I just gave a talk for World IA Day at U Mich in lovely Ann Arbor entitled “Undiscovered Public Knowledge and IA.” Below are the slides, followed by links to the resources I mentioned in the talk. (Apologies for comical looking fonts: they seem to have gotten messed up when uploading to SlideShare.)


RESOURCES MENTIONED:

Faceted navigation is widespread on the web (a.k.a faceted search and faceted browse). It’s become an expected standard. I’ve written several posts on the subject and also have a popular workshop on faceted navigation. (Next one: 22 Oct 2011 in NYC). Yet we really don’t know much about the ROI of faceted navigation. Or do we?

I’ve only been able to find a few studies or case studies reporting a measureable ROI of faceted navigation. There are lots of variables in play, and definitively showing measureable gains directly to faceted navigation can be tricky. But a simple before-and-after comparison should be possible.

One helpful sources is Endeca’s case studies. Examples of ROI include:

  • Kiddicare.com: 100% increase in conversion rates; 100% increase in sales; Additional 100% increase in conversion rates with PowerReviews
  • AutoScout 24: 5% increase in lead generation to dealers; 70% decrease in no results found
  • Otto Group: 130% increase in conversion rates; Doubled conversion rates for visitors originating from pay-per-click marketing programs; Search failure rate decreased from over 33% to 0.5%

If you have such data or evidence in any form, please let me and others know about by commenting here. Note I’m not talking about studies that show how efficient faceted navigation is in terms of interaction or time on task (such as the ones reported here): I’m looking for hard evidence on ROI in real world situations.

It’s a positive sign that so many websites have faceted navigation these days: there must be something “right” about it. But why have so many site owners and stakeholders funded and implemented faceted navigation systems? What’s the actual return against the cost of implementation and maintenance?

Some logical arguments include combinations of the following:

  • Conversion: Customers can’t buy what they can’t find: Findability is critical for ecommerce sites.  A well-designed navigation plays a key role in getting people to the information or products you want to see. This ultimately helps you sell products or ideas. Faceted navigation has been shown to improve findability, in general.
  • Efficiency: Employees lose productivity when navigation is inefficient: These days company intranets can be enormous. The time to find information impacts employee productivity. Even the smallest increase in navigational efficiency can have huge returns for a large corporation if you multiple it by thousands of employees. Faceted navigation is efficient.
  • Confidence: Faceted navigation increases information scent: Revealing facet values gives users better insight into the type of terms and language used on the site. They are then able to match their information need with the content of the site, giving them confidence as the navigate forward through a given collection. This keeps them on the site and away from the customer support hotline.
  • “Aboutness”: Facets show the overall semantic make-up of a collection: Faceted metadata–the values associated with a collection of documents or products–give clues into the “aboutness” of that collection. Facets convey the breadth and type of a results list, for instance. This can help get to their target information better.
  • Reduced Uncertainty: Users don’t have to specify precise queries: With faceted navigation, users don’t rely on formulating precise keyword searches alone to find information. Instead, they can enter broad searches and use the facets in a flexible way to refine the initial query. This gives confidence in being comprehensive and reduces uncertainty in information seeking in general, as well as removes the frustration of finding no results.
  • Navigation: Browsing categories provides a different experience than keyword search: Jared Spool and his colleagues found that people tend to continue shopping more often when navigating than after doing a direct keyword search: people tend to continue browsing—and buying—when they can successfully navigate to the products they want to purchase. Sure, keyword searching may also get them there, but that experience is different. He writes in an article entitled “Users Continue After Category Links” (Dec 2001):
    • Apparently, the way you get to the target content affects whether you’ll continue looking or not. In a recent study of 30 users, we found that if the users used Search to locate their target content on the site, only 20% of them continued looking at other content after they found the target content. But if the users used the category links to find their target, 62% continued browsing the site. Users who started with the category links ended up looking at almost 10 times as many non-target content pages as those who started with Search.

A well-designed faceted navigation system won’t solve all your problems. But because navigation is so central to the basic web experience, it stands to reason that that are financial implications involved. What are they exactly?

Again, if you have any support for the above contentions or have another argument around the benefits of faceted navigation, please let me know.

Are you in OZ and want to learn about faceted search, strategic alignment diagrams, IA, navigation and more this April? I’m  delighted to announce that I’ll be giving 2 workshops in Sydney on April 28-29, 2011!

See the workshop website for more information.

Here are some highlights:

WORKSHOP 1: Information Architecture for Strategic Web Design

Thursday 28 April 2011, 9:30-17:00 – This workshop focuses on the conceptual and strategic side of information architecture (IA). Topics include: alignment diagrams, mental models, concept maps, Cores and Paths, information structures and facets.

WORKSHOP 2: Web Navigation Design

Friday 29 April 2011, 9:30-17:00 – This workshop focuses on the nuts and bolts of good navigation design. Topics include principles of web navigation, navigation mechanisms, types of navigation, the scent of information, and faceted navigation.

COST

  • Earlybird (to April 2): AUD 660
  • Regular Price: AUD 759

AUDIENCE

Beginner to intermediate web designers, interaction designers and IAs; usability experts looking to improve web design skills; and project managers, product mangers, and others seeking to better understand web navigation design.

See the registration details page for more information and to sign up.

Well, maybe the title of this post is a little misleading: static footer bars aren’t really new. Facebook had one years ago. What’s new(ish), however, is how widespread they’ve become–something of a trend these days.

Below is one from CNET.com as an example:

Figure 1: Static footer bar on CNET.com (click to enlarge)

You can see the black bar at the bottom of the screen with several options: recently viewed products, my lists, something called TechTracker, log in, and join CNET links. It’s a toolbox of options from across the site brought together in a single mechanism. This bar is static and stays in view as the user scrolls down a page.

In Designing Web Navigation, I use David Fiorito’s and Richard Dalton’s navigation types to distinguish between different functions a navigation mechanism can have. (See their IA Summit 2004-05 presentations “Creating a Consistent Enterprise Web Navigation Solution.”  and “Thinking Navigation.”) Based on these categories, here’s how I describe the three fundamental types in my book:

  • Structural Navigation – This type of navigation connects one page to another based on the hierarchy of the site; on any page you’d expect to be able to move to the page above it and pages below it.
  • Associative Navigation – Connects pages with similar topics and content, regardless of their location in the site; links tend to cross structural boundaries.
  • Utility Navigation – Connects pages and features that help people use that site itself;. these may lie outside the main hierarchy of the site, and their only relationship to one another is their function.

Static footer bars fall into the last type: utility navigation. As in the CNET example (Figure 1), they usually include functional and helpful features for the site.

Previously on the Crate and Barrel site, the static footer bar contained the online shopping cart, lists, and a link to check out. Figure 2 shows a screenshot from the site from about 6 months ago (i.e., middle of 2010).

Figure 2: Static footer on Crate and Barrel with shopping cart feature (circa June 2010)

Since then, they’ve removed the static footer and move the utility options to the top of the page. Perhaps the static footer wasn’t working well with users? I can imagine it would be easy to overlook it, and putting something as significant as the shopping car in a footer might not give it the prominence it needs. Visibility is likely to be an issue with static footer bars.

The AllAboutJazz.com website recently introduced a fairly extensive static footer menu (Figure 3). It includes social media links, RSS options links, radio stations, and even provides quick links to some main content on the site.

Figure 3: Static footer on AllAboutJazz.com

There are several things to note in this example:

  1. It does not extend across the whole page, as in the Crate and Barrel example (Figure 2). Instead, there is a small gap between the ends of the footer bar and the sides of the browser (when viewed at 1024 wide or wider). This is important to maintaining a sense of something that sits on top of the page as an overlay and not something that takes space away from the content. Though I’ve never tested static navigation footers, I also suspect that not extending the bar all the way across the page reduces the chance of “blindness” to the bar itself. The CNET example (Figure 1) also takes this approach.
  2. The static footer bar on AllAboutJazz is semi-transparent. This provides the sense that it’s an overlay, and it feels less intrusive on the page and its content.
  3. If the above two points aren’t enough, users can collapse the static footer bar on AllAboutJazz.com. It’s open by default, but with a single click it can be reduced to the size shown on the lower right of the next screen shot (See the “Tools” overlay in Figure 4.)

Figure 4: Collapsed static footer on AllAboutJazz.com

Static footer bars aren’t going to solve any major structural or navigation issues with your site, but I imagine they can be useful to help keep page navigation from getting in the way of content or tasks users are trying to accomplish. It also potentially keeps utility navigation options close by for visitors who need them.

There are other examples out there on the web. If you have used them, I’d like to hear what went well or not.

I’ve not implemented static footer bars in any of our designs, but I’m starting to explore their use. Nonetheless, from surveying examples found on the web, my recommendations for static footer bars are:

  • Avoid teasers and promotional links. This extra “noise” may give the illusion that all of the options there are just ads and none of them can be useful.
  • Don’t extend the bar all the way across the page. Leave a gap between the left and right edges of the footer and the sides of the browser. It could even be smaller than the width of the content area on a fixed width layout.
  • Use a transparency for the background of the bar so the page behind it comes through a little.
  • Allow users to collapse a static footer bar, and then to expand it again.

If you’d like to find out more static footer bars and related topics, I have two sets of workshops already planned for 2011, in English and in German:

1. In ENGLISH: Part of UX Fest in London, February 9-10
a. Designing Web Navigation
b. Faceted Search & Beyond

2. In GERMAN: Workshops in Hamburg by NetFlow, April 11-12
a. Prinzipien der Informationsarchitektur
b. Elemente des Navigationsdesigns
[details and online registration to come]

See my workshops page on this blog for descriptions of the sessions.

Significant points and recommendations regarding web navigation from two recent Forrest reports caught my eye.

1. The first is a brief overview of their survey results of 60 web improvement projects across Europe [1]. One of the top areas of concern is good navigation. They write:

Navigation. Users don’t just want good content; they want content that’s easy to find and use. Companies that provided intuitive category names in menus and efficient online processes improved metrics like conversion rates and increased sales.

Note that here their definition of “navigation” is broad, including aspects of the site structure and of search.

(The other two main areas of concern, BTW, are value–or aligning with user needs–and design presentation).

Fixing issues with an existing navigation system or creating an effective one from scratch will have the most positive impact on usability when prioritizing issues to address, according to the report.

2. The second report is a little older–from August 2010. In this document, Forrester gives advice in the form of seven indicators to tell you when a relaunch is needed [2]. One of the indicators is a troubled navigation scheme. From the report:

Navigation system breakdown. Web sites are subject to a cycle of accretion, as contributors add links and content, and erosion, as out-of-date content gets removed. These changes wear site navigation systems down over time. Warning signs include complaints from contributors who say that they can’t find a home for their content; “quick links” tacked onto pages to get users to the critical content they can no longer find through menus; and alternative overlapping menu structures layered onto the site. Until 2009, USPS attempted to meet a diverse set of user needs by adding new categorization schemes to the site over the course of several years. The result was a confusing blend of competing menu structures and shortcuts. In 2009, USPS redesigned its site to address these navigational shortcomings — creating a more streamlined site that features both menu category and task-driven navigation.

They recommend:

Monitor navigation system health. Every site will have some deterioration of its navigation system over time, courtesy of accretion and erosion. To track the course of this natural process, employ analytic tools that check users’ paths through the site. Then at least once per quarter, review critical paths, like those from the home page to customer service, for warning signs like an increase in the number of users who pogo-stick up and down between menus and submenus or a surge in users who start out with menu navigation and then turn to search. If you see a 25% or greater increase in the number of visits during which these redflag behavior patterns occur, take it as an early warning sign of navigation system failure.

Social media, mash-ups, and ajax are all great. But even in the world of Web 2.0, Web 3.0 and beyond, the fundamental problems of navigation and findability in web design still remain.

There’s no silver bullet in designing web navigation. Instead, it’s about your approach to solving the problem and way of thinking about navigation. This is what I put forth in Designing Web Navigation (i.e., a way of thinking, not guidelines), and this is what I teach in my workshops.

If you’d like to find out more, I have two sets of workshops already planned for 2011, in English and in German:

1. In ENGLISH: Part of UX Fest in London, February 9-10
a. Designing Web Navigation
b. Faceted Search & Beyond

2. In GERMAN: Workshops in Hamburg by NetFlow, April 11-12
a. Prinzipien der Informationsarchitektur
b. Elemente des Navigationsdesigns
[details and online registration to come]

See my workshops page on this blog for descriptions of the sessions.

………..

Forrester Reports Referenced

[1] Adele Sage. “Europe 2010: Fixing Known Usability Problems Pays Off,” Forrester Report, November 12, 2010.

[2] Vidya L. Drego. “When To Redesign Your Site: Seven Indicators That It May Be Time For An Online Overhaul,” Forrester Report, August 17, 2010.

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