A free comprehensive guide for evaluating site structures

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“Do we really need to spend time designing a good site tree? Doesn't everybody just use Search now?”

Search is huge these days, and for good reason. If we know what we’re looking for, search engines like Google are very good at finding it. And we expect every site of even medium size to have a big friendly search box waiting for us.

But for most websites, a good search function is not enough.

Here’s why:

  • Most users start by browsing.
    According to Jeff Sauro (a usability guru known for his rigorous quantitative approach), a meta-analysis of studies of 1500 users showed that “on average, about 14% of users started with search”. Other studies vary in their estimates of browsing vs. searching, but it’s clear that browsing is too common a behavior to ignore.

  • Browsing is even more likely if the navigation looks promising.
    Users make snap judgments when they visit a site. As Alan McFarland describes in this short article, if the site navigation seems to be clear, distinguishable, and offer a good range of choices, visitors are more likely to start with browsing.

  • Search only works well if we know what we’re looking for.
    As Laura Larsell succinctly states in this Mashable article, “Search assumes a direct path between the seeker and the sought. Ironically, ‘search’ works best when you have a pretty good sense of what you are looking for. But most people, most of the time, do not have concrete ideas of what they really want.”

  • Even searchers need structure to orient themselves.
    As Jakob Nielsen says in this article on search, “users who get to a page through search still need structure to understand the nature of the page relative to the rest of the site. They also need navigation to move around the site in the neighborhood of the page they found by searching.”

  • And the list goes on...

Users also need to be able to “see” the scope and shape of our site, and this is most easily done by seeing the grouping of content on our site – the headings and subheadings. We all do this now when we visit websites, but we’ve learned that some sites are clearly organized and some are, shall we say, somewhat less clear.

Next:  Chapter 1 - key points

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