Navigating a website is quite often a challenge. Users are so habituated to find any web page from search engines. However once a visitor land on your web page, finding other pages of the website should not be a challenge. This is really important when the website contains thousands of webpages such as for an online shopping website. Having different brands, models, sizes, categories’ each item will have a product description page, it’s reviews, payment flows, online help and many more, it’s often not easy to find the right product if the navigation mechanism is improper and inconsistent.
Search is most widely used navigation mechanism on a large website. By adding filters to the search the process may be more powerful, quick and easier. The search functionality itself should be clear, accessible, unambiguous and consistent across the website. With the introduction of autosuggestions, instant display of search results the process may become tough for users to understand unless the instructions are clearly provided or programmatically determined.
A sitemap is a web page that links all the sections and sub sections of the website. The list of links are mapped in a structure that is similar to the website. In large websites the sections of sitemap may be collapsed and users can expand to see the subsections.
A sitemap must be available from all pages of the website, at least in the pages that are listed on the sitemap page. Each time the website is updated the sitemap must be updated. Having links that are broken or new pages that aren’t listed on the sitemap creates a bad experience to the users.
Table Of Contents
Table of Contents (TOC) is specifically useful when any website has large document and the document is divided into sections. The table of Content consists of links to move directly to that section of content. The content sections can be either in the same page or in a different page. In either case the TOC and its related content must together form the complete structure. Some TOCs only link to major sections of the topic while some other have the expand/ collapsible headings in them.
Other similar techniques for website navigation
- Link all other pages of the website from the home page.
- Link each page on the website from each other page.
To comply with the W3c Web content accessibility guidelines, two or more of the above techniques need to be met. There are exceptions for the web pages that are
- Part of login content.
- That are part of a process such as checkout, search results.
- A step in or result of a process.