Navigation That Works (964 words)
Underneath, offer visitors a couple ways to search (pure text searches and drop-down boxes tend to work best), the highlights of your site (the three to four items you really want them to check out), your subject categories (users tend to prefer alphabetical listings) and your content. Content includes customer testimonials, "about our company" and so on.
At the bottom of your left-hand navigation, encourage your customers to refer a friend.
In the right-hand column of your entry page, give your customers lots of attention-getting sales pitches—little snippets of things that may be of interest to them.
Use self-banners at the top and bottom of your site. Self-banners work like regular banners, but instead of promoting other people's products and services, they promote yours. They're meant to look like mini-advertisements, so bright colors (red and yellow) and simple animation (three to four rotations) tend to work best.
After you've developed your navigation structure, work on your search function. Your search function should be intuitive and easy for the customer to use. Offer your customers several ways to find what they're looking for, and present them with alternatives to items not found. Your search also needs to handle misspellings, no-finds or "sounds like" words. These are critical, even with the most educated audiences.
One of the best things you can do is to set up a program to capture what your users are looking for—this data is incredibly valuable and could have a huge impact on your navigation.
And you should track your inside and outside searches—compare the words or phrases people are using to find you (at search engines and directories) versus the words/phrases they are using on your site.
AMY AFRICA is president of Creative Results. She has helped create and implement sales and marketing programs for manufacturing, service, wholesale, mail order and industrial companies worldwide. She can be reached at (802) 878-8944.