Well-organized websites are easier to search and navigate.
People often ask me why they have to worry about navigation. They feel that once they buy the right search engine everyone will be able to find what they’re looking for. In intranets, in particular, I often hear people say: “Why can’t we just get Google?”
If only life were so simple. The quality of search results is highly dependent on the quality of the content being searched. If it has been written and organized in a proper way, then search is going to work much better.
When you search with Google, the first, second and third results don’t get there by accident. Whoever owns these pages has worked really hard to organize them in a way that maximizes their findability.
This is one reason why search performs so poorly on intranets. There is no incentive for the content owners to make their content findable. In fact, there is often a disincentive. The more your pages get found, the more work/questions you might get.
When we test websites we typically see people clicking on navigation as a first step once they are on the website itself. That’s logical. It’s often easier to navigate. If you want pricing and you see a link called “Pricing” it’s easier to just click on that link than go to the search engine.
Of course, navigation often doesn’t work well for people. Then they may well revert to search. For sure, lots of people will start their task on a particular website with search. And a great many will alternate between search and navigation.
Certain websites may not even have a search function. However, all websites must have navigation because navigation is about linking and linking is the essence of the Web. The web professional is as concerned about the link as what is being linked to. Web thinking is link thinking.
The Web is a journey through links and great web designers design for navigation first. Most webpages are not where you stay but rather where you move through; you are on a journey. People scan pages for links like they scan motorways for signs.
Search is like a shortcut. If it’s working well it jumps you forward several steps. But even a high quality search result will not always allow for immediate task completion. Even after you have landed on the page linked to by the search result you may still need to click through several links before you are finished.
Navigation design is hard work. It requires an awful lot of testing and refinement. But it’s worth the effort. Clear menus and links are the foundations for website success. Confusing menus and links are like quicksand.
In managing a website we need to focus on the outcome of the journey rather than its inputs and components. Search, navigation and content must be judged in the ultimate context: Did the customer complete the journey? Did they complete their task?
Collaborative, linked-up thinking is at the heart of all great web management. Navigation and search are intertwined, both focusing on helping the customer get to where they need to be as quickly and easily as possible.