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Make Sure the Visitor Doesn't Lose His Way

If you are designing a web site, one principle should be considered as the most important point of the design. That principle is site navigation.

When a user arrives at your web site he will not want to spend his valuable time searching for ways to move around the site. Make sure that all of your links are laid out in a simple and easy to read form. Over recent years the trend has been for site links to appear in one of two places – either along the top of the browser window, below the site name or logo, or running down the left-hand side. This works, and more importantly, will be an obvious place for the visitor to look. You may feel that you want to buck the trend by placing your site links in a different place – just remember that standards evolve for a reason.

When you design your site, bear in mind that there is a limit to the number of links that should appear in one place. A visitor to the site won’t want to have to scroll down or right to find what they need in a long list of links. It is far better to split the site into sub-categories, thus keeping the list of site links to a manageable number – no more than five or six is a good number. Including a full linkable site-map is a big help in navigation, especially for a large web site. Always remember that there should be a link back to your home page on all other pages – the visitor should be able to get there from any other page on the site with just one click.

With that in mind, always remember that not all visitors will be using a 26” wide-screen LCD monitor running at 1920 x 1200 like the one you used to design the web site – in fact visitors like that will probably be in a small minority. What may fit neatly onto the screen on your monitor may not look so good on a smaller screen. Design for the average user – a screen resolution of 1024 x 768 is the current standard, although many users may still be running at 800 x 600. Check your design using a smaller monitor to ensure that the appearance is right.

Make sure that your site links are consistent. By that I mean that the links should appear in the same place, and in the same order, on each page. Make sure that you always use the same fonts or images for the links too – if a visitor sees a blue text link on one page followed by red on the next, it is easy to get confused.

If you decide to use some form of graphic-based links, remember that not all users will be able to see them. Always include text links on the page at some point – most sites place them at the bottom of the page, using a small font size. As suggested above, make sure that these too are consistent in position and order.

Finally, always make sure that all of your links work as expected. There is nothing more frustrating to the average user than getting repeated “Page not found” errors whenever they click on a link. If you took the suggestion above of using a site map then this should be a straightforward task.

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