Website Signposts To Help Visitors Find Their Way Around

Introduction

Where can I find what I’m looking for?

Website visitors can be either humans or robots / spiders from the search engines. Although human visitors are what you are seeking, those robots are important since their efforts will result in many other human visitors coming to your website. Many websites find that more than two thirds of the traffic may well come from Google. Luckily what works for humans usually works well for robots too.

The Website Structure

Having appropriate webpages that people may wish to visit is clearly important. The rules to follow are clearly laid out in an article by Dr. Mani Sivasubramanian entitled Navigation – Make it Easy to Get Around.

Although written in 2000, the principles are still the same:

It isn’t difficult if you put yourself in your customer’s position and think about the things you would like best on a site like this. Here are some essential questions to answer:

  • Where am I? – an aid to one’s present location on the site
  • Where do I go next? – a roadmap or directory of the entire site
  • How do I get there? – an intuitive or descriptive system of navigation
  • Am I still on this site? – a consistent look-and-feel across different sections of the site

The Scent Of Information

Tracker Dog

In some cases particularly with larger sites, the human visitor may get slightly confused. He or she may have only a general notion of what they are looking for. Jared Spool has introduced the concept of the Scent Of Information. Just as a tracker dog may follow the scent to find their objective, your human website visitor needs some confirmation that they are heading in the right direction. Spool and his team at User Interface Engineering have refined these notions and a summary of their findings is available in their report summary at Designing for the Scent of Information

Tags

Although search engines such as Google are now very adept in determining the sense of any given web page, they are far from perfect. At one time the keyword meta tag could be used to flag important concepts on a web page. However it was effectively devalued by webmasters including vast arrays of keywords in this meta tag for their web pages. A much better indicator is now available for both regular websites and for blogs. It is known as a tag and is indexed by such services as Technorati.

If a few well-chosen tags are applied to a web page, then a human visitor interested in a topic can rapidly explore those web pages which have been tagged with that topic. More and more websites are using this approach to help human visitors find relevant pages by adding a Tag Cloud Web Page. What is particularly valuable here is that such tags are even more important to those search engine robots. Tagging web pages will bring improved search engine visibility.

Categories

The final signpost applies only to blogs. It allows a human visitor to look only at those blog posts that relate to a particular topic that is covered by the blog. It may be appropriate to have up to a dozen categories in the blog. The disadvantage of this approach is that blog posts are then listed in reverse time order with the most recent first. This is likely to be useful to only a minor fraction of human visitors. Nevertheless it is worth doing, because it again is a way of making blog posts more visible to search engines.

Conclusion

Getting a human visitor to a web page of your website is a challenge. Once they have arrived, you hope that your website will be ‘sticky’ enough that they stay around. A big part of that is achieved by ensuring there are highly visible signposts to other web pages they might like to visit. Tags and categories are second lines of defense to ensure they do not click away.