each visitor looks at her/his need through from a different angle and its your job to address each one. Some might be looking for features while other are looking at pricing. You need to cater to a variety of ways to get your content across.
  • Matrixing content is a good idea for complex products/services: Any service / product will mostly likely belong to different mutually exclusive sets of differentiators. Eg. A software can be cross matrixed by industries, functionality, enterprise levels, pricing and more. Ensure that you cater to all of these in your product filtering. Provide a industry wise listing as well as a function wise listing and if necessary provide a price scale listing too.
  • Videos provide a more engaging experience than text only:With modern technology so easy to access and use, creating multimedia content should be a priority. A video streamed from Youtube has more staying power for a visitor then just a verbose article. At the least you can add some images or diagrams to make your point.
  • Content discovery is important, make sure you have a fully functional site search - A good on site search function can help tremendously in content discovery and allow the visitor to jump to the most relevant content. So many times I go to sites (and have been guilty of doing also) where the site search does not work or is so pathetic that you rarely find the right item you are looking for.

Bring the business concept of "Easy to do business with" to the website.

Ultimately the goal for any website is to make it "easy to do business with". A visitor should be able to find what she / he is looking for, should find a intuitive reading path from page to page and should be mentally able to draw a picture of your products / services.


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