Easier Site Navigation Goes a Long Way

There's a lot to learn about making a profitable business out of the Internet, and much of it has to do with improving and simplifying your customer's experience.

My father spent 45 years at a non-dot-com company. You think he has something simple to offer us? You bet -- many of the same principles that drove yesterday's businesses are driving today's businesses on the Web. One principle that reigns supreme is the customer experience, but it is so often neglected because we rarely see the customer's face. Creating a good customer experience on the Web is what's so different compared to traditional businesses. There are no complicated theories or equations to remember for those who truly want to deliver on the customer experience. If your product, service, or whatever you have to share is compelling, simply create a site that is both easy to use and fast to load.

The concept of ease of use is not difficult to understand. Just today I saw a prime example of this sort of simplicity at work.

Many of you received a note from Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com Inc.

He's asking customers to help him improve the navigation system on Amazon.com.

"Over the last few months, we've tested several new navigational systems for Amazon.com, looking for a way to make it easier for you to get around our store. (By 'navigational system,' I'm talking about the tabs at the top of our home page)," Bezos writes.

He goes on to say, "Many thanks for helping us make Amazon.com the best store it can be." Jeff is in the know. He knows how to satisfy customers. He knows that what he has right now is not working and he's focusing on getting the customer experience right. He's not investing endless dollars in new marketing campaigns focused on fluff. Jeff is focused on customer experience.

Customers have told Amazon that its tab view system is becoming difficult to use and that it needs a new primary navigation system. No one at Amazon invented this need. The company listened to customers and it's changing.

Many sites have used and abused the tab metaphor. I myself haven't been a big proponent of tabs for the very same reason Amazon is changing. If you're an old interface engineer you know that tabs best represent a way to view similar information.

Unfortunately, many adopt tabs as a way of representing dissimilar information such as gizmos for the kitchen, electronics, health and beauty, and hardware.

If your product or service offerings are diverse, a tab-controlled navigation system can take up half of the screen's real estate.

In building a navigation system, make sure it's consistent throughout the site.

It should not only look the same, but it should be located in the same position across all pages. An excellent navigation system requires information to be grouped logically. Users should easily understand both the breadth and depth of the site through navigation. The navigation system should help support multiple views of the content. Finally, the navigation system should also provide an easy avenue home.

Of course, user experience encompasses more than just the navigation system.

It's also about fast page loads, appealing visual design of text and graphic media, outstanding customer service, and more. I'm a big proponent of speedy or responsive sites.

Next column, we'll chat about speedy sites, and not about maximizing "next-generation Web readiness."

Laura Wonnacott is vice president of InfoWorld.com. Write to her at laura_wonnacott@infoworld.com.

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