One of the easiest ways to lose a customer is in the navigation. Visitors to your site are looking for answers to a specific question. Many times parts of the visitors' questions are uncovered through the analytics, as you can get a sense of what was in their minds.

The mind of the website visitor is a complex thing, as the closest you may come to understanding their thinking is in a testing lab, which requires a lot of time and money, but it is well worth the investment. Until then, you have to rely on practical analytics and usability in order to determine what people are looking for and the best way to help them find their answers.

Because people are coming to your site looking for answers, you need to know the types of questions they are asking. This is the first step to building a usable navigation scheme. In evaluating the terms that they use and building on some “anchor” terms, as I like to call them, you can begin to build taxonomy (a classification of things, or the principles underlying the classification) in your navigation structure.

The main problem that navigation presents is just that — it does not anticipate the main problems. People are searching for an answer, which inherently means that they have questions. Questions are derived from trying to solve problems, such as buying a new chainsaw, curing poison ivy, stopping blood from a chainsaw injury, finding local hospital locations, repairing roofs, etc.

Visitors are welcomed by your navigation as the primary means of traveling your website. Your navigation can be friendly and lead them to the answers they seek, or it can be confusing and not provide any indication of where to go. Most confusing are the terms “Products” and “Services” in the main navigation. Considering that keywords are an anchor to your business and search engine ranking, I can't understand why someone would dedicate prime navigation space to two words that do not mean anything. Investigate your keywords and how you can better classify your site's information, products, and content.

Start by asking yourself the following questions:

Can I be more descriptive in explaining what makes my site different or unique?
What questions do my site visitors have?
Does my navigation answer their problems?
Do my conversion pages answer problems and provide specific direction?

By using your analytics, you can narrowly define a group of visitors coming to your site, ideally by keyword group. From this, you can determine a conversion rate for that specific group of visitors — are they finding what they are looking for? Using this information, you can begin to determine the problems on your site at a granular level, which will work together to improve the site as a whole.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forums.

October 4, 2006

Matt Bailey is the founder of SiteLogic, a web marketing consulting company. He leads seminars and teaches companies how to use their sites more effectively and to build a web business by applying common sense sales and marketing techniques. He is a specialist in interpreting web site statistics into practical usability.

Matt has been in the search marketing industry for ten years, and started leading classes in the late 1990's. One of his first opportunities was as a regular speaker for the Ohio Innkeeper's Association, teaching practical web site marketing techniques. Since that time he has worked with hundreds of companies, instructing them in web marketing principles.

Matt takes a very holistic view of website marketing, including accessibility, which has become a passion and a crusade. His goal with The Web Site Accessibility Blog is to teach companies that they can easy apply search marketing and accessibility techniques to their web sites.

Search Engine Guide > Matt Bailey > It's Not What You Say, It's How You Say It