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Confusing Website Links and Menus

So I was emailed an article found on a web blog (like this) that talked about the common mistakes a lot of websites make when organizing menus and links on their web page. If you are thinking “menus should be near the top” or “important links should be on the left” this is not what the article talks about.

It strictly mentions how you organize the sections and pages of a website; how you may internally name them, how you should not externally name them, and how they should be linked to one another.

I did not write this, so I can not take credit for it.

Web management’s biggest issue: confusing menus and links
Posted on August 15th, 2010 in Easy Navigation.

No other single factor causes greater customer frustration and dissatisfaction than confusing menus and links.

The root cause of most confusing menus and links is organizational language and thinking. Take, for example, the FAQ. Over the years, I’ve found that most customers don’t even know what an FAQ is. That certainly surprised me because I thought everyone knew that FAQ meant Frequently Asked Questions. I thought everyone knew that, just like everyone knows that the logo is a link to the homepage.

However, the FAQ has a deeper problem. From a customers’ perspective it is essentially a useless link. It is a classic example of organization-centric language. I was trying to renew my TV license recently and was offered two choices: General FAQs and Online Service FAQs. Which should I choose? On another website I was given two different choices: Frequently Asked Questions; Most Frequently Asked Questions

You’re a visitor to Ireland and you’ve hired a car to drive around the country. You want to go to Mallow in Cork and on the way you see a signpost stating: “Frequently Visited Towns.” That’s really helpful, isn’t it? Do you follow the sign or not? It will be the first time you’ve been to Mallow, but maybe Mallow is a frequently visited town. How do you know? Of course, you don’t know. How could you? The Irish road authorities know. They’ve got the data, so to them it makes some sense. But to you, the traveler trying to get to Mallow, it’s a useless sign.

How about the link “Useful Links?” Is that a very useful link? What are all the other links? Useless Links? And what about “Quick Links?” Are the other links Slow Links? And what about “Tools”? Is that helpful? When you go to an airline website are you looking for a tool or are you looking to book a flight?

It’s incredibly hard to create clear menus and links that are truly customer centric because there is an intense pressure to be organization-centric. We were trying to simplify the links in one website recently and an IT person became quite agitated. “We have to have a Tools section,” he said, “because that’s what we look after and we need that section so that we can have proper control over it.”

But if we have a Tools section, shouldn’t we also have a section called “Stuff,” or “Content” or “Information” or “Infinity and Beyond”?

The web team’s single greatest challenge is to truly think like and use the language of the customer. However, there is great pressure is to think like and use the language of the organization.

I do a lot of presentations. I have a presentation folder and inside that folder are names like “Microsoft” or “Cisco” or “HP”. This works for me because I’m preparing a Microsoft presentation and calling it “Microsoft” is logical from my point of view. However, how useful do you think it is if I send a copy of my presentation to Microsoft and it’s still named “Microsoft?” What I really need to do is call it something like “Gerry McGovern Presentation”.

Naming things based on your internal working structure is fine in certain cases. But when you want to make these things public you need to rethink how you organize and name them.

Props to Gerry McGovern for writing this short and sweet article.

  1. Gregory Despain on Monday 16, 2010

    Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic. If possible, as you gain expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more information? It is extremely helpful for me.

    • fyfester on Monday 16, 2010

      I will try to post more articles regarding layouts, however I do not make or write the articles myself. I do understand and am interested in these types of issues however I am not comfortable discussing upon these topics myself. So as I come across other article or posts I will post them here.