TYPES OF WEBSITES
COMMON WEBSITE TYPES
Blogs generally have a large volume of content, in reverse-chronological order. This presents both a logical framework for your navigation, as well as some unique challenges, depending on the type of blog. Most blogs will use a combination of pagination (or continuous scrolling), an archive page, sidebar navigation for categories and/or tags, and possibly header and footer navigation as well. It’s important to think through exactly how your visitors are likely to want to accessthe content on your blog. For example, apersonal blog might not need category or tag navigation outside oflinks in the meta information for each post.In these cases, you want visitors to access contentinreverse-chronological order, rather than jumping around by subject matter. A topic blog, onthe other hand, needs to have category and tag navigation, because visitors are likely looking for information on specific subjects within the overall topic. At a bare minimum, blogs should include navigation for moving chronologically through the content (either pagination, next/previous links, or continuous scrolling), as well as header or sidebar navigation for specific pages outside the main blog page. Topic (and sometimes corporate) blogs should also include category or tag menus in their navigation, either in the header or sidebar. Particularly large blogs should also consider implementing asearch function, to make it easier for users to quickly find exactly what they’re looking for. Just make sure the search function works as intended, and really does bringup all relevant results.
News sites are similar to blogs, in that they generally present stories in reverse-chronological order. News sites are often highly categorized, and have more complex information architecture than many other kinds of sites. Because of this, their navigation patterns are often more complex. The key is not making the navigation more complicated than it needs to be. Drop-down and fly-out menus are both good ways to deal with larger menus without cluttering up the page. If you look at the largernews sites (like Google News, for example, below), they break down the newsinto broad categories like Politics, Local, World, Sports, Entertainment, etc. Which categories you use will depend on whether the site is a general news site or a topical news site. Tags can also improve navigation substantially. By taggingeach story, it makes it easyfor users to find related stories, without creating a complicatedorbloated category structure. It’s a good idea to not only include tag links in each article, but also to include a list of tags or a tag cloud somewhere (only including popular tags can be a good idea for sites with hundreds of tags). Linking inline within articles improves user experience greatly. Many of the larger news sites do this, allowing users to immediately gain access to all articles on a topic. It’s very similar to including tags, but rather than a listat the beginning or end of the article, the links are within the text itself.
E-commerce sites are sometimes incredibly complex and have hundreds (or thousands) of individual pages for products and other information. Forthis reason, theway that navigation is handled is vital to both the user experience and the bottom line. Without excellent navigational structure, visitors to an e-commerce site will have a more difficult time finding the products they’re looking for, which means there’s a good chance they’ll turn to competitors out of frustration. Themain thing every e-commerce site with more than a handful of products needs is a good search system. Assisted search is key,where users can not only search by keyword, but also refine their results based on things like price, size, category, or other metrics(depending on your specificproducts). Categorynavigation is also a must, for users who want to browse. Depending on whether you use sub-categories, breadcrumb navigation may also be a goodidea(if your site is more than two or three levels deep, breadcrumbs can improve usability). Giving your visitors multiple waysto find the products they want is a great way to increase sales, but make sure that each method is showing all relevant products. If visitors find that searching returns one set of products while browsing returns a different set, it’s only going to lead to frustration.
There’s a huge variety in the structure and size of corporate sites. Some are simply to entice new customers. Others are created to keep current customers informed. Still others must serve as both an enticement to new customers, a news portal for existing customers, and the front-end for a company intranet. Regardless of the purpose of the corporate site, clear-cut navigation is key. You don’t want users to have to spend time looking for your navigation or trying to figure out which link to click on to get where they need to go. Make sure that links are arranged logically, that they each havean easy-to-understandmeaning, andthat they’re located in logical places (the header and sidebar are your friends here). Allof the sites below show that just because navigation is located in the most common places, doesn’t mean it can’tbe creative. As long as it’s usable and easy to find, feel free to create something unique. In sites larger than a dozen orso pages, it’s a goodidea to include search functionality. It’s also a good idea to include a sitemap to make it easy for users who are having trouble with your regular navigation to find exactly what they’re looking for.
INFORMATIONAL AND REFERENCE SITES
Reference sites generally have one thing in common: a ton of information across a lot of pages. This makes it tough to create any kind of standard menu. Categories can be helpful for browsing, but when you start to get to the point of having thousands, tens of thousands, or even millions of pages (like Wikipedia), the category system breaks down.Plus,most people go to reference sites for a specific purpose, and not to browse, making categories not particularly helpful. It’s vital that reference sites have excellent search capabilities. Guided search, much like those used one-commerce sites can be useful,too, especially if used in conjunction with a good tagging and category organization.
COMMUNITY OR SOCIAL NETWORK SITES
Generally with big social networking sites, search is the primary means of navigation. It makes sense when there are millions (or even billions) of pages on the site. Standard menu-based navigation is pretty much pointlesswhen dealing with that volume of information. So search takes care of overall site navigation. Butthatstill leaves member profile pages. Here, it’s important that there’s consistency across the entiresite. Regardless of whether your site allows members to customize their profiles or not, it’s imperative that links be located in the sameplace across every page. Take Facebook, for example: everymember profile and every page has links to things like photos and info on the left-hand side.Notifications, messages, and friend requests are always linked at the top, as are links to account settings and to log out. A standard top navigation bar like that,that always links to the visitor’s account andinformation has become a mainstay of well-designed social networks. Inline links should also be consistent. For example, any time a username shows up as a link, it should link to that user’s profile, regardless of what contentit’s associated with. Think through which information should logicallylink to which pages, and then make sure it’s consistent regardless of where those links show up.
Event sites are generally simple and don’t have a huge number of pages. But it’s important to think about how your visitors will use the site. It’s most likely they’ll want to do one of the following: sign up for the event, see who’s attending or speaking, get information about attending (including costs and things like locationand area hotels), and see the schedule for the event.
Signing up for the event, even if it’s a free event, should be looked at as ane-commerce transaction. For that reason, you want a prominent callto action button for signups. Standard header and/or sidebarnavigation is an excellent choice for links to other pages. Local navigation may also be necessary ifyou’regoingto include individual pages for things like specific workshops orspeakers. Drop-down or fly-out menus can work in this case only if you have a limited number of sub-links. Otherwise, you’re better off to use sub-navigation in a sidebar or within a main page.
Personal sites are really the wild-cards of the web design world. You can use pretty much any kind of navigational pattern you want. Mainstays like header and sidebar navigation are still going to be the most usable, but there’s nothing wrong with doing something completely different. Personal sites should be a reflection of the site owner. If something unexpected fits within the personality of the site, then by all means: go forit. It can still be a good idea to includeasitemap link somewhere, though, if you’re using non-standard navigation, to make it easy for visitors who don’t “get it” to find what they’re looking for.
Review sites are generally used in two ways. The first is when users are interestedin a specific product and want to see reviews for that item. In this case, an excellent search function is the best navigation. It lets users quickly access exactly the product they’re looking for.The second use is to research certain types of products. For this use, search is still a valuable navigation method. But categories and guided search are just as important. Allowing users to browse reviews by category and sub-category lets them find a variety of products thatfit their needs. By further letting them refine those results based on things like price or brand allows for even better user experience.
Image gallaeries and portfolio sites should generally use a combination of standard header or sidebar navigation, tagging, and categories. Allowing visitors to narrow the images being displayed based on a tag or category is important for good user experience, especially as the volume of images grows. Pagination is also going to be vital for larger sites. Continuous scroll can seem like a good idea, but since galleries and portfoliosites, by their very nature, are filled with media, continuous scroll can end upusing a lot of system resources. I’d recommend against it for any site with more than a few dozen images (though onsmaller gallery and portfolio sites it can be a really nice touch).