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Keeping visitors on your website

Stop them clicking the back button.

3:54 am on Jul 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Administrator mack is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

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Keeping users on your site.

A user carries out a search on their favourite search engine, they follow a link from the results page and wow! they are on your site. It's now a race against time. you need to give the visitor what they want very quickly or they will be hitting the back button.

When designing a website it is very important to make information as easy to locate as possible. There are just so many sites after your traffic that it is critically important to convert as many visits as possible.

Convert doesn't always refer to a sale, it refers to any action that gets a visitor to carry out your sites function. This may well be a sale, it may be signing up for something or it may just be reading an article. Never the less, no matter what your sites function, getting as many users to convert as possible is always going to be a battle, but a battle that's very worth fighting.

There are a few things that you can do to try and encourage your visitors to hang around. We will try and talk about a few of them here.

Simple Navigation
There is nothing more off-putting that a site that is difficult to navigate. If a user lands on your site but doesn't understand the fundamentals of now your site works then it's only a short click journey back to the results page.

What we need to do is try to follow standards and systems that users are familiar with. It is because of this that there are relatively few effective methods of site navigation.

I know we all like to be different but in the case of navigation you will do well to stick with the tested and proven to be effective navigation methods.

Top Menu
The top menus by far the most common form of navigation used on the web today. Generally speaking this will be a bar going across the top of the page that contains links to all the importations areas of the site.

The top Menu allows users to travel within the important areas with one click. The top menu doesn't need to be right at the top. Today I see most top menus are located under a page header.

So long as they are placed on top of the main content they are still effective and very easy to use and understand.

Left Side Navigation
This method of navigation has become very popular in recent times. It works on the same principle as top navigation in that it allows the user to visit any main area with only one click.

The left navigation area usually starts just below the page header and carries down for as far as the page content allows. It then merges into the page footer.

This method is also very easy to use. People have now come to understand and expect this.

Right Side Navigation
right side navigation is the exact opposite as left side navigation. Although I do not feel this method is as effective as either a top menu or a left side navigation area. It became popular about a year ago but never really took off.

I am very experienced on the web and even I don't immediately recognise a right hand navigation area. I would recommend using the right hand navigation only if you really need to. For example you begin using the left side then if you need extra space use the right hand side. But take care to place your most important links into the left side navigation menu area.

Bottom Navigation
bottom navigation menus are very common the web, they always have been. For this reason they still make perfect sense. Again it all comes down to users recognition. if they are used to seeing a navigation area at the bottom of a web page they will understand your navigation method.

However you should never rely on any navigation that is not always visible to be your primary method of navigation. A bottom menu should only be used to supplement another navigation method such as a top menu or a right/left menu.

Drop Down Menus
drop down menus are becoming very popular lately in a wide variety of websites. To an extent users are beginning to accept them but again I feel this method should only be used in conjunction with another tried and tested method of navigation.

One important thing to take into account when using drop down menus is that not all items will be visible until the user opens the menu. This may not work to your advantage if they are just looking for the right info right now. A lot of web users wont wait about. If the info is not "in their face" they will simply up and leave.

Bread Crumbs
Bread crumbs are yet another very common method of navigation. They let the user see their "state" within the sites navigation and can easily take a stop back or go down a level in the sites directory structure.

Home [webmasterworld.com] > The Webmaster World [webmasterworld.com] > New To Web Development [webmasterworld.com] > Keeping users on your site

This sort of navigation is fairly popular and I believe it is simple enough for users to understand it well. The main problem with bread crumb navigation is that it only really allows the user to go backwards.

This style of navigation should be used in conjunction with another navigation component that allows users to go directly to the sites key areas.

Site Search Engine
Adding a search engine to your site can be one of the best ways to allow your users to find exactly what they are looking for. You provide a search box on your page. the user is then able to input keyword or key terms. the search engine then provides a list of links to pages that are relevant.

It's one thing to provide a search tool, it's another thing to add a search tool that provides good results. Because of this it is worth while taking the time to test out as many search engines as possible before you commit to using one.

Integration of a search engine onto your site can be done in a number of ways. one option is to provide a search box on every page of your site, that way the user only needs to type in their term and click "search". Another method that works well is to provide a link from within your navigation "search this site". This link then goes to a page containing the search box.

You may choose to use a remotely hosted search solution like free find or Google site search. Or you may choose to install your own search software.

Either way you need to make sure the results are as good as possible to ensure users are finding the right information.

Make It Easy For Users To Get In Touch
very often users will give up looking if they simply can't find exactly what they are looking for.

A "contact us" link may just be enough to save the day. By making it as easy as possible for users to get in touch, you have yet on more chance of keeping their attention. On your contact us page you should make it as easy as possible for potential users/customers to get in touch.

Provide a phone number if practical/possible don't make then email you, supply a web based form that lets then send questions/queries to you.

Reply in a timely manner. If you leave it more than a day or two they may well have lost interest.

There are so many different factors for you to take into account that are directly related to retaining users on your site. All I have been able to do in this thread is to touch base, but I hope it gives some of you ideas on things you can do to improve.


11:05 pm on July 21, 2005 (gmt 0)

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joined:July 21, 2005
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wow, great post, i have to stay, everything makes sense :) thanks for this great post
12:46 am on July 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

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yea i really liked this it pretty much told me i was atleast on the right track.
9:01 am on July 23, 2005 (gmt 0)

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joined:Dec 10, 2003
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Great post!

I think navigation is backbone of good website.


This 33 message thread spans 2 pages: 33