The Importance of Good Website Navigation


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When we embarked on a complete website renovation at Cheshire Academy, my team wanted to make sure we had the best website possible. We brainstormed for months on what would be the perfect navigation structure, ultimately deciding that we needed to move away from the traditional navigation structure used by most private schools. Here’s what happened.

True marketers at heart, my webmaster and I knew that having a strong call to action on our site was crucial. We wanted to make sure that our navigation was simple, organized, part of a strong SEO plan, and was creative. So, with our four goals in mind, we came up with what we thought was a genius idea to create a main navigation menu, the level one navigation, that used all action verbs. We were going to revolutionize private school website navigation by maximizing our site’s impact by incorporating a call to action into each menu item. We began to brainstorm ideas.

Once we had taken our brainstorm and widdled it down into our top navigational item choices, we decided to do some research and test it out. We utilized two different tools from Optimal Workshop, starting with the OptimalSort.

Essentially, this tool allowed us to send actual users a list of individual pages on our site and have them create buckets to organize the pages into the navigation that they thought most logical. To our surprise, no one came up with the navigation choices that we did. The buckets were, for the most part, fairly traditional choices of admission, development, academics, athletics, student life … that type of structure.

Not ready to abandon our brilliant idea, we told ourselves that our users just didn’t realize how awesome our organizational structure was, but once they saw it, they’d fully appreciate the value it brings and love it. Time for testing our menu.

Optimal Workshop’s Treejack tool allows you to test out the effectiveness of your proposed navigation. We compared the results of a traditional navigational menu to our super cool call to action navigational menu. We were convinced that people just needed to see our brilliant menu first hand, and this test would prove it worked perfectly.

The Treejack exercise asked users a series of questions and provided them with our super cool call to action menu and the boring traditional menu to navigate. The results?

We were wrong. Very, very wrong. Our super cool call to action menu tanked, completely. When users were asked to find things on our website, they simply couldn’t. Our seemingly genius idea failed, miserably.

Here’s a look at one of the failed tests: Find the School’s Mission Statement.

In the graphic above, you can see the volume of successful navigational experiences on the traditional navigation menu far outperformed that of our call to action menu. OK, it didn’t work as well, but was it really that bad? Yes. I didn’t fully appreciate the positive performance of the traditional menu until I saw this next representation of the paths users took on each menu, side by side:

Our users had absolutely no clue how to use the call to action menu and were literally all over the place trying to find the information they needed. It was clear that the traditional navigation menu was to go-to choice for schools for a reason: it worked. And as such, Cheshire Academy’s website still maintains a traditional level one navigation system.

It’s always great to think outside the box and try to improve a user experience, but it’s important to make sure that you’re testing that user experience. Had we not tested our proposed site navigation, we would have launched a site that failed at its mission, and could have cost us a great deal of money, not only in wasted money on a project and needing to redo it, but also in potential lost revenue from users who may never have come back a second time.

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