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Making Website Navigation Work with Website Usability Testing

Executive Summary

  • Why you should care about website usability testing
  • How user testing and card sorts can improve website usability
  • How labeling and categorization can improve website navigation

Problem: Webpage path analysis for a large advertising-driven consumer website revealed that there was a problem with website usability. Users were bypassing the “browse by category” website navigation in 85 percent of user sessions. Website usability testing revealed that the users were using search to look for reports and articles, instead of using the left column website navigation.

The website navigation was designed with the browse column displayed as persistent left navigation (available on all site pages) with a list of 57 subject-based categories arranged alphabetically, from Animals to Women. The search box was positioned directly above the browse list.

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At first, the website design team thought they could improve website usability by using the main homepage content area to provide more information and contextual website navigation. This would allow users to reach the precise content they sought faster. However, further website usability testing and analysis revealed that only 17 percent of users arrived at the homepage while 34 percent were arriving on category pages and 44 percent were arriving on individual articles.

Website Usability Testing: Sixteen average users were isolated one-by-one in a room with only a table and a moderator. They were each then given 57 index cards. Each card had the name of one category of content typed neatly on it. Each user was asked to sort the index cards into piles of “like” items with no help or clues from the moderator. If a user asked, “How many piles should I sort them into?” as many of them did, the moderator would reply, “As many as you think are required.”

The users were then given a supply of blank index cards equal to the number of piles they had created and told, “Please write on each card a one or two word label that you feel best describes the information in each pile of cards.”

Results: Fifteen of the 16 users created between six and nine piles each containing five to ten cards. For five of the piles, ten or more users chose the same one or two word phrase to label piles that were the same, or similar, in content. Two additional piles with similar contents had 10 or more labels that were synonyms. Full analysis of the patterns created by the card sort took many hours and created much lively discussion.

In the end, the website design team agreed on nine categories and their corresponding labels. The right navigation was redesigned into nine clusters or chunks of information, each with its own label. Based on monthly page views, the nine categories were then ordered from most to least popular arranged from top to bottom. Further, the appropriate content cluster was added at the end of every article on the website including its group label and component categories.

Website usability testing on the redesigned website improved significantly: search dropped from 85 percent to 53 percent of all user sessions. Average pages viewed per session climbed from 9.3 to 14.7—a 58 percent increase. User satisfaction, measured on a 100-point scale, climbed from 52 percent to 74 percent. As the site is advertising driven, revenue increased by more than 70 percent quarter over quarter from a growth rate that had been in the low teens.

Lesson: Improved website usability has a direct impact on the success of your website. Website users are only a click away from leaving your website when it does not allow then to find what they want fast. While many users still rely on search, well-executed contextual navigation can dramatically impact page views, user satisfaction and publisher profits.

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