Jakob Nielsen, Ph.D., is perhaps the leading guru on Web page usability, and so when his firm, the Nielsen Norman Group, criticizes certain approaches to website navigation, webmasters should pay heed.
Recently, Jen Cardello, a director at Nielsen Norman Group, published an article entitled, "Four Dangerous Navigation Approaches that Can Increase Cognitive Strain," that describes four different approaches to website navigation that cause mental strain and distress for site visitors, thereby causing them to become irritated and frustrated, and thus more likely to leave the site prematurely.
Nielsen illustrates each of these poor navigational approaches using "Before" and "After" case studies of companies that employed these approaches, and then fixed them with guidance from Nielsen's firm.
1. Thin, horizontal, roll-over activated menus that test users’ fine motor control (and patience). We're all familiar with this web faux pas. Basically, you click a link on the top nav bar, which then causes a related submenu to display below the bar. The navigational choice you want is on the sub-menu, but when you move your cursor to click it, the submenu disappears! In one test run by Nielsen, it took the user 6 times to select the submenu link she wanted, because she had to keep the submenu active and visible by executing a perfectly horizontal scroll without wandering off the area that triggered the submenu. Rather than faciliating navigation, the submenu became a test of the user's fine motor skills.
2. Unintuitive labels: Forcing translation of your creative nomenclature. Many law firm websites are guilty of this sin, which involves using jargon that lawyers understand, but clients do not. A common example is using practice area names on a website that reflect the firm's internal organizational structure. However, clients are more familiar with industries rather than technical practice areas. As such, where possible, a firm should use industry names familiar to prospective clients to describe its areas of expertise.
3. Redundant links on routing pages: Increasing the perceived number of choices. Another common law firm website no-no - repeating navigational links in the sidebar inside the main body copy, thereby making the page look busier and more complex than it needs to be. This error reflects misplaced anxiety about users' ability to scan a page to find appropriate navigational choices.
4. Overly incremented sliders: "Fun" tools that become obstacles. In a nutshell, this irritant addresses deployment of any "cool" technology that ends up causing frustration rather than facilitating usability.