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Checking Your Navigation

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If you’re like most companies, you spend a lot of time obsessing over your home page, but maybe not enough time on your destination pages. As a proponent of doing things wrong quickly, I don’t recommend spending hours on each page trying to make it perfect. So, instead, what’s a quick way to check out the information architecture of those pages?

Use Keith Instone’s Navigation Stress test—Keith is the lead information architect for IBM’s Web team. For those of you who are lazy clickers, I have paraphrased the test below.

To start the test, pick any destination page on your site, and print it in black and white all by itself (with nothing else on the page, not even the URL). Then pretend that this is your landing page for your first visit to the Web site, and answer the following questions:

  • What’s this page about?
  • What does each set of links represent?
  • What site is this?
  • What are the major sections of this site?
  • Which section is this page within?
  • What’s one level “up” from this page?
  • How do I get to the top page for this section of the site?
  • How do I get to the site’s home page?
  • How could I get back here from the home page?

Don’t be upset if your pages usually fail this test. Keith reports that he’s been doing these tests since 1997 and most pages fail. The questions are designed to test the three major questions customers have when they land on your site: where they are, what is here, and where they can go.

When your pages pass the Navigation Stress test, your customers experience a lot less stress.

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