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Don't let navigation be your downfall

Navigation planning has hit critical mass. Today's markets are more competitive than ever. With that in mind, it is paramount that you attract visitors to your Web site. When developing a Web site, you need a strategy , as there are crucial elements which need to be planned in order for you to succeed.

The worst scenario is to have visitors come to your Web site only to become confused and frustrated at the fact that they can't find what they are looking for. This ultimately leads to them exiting and finding a Web site which can deliver what they need.


Taxonomy Is Key
How are users going to navigate throughout your Web site? It is vital that they understand your products and/or services. Before you start building out your Web site, invest time in determining what the top-level pages are going to be, and how the content of these top-level pages is going to help categorize your products or services.

Try to stay away from terminology such as "About Us" or "Our Services" as they do not describe what is being offered or give information on what the user will receive if they click that particular link. Try using key phrases as much as possible.

This will ensure that the search engines understand what the link is about and that weight will be given for the key phrase to the page it links to.

For example, instead of using the terminology "About Us" try featuring your actual company name, such as "About Tommy's Bait Shack." This allows the search engines and users to better understand the link.

Technology: Your Best Friend or Worst Enemy
We now know that the planning of the navigation structure is crucial to search engines and users navigating through your site. This, however, can all be in vain as certain technology can keep the search engines from crawling your Web site, or not allow users to fully access your navigation.

For example, if your navigation was built in Java  script and uses drop down menus to showcase particular sections, the search engines most likely will not be able to follow those links. This limitation can also be felt by visitors who currently have Java script disabled within their Web browsers. Also, if there are errors within the Java script code it will most likely crash the Web browser.

Un-crawlable technologies include:

Java script-based navigation
Flash-based navigation
Ajax-based navigation
Technology exists to aid in your navigation becoming fully crawlable and easy to navigate. One of these technologies uses cascading style sheets (CSS). You can achieve the same results with CSS as you could with other technologies; however the difference is that CSS is completely crawlable by the search engines and visitors to your Web site will have no problem viewing the navigation.

Maximizing the Usability of Your Web Site
We previously discussed the importance of planning and building your primary navigation in the right structure, but there is more to Web site navigation than the primary navigation. There are three other types of navigation, which are important to ensuring the visitor has the best possible experience. These secondary navigations are listed and described below.

Bread Crumb Navigation. It can be defined as a horizontal navigation, which is a pathway the user has taken to arrive at the current page, relative to the home page of your Web site. We have found that it is crucial the user be only a maximum of two clicks away from any other page throughout your Web site.
Footer Navigation. This style navigation should mimic the primary navigation's top-level structure. The footer navigation typically appears at the very bottom of each page. This allows visitors navigate to other pages when at the bottom of a particular page.
Sitemap. The sitemap is an additional page on your Web site which showcases the structure of the Web site from a top-level point of view, all the way to deep pages within your site. This page will act as a directory and will allow the search engines as well as visitors to access any other page throughout the Web site.
Each of the areas will help to ensure the successful navigation of your Web site.

Understanding Navigation Principles
Poor navigation planning and build-out can impact your Web site. Using the wrong technology such as Java script or flash can have a negative impact on the crawlability of your Web site and the user experience as well.

Take the time to plan out the structure of your Web site and decide on a technology that will not inhibit the search engines or visitors from viewing your pages.

By Darrell Long
E-Commerce Times