Of all the elements that can be tested on a
website, few are more important than testing
the efficiency of your navigation elements.
Navigation is an essential element of the Web, capable of
providing a vastly improved experience for users and influencing
several key performance indicators. While it may not
be as exciting an element to test as pricing, it does carry
major influence on creating a meaningful interaction for
Web users and a profitable one for your Web enterprise.
Information portals and e-commerce sites are those that
may benefit most from testing navigation. Groups or individuals
focused exclusively on landing page optimization should
certainly be concerned with and consider testing navigation,
but when the notion of “conversion” rules the focus of every
page, calls-to-action and other elements (e.g. imagery) that aid
in the conversion process often take precedence. However,
navigation should never be an afterthought, as it is an element
that can undoubtedly move users closer to the end of the sales
funnel, even from a very specific landing page.
Informed, Educated Testing
Depending on your website’s audience, understand that the
navigation menu experience will change dramatically from
site to site. You may find with a younger, hipper audience
that users will prefer rollover menus but detest autoexpanding
menus. You may find with far older audiences
that text-style menus outperform Flash and hyper-sensitive
flyout menus. While you can certainly make some broad
guesses as to what will perform best, only testing will ensure
the best experience for your audience and, therefore, the best
opportunities for conversion.
Commit to Testing
Users must be able to easily find their way through a website
from every page, ultimately reaching the information
they want or need quickly. It’s hard to take a different point
of view. When testing, both designers and site owners must
understand users’ expectations of their website navigation.
Finding a way to provide easy access to what users want
(and with fewer clicks) when designing website navigation
and structure will improve the information-seeking experience
and make a positive impact on key performance indicators
like time-on-site and bounce rate — important
factors in everything from advertising metrics to SEO. The
point is, even if you’re not committed to running elaborate
tests on navigation, do recognize the importance of helping
users get what they want.
How to Test Website Navigation
If you are committed to testing navigation but have not yet,
selected a vendor (and don’t want to run manual tests)
know that there are a variety of site testing tools available.
Forrester’s recently published report on online testing platforms
reviewed the top nine players in the space which included
Adobe Test & Target, Amadesa Customer Experience
Suite, Autonomy Optimost, Google Website Optmizer,
Maxymiser Content MVT, SiteSpect, Vertster Conversion Optimization
Suite and Webtrends Optimize. Forrester indicated
that Adobe Test & Target (formerly Omniture) and Autonomy
Optimost were placed as the leaders — Adobe Test &
Target excels in overall application usability, customer
satisfaction and content support, while Autonomy stands
out in administration, deployment options and breadth of testing
While free site testing tools such as Google Website Optimizer
are attractive to many, other Web professionals demand
more and these commercial vendors all provide competitive
and effective solutions. Know in advance, however, that investing
in any testing platform can be costly and time consuming.
The cost of experimenting often depends on the
amount of traffic pages receive, the complexity of experiments
and, in some instances, the difference in conversion rates for
your combinations. As such, know how these site testing vendors
charge for their services and, based on your own needs,
determine if using their services is necessary or warranted.
With a little virtual elbow grease and some organization you
can test navigation elements without these vendors, over time,
to the same effect.
What to Test
Once it has been determined how you will test your website’s
navigation (manually or by using a testing service), it is time
to decide what you will be testing. A few of the more meaningful
options you can select from the start include location,
descriptions and functionality.
Location —Web users are an impatient lot, and they will not
spend time on your site if they can’t find what they want. As
such, navigation should be a prominent element of your design.
But what is the optimal location for navigation? Only
testing will reveal the answer.
The most common location for primary navigation is horizontally,
across the top of the page. The advantage of using
navigation elements in this location is that it provides additional
room for content and other relevant information about products and services. By not forcing visitors to scroll down
to navigate further into your site, the result might ultimately
be increased page views and time-on-site. Keep in mind that
should you opt to use graphics in the header of the page, consider
testing navigation above and below the primary graphic.
Navigation design trends today often include primary navigation
bundled with images and calls to action, but providing
a simple navigation path should still be tested.
While horizontal navigation is quite common today, that
has not always been the case — it used to be that left-of-page
navigation was the most common location. As design has matured
and evolved, navigation location has increasingly taken
on new forms and should be audience-appropriate.
TEST THIS: When it comes to the location of navigation elements,
consider testing new areas entirely (right-hand or
left-hand navigation) or testing the presence of secondary
navigation elements in various locations around the page
(the footer, for example) to determine if the presence increases
page views or sales.
Descriptions — A website’s section names, particularly
as labeled in the navigation, should
clearly state what the user can expect after the
click. General words like “resources” or “tools”
are far too ambiguous and should be avoided.
Using generic terminology tends to lead users to
wander, and away from the conversion path we
have set forth.
TEST THIS: Test reducing or increasing the
amount of text in primary navigation. Depending
on the makeup of the audience, they
may need more or less descriptive text — you
won’t know unless you test. Best practice guidance
teaches us to settle on four to six primary
sections of your website (and thus silo-ing existing
content under these channels) and to
focus on the naming conventions (keywordrich,
of course) of those navigation links. This
will offer users faster, more accurate access to
the information they want.
Functionality — As important as where you
place your navigation elements and the clarity
of the text individual navigational links provide
is the functionality of the navigation menu
itself. Web designers have a variety of options
available to them when it comes to navigation
functionality — from mouseover effects to dropdowns,
to nested menus and more. For some
jQuery, Mootools, prototype or script.aculo.us.
TEST THIS: Testing the functionality of your
navigation will yield results. What should be
tested is how certain effects impact key performance
indicators, such as page views. Consider
tracking how users interact with different
navigation functionality by recording their visits
— two services to consider include Click-
Tale.com and Mouseflow.com.
Start Testing Today
Designing for users is important. Web designers
need to provide visiting audiences with what they
expect in a clear and compelling manner. The
battle line is navigation. While the attraction toward
using elaborate or intricate navigation is understandable,
the goal is always to provide users
with access to the information the website provides.
Users do not have the patience or time to
learn more intricate navigation, so focus on creating
an experience that is both instinctive and
natural. Complicated and difficult-to-use navigation
makes users feel uneasy and apprehensive
about a website and will negatively influence
conversion. So start testing navigation today and
find out what works for your audience.