I recently analyzed the Red Cross website as part of an analysis for a Balance Interactiveclient. My first impression was postive. This is a large organization, but its home page is uncluttered and the navigation is broken into a few categories.
Action words are used to speak to the visitor: Give Blood, Volunteer Time, etc. Donations can be made online. Visitors can be matched with volunteer opportunities. An interest form can be completed and submitted online. People affected by disaster can list themselves as “safe and well.”
Then I started to pay attention to the site navigation.
One of the first things I noticed as I poked around is that there are several designs in use within the site. As a result design and navigation items appear and disappear and change altogether.
Some of the visual cues are not clear – why is the Join Us tab blue? What is the relationship of the items under the main “tabbed” navigation to the main navigation?
The navigation takes some unexpected twists. Many main navigation items launch new windows and seem to take the users to other websites.
The bar below the tabbed navigation has all the children for each section shown on the home page. This is unusual and can be confusing at first. Another oddity – these children are not visible at all from any of the interior pages of the site.
When a section is selected, such as Volunteer Time, the left navigation does not appear to be items within that category. It is not clear what they represent. It is also not clear what section you are in.
Navigation should create paths within a website that take users deeper and deeper in to the content. The home page is the high level, the next level offers more detail, and the next level even more. Users should be drawn into these levels, and always know how to move forward as well as backward.
Organizing site navigation is tough. You have to categorize and prioritize. This is particularly challenging when every part of your organization wants to be on the home page. However, this effort is a necessity of a good website. Without organization your site becomes a series of one-pagers. Content gets disjointed and the visitor never gets drawn into a deeper level of understanding or relationship with the website and you.