Elements To Improve Web Site Navigation

As you browse the Web, you will find sites that implement just about every type of navigation scheme you can think of and then even some more!
However, certain common factors do emerge. The use of menu bars, either horizontally or vertically oriented, are the most common way of allowing users to move through your site.
Sites with a great deal of content often implement dynamic menu bars that change to present the most relevant options on each page. Sites often use some kind of "feedback" or special effect to let users know where certain navigation elements are located, such as graphics that change colors when the users point their mouse at them.
You can use a variety of technologies and design elements to implement Web site navigation. As you consider different navigation techniques, keep the following seven basic comparison factors in mind:

Does the technique look like a navigation element that users are accustomed to seeing? In other words, is it a button or a menu that users will recognize as a navigation element?

Does the technique offer some form of feedback to indicate that a user has pointed at or clicked a particular navigation element? This type of feedback can be important because users often explore a site by moving their mouse around to see what happens. Navigation techniques that allow individual elements to respond to this activity make the overall navigation more likely to succeed.

How does the technique work when a visually impaired person attempts to use the site with a specially equipped Web browser? If this demographic is important to your company, pay special attention to this capability.

Some techniques require the server to transfer more data to the Web browser than is required by other techniques. If your customers will be accessing the site over slower connections, then using techniques with a high overhead will result in slow page loads, and possibly bored customers who will give up and move on to the competition.

Does the technique offer any particular advantages to make growing the site easier? Some navigation designs may require you to redesign the entire site every time a new feature is added. Others may simply require a few minor modifications to add several new departments to a menu.

Some techniques, combined with your site’s browsing philosophy, require considerable space on the screen. Other techniques allow you to present a wider array of navigation choices while using less screen space. Keep in mind that your navigation elements should never occupy the majority of the screen. It is the content that your customers came for, not the menu bars.

How well will this technique work within the available range of Web browsers? If one of your objectives is to have your site usable by as many customers as possible, pay attention to the techniques that offer a broad range of compatibility, and steer away from those that are limited to a smaller set of browsers.

Navigation Technologies
To implement Web site navigation, you can use one of four primary technologies. The oldest and simplest of these technologies is the basic, static HTML page. A step up from that is the static HTML page, which is dynamically generated on the Web server. Web pages can be given more interactive capabilities with Dynamic HTML (DHTML), whether programmed in VBScript or JavaScript. Java presents the opportunity to program a complete, standalone application to use as a navigation aid.

Static HTML
Static HTML links are the oldest and simplest form of navigation on the Web. They can be less exciting than their dynamic counterparts, but remain one of the most effective navigational techniques on the Web.

Dynamically Generated Static HTML
If your site is constantly growing and changing, static HTML will require a constant effort to keep the navigational elements in line with the site’s growth. A common solution to this problem has been to dynamically generate the navigation elements when the page displays. When using the DHTML, you don’t have to manually update elements as the site grows, because an automated process generates the navigation elements as necessary, based on the information in a database.

VBScript and JavaScript Dynamic HTML
DHTML is a technology that allows you to embed programming code in the Web pages that are sent to user’s computers. DHTML code actually executes within the users Web browser, and can change the appearance and content of the Web page in response to the user’s actions on the page.

In Finality
You can use a variety of technologies and design elements to implement Web site navigation. As you consider different navigation techniques, keep the above seven basic comparison factors in mind. Visitors are becoming rarer and rarer in this competitive globe of e-commerce. Retain those who visit your site for longer periods in order to convert them as customers. Site navigation techniques help you to do so.

About the Author:
David Davis, is the lead developer and project manager of RedflyStudios LTD. – Web Design Ireland.

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