When it comes to the front end of a website, there are two primary areas that can make or break your online success ... your content and your navigation. You need to have engaging content that speaks to your visitors and addresses their needs and questions. You also need to ensure that it is logically organized, easy to browse, and easy to search. Good navigation functions to both allow visitors to easily find information and to drive visitors to your goal. SmallShipCruises.com
is a very useful site offering a large selection of cruises with a variety of destinations, themes, ship types, and deals. The primary goals of the website are to receive individual bookings and individual charters and the secondary goal is ad clicks.
Unfortunately, the current navigation poses some major hindrances for both search engines and visitors.Navigation Code That Is Crawlable
using the form field function to create these pull downs works moderately well for visitors, it can prevent pages on your site from being indexed by the search engines and thus they won't show up in search results.
Fortunately, the top navigation links are crawlable by search engines and many of the website's key pages are accessible through both navigation elements. However, none of the pages under "What To Do Before You Go" are duplicated in the top navigation and will not be indexed.
Your primary navigation links need to be HTML coding in order to be crawlable by search engines. If you want to create drop down menus, hover effects, or other special effects, use CSS.
You can also ensure that all of your pages are easily indexed by creating multiple ways for visitors to reach information. This could include more than one means of primary navigation as well as in-site links within the content. Navigation That is Logically Organized
There are five primary methods for organizing the pages on this type of website:
- Topic - one of the most useful and most difficult organization schemes. Organize information by subject or topic.
- Task - this scheme organizes content and applications into a collection of processes, functions, or tasks. This is most appropriate when visitors will likely have a limited number of high priority tasks they want to perform. These are characterized by action verbs such as "find" "book" and "buy."
- Audience - an audience-specific organization makes sense when there are two or more clearly definable audiences. For instance, you see this prominently on college and university websites that address "future students", "current students", "parents", "alumni" etc.
- Metaphor - metaphors can be used to help users understand the new by relating it to the familiar. For instance, the "folders" and "recycle bin" on your desktop. These metaphors must be familiar to your users, and can sometimes be limited.
- Hybrid - combination of two or more of above.
If it is possible to maintain one organization scheme, users will most easily be able to find their way around your website. Consistency in the way you organize and label your navigation is key to good usability.
The SmallShipCruises.com website uses a combination of topical and task-oriented navigation. The top navigation links are topical, while the pull downs are task-oriented. For this site, the task-oriented scheme is probably most appropriate and effective. Virtually all of the website's pages could be organized into the following top level categories:
- Find by destination
- Find by interest
- Find by ship
- Small ship
- Big ship
- Cruise Lines
- Book cruise
- Prepare for your cruise
- Learn more
- About page
- Charters and Groups
Additionally, the navigation needs to be grouped logically on the page. Currently, there are top navigation links, pull downs in both the right and left sidebars, and additional navigation links in the right sidebar. This makes it very difficult for a visitor to quickly scan the website and determine what information and tasks are available. Navigation elements need to be grouped together visually as well as organizationally. The primary elements of navigation also need to be available on every page of the website. Don't make visitors return to the homepage to browse types of cruises - they're more likely to give up and go elsewhere.
Navigation That Drives Visitors To Your Goal
Perhaps the most detrimental aspect of the current navigation is that it does not come close to driving visitors to the primary goal, which is booking. (Visitors aren't actually booking their cruise on the website; they are submitting a form showing their interest in order to be contacted by an agent.)
While links in the site-wide banner and navigation take visitors to a booking page, there is no way to book when browsing actual cruise options. Say I look at cruises by destination and select Australia. I then get a listing of various cruise lines that go to Australia. I find one that sounds good, and click the link at the bottom of the page to make my reservation. I am then taken to the main booking page, which explains how to book a cruise on the site and provides a list of destinations. Australia is not in that list of destinations. Technically I can still send my contact form choosing a similar location, but this is highly confusing. Especially when the detail pages for the specific Australian cruise in which I was interested links off-site to the actual cruise line where I can also book. So, why would I book with SmallShipCruises.com when I can book with the cruise line itself ... and it is probably easier to do?
SmallShipCruises.com needs to eliminate that middle step of the main booking page. If a visitor clicks all the way through to a specific cruise line destination and then clicks the booking link on that page, they should go directly to the contact form. AND the cruise information should automatically input into the necessary fields. Your contact form, shopping cart, subscription page, or other goal page needs to be as simple to use as possible to receive maximum conversions.
In Short, Navigation That Is Usable
There are many areas that SmallShipCruises.com could improve to be more successful online including adding more specific content on individual pictures, images, customer testimonials and reviews and ensuring that the website functions correctly in all browsers (it doesn't work well in Firefox). None of this matters however, if visitors can't find their way around the site or if the search engines can't index all of your pages.
June 27, 2008