Streamlining Website Navigation

By Cory Lenz, Reference and Instructional Services Librarian

At the Internet Librarian Conference in Monterey, California, librarian Kendall Hinesley discussed her experience redesigning the library website at California State University (CSU) Dominguez Hills and offered several smart tips for streamlining website navigation.

Successful redesign starts with a content audit of the webpages.  Google offers site audit template documents, spreadsheets, and slides to help with this process.  Kendall tailored the templates to suit her web redesign at CSU by including several personalized columns for Issues, Action (keep-as-is, delete, update, and investigate), Strategy, and Status (see photo below).  She recommends using the spreadsheets to note and propose strategies for fixing such issues as confusing, inconsistent, duplicative, or visually unappealing information, as well as wrong, outdated, and broken links.  For broken links, the Strategy column of an in-the-works redesign, might propose, for instance, using a web crawler to fix the broken links or assigning a student worker to check each link.

website redesign spreadsheet
Photo 1: Courtesy of Kendall Hinesley

Additionally, the site audit spreadsheet should include traffic and usage data with the help of tools like Google Analytics and Clicktale (or other heat mapping software), which show where visitors click their cursor or tap their finger on their electronic devices and how far down the webpage they go (see photo below).  Collecting this data gives the owner or administrator valuable information about how users interact with the website.

sample heat map
Photo 2: Courtesy of Kendall Hinesley

Nothing of course replaces going directly to the users themselves to better understand their experience.  Thus, Kendall recommends conducting short ten-minute user-experience sessions (consider gift cards as a nice incentive for longer sessions).  One of those sessions might be a wording survey to gauge the users’ understanding of the headings, labels, and titles used to aid site navigation.  To get there, try to carefully frame each question for the user as a task (i.e. “If you were asked to find the Highways Act of 1892, what would you click on?”), and be sure the words in the questions are well-designed (Kendall recommends that libraries avoid the terms library resources, library services, subject guides, and circulation because students generally do not know what they mean).

Another session might involve card sorting to evaluate the site’s information architecture. In a card sorting session, users use actual cards, pieces of paper, or online card-sorting software tools to organize topics and information from the website into categories that make sense to them.  The users may also help label these categories.  Once sorted, the cards are then placed in envelopes with the category name, and the data is then put into a spreadsheet showing how the users’ organized the cards (see photo below).  The owner or administrator of the site uses this data to streamline the architecture and navigation of the site to make it clearer, more consistent, and visually more appealing.

Photo 3: Courtesy of Kendall Hinesley

Before embarking on a website redesign, Kendall highly recommends consulting other similar institutions for their information architecture best practices.  She also recommends that the web redesign team read the series A Book Apart, the book The User Experience Team of One, and the blog A List Apart.

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