How users expect to find content

Recently I’ve been looking at website navigation and how this can fail in being useful to by a new user to a website. Sometimes you can get so wrapped up in the rest of the website design that you forget the most important part – the navigation.

It’s really frustrating when you get to a website and can’t find what you’re looking for, usually you end up leaving and going elsewhere. It’s important to remember that the navigation serves multiple purposes – explaining what it is we’re going to find there and giving us our options about what to do once we’re there.

The ‘home’ page is a funny one. Generally, I’ve always considered it to be obvious that site ID / logo doubles up as a home page and that it was general knowledge that this is the case but I was surprised to find out that a fairly high number of users are not aware of this.

One thing I wanted to focus on in this post is the looking at website that have a lot of content, multiple departments / services and different audiences to please. Two great examples I’ve taken a look at are Ebay and Amazon.

Using the powers of the Way Back Machine, I’ve had a look at how Amazon and Ebay laid out their navigation in 2004. As you can see tabs, search and some sort of browsing or categories were the set up.

As the companies grew, had more products to display and more audiences to please you can see how the tabs have increased on Amazon (2007) until a complete re-think in 2010.

Amazon 2007

Amazon 2010

The search box has become a much bigger part of the navigation experience on the Amazon site; the department options are still there but are moved to the left hand side, making them vertical and giving them more of a ‘browsing’ feel. Users to this site and ebay are probably quite likely to know what they are looking for so head straight for the search box and look through their results. Unless it’s a bit of lunch-break browsing of course…

Ebay 2012

Personally, I prefer the look of the ebay site compared to the Amazon one. I think its very clean, fresh and modern. The search allows you to search by departments, search all and automatically matches your search as you type. It feels familiar, the search bar is prominent but it still has a top level navigation for repeat visitors (my ebay, contact us, help, basket…).

For lot of people their online experience starts with a search, linking from a list of results directly to your website. If a website is busy or offers a lot of products and services I naturally gravitate to the search bar to find what i’m looking for immediately.

Is site search now mainstream or is it still important to stick to the ‘standard’ navigation set up were all familiar with? How do you like to navigation around a new website?

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2 thoughts on “How users expect to find content

  1. I’m quite a big fan of the search bar.
    With amazon’s pending redesign it looks like they are going to offer a more search driven experience too:
    http://mashable.com/2011/09/04/amazon-redesign/

    It’s starting to look quite similar to ebay with the clean modern visuals.
    Quite looking forward to the roll-out, not a massive fan of amazon’s current cluttered visuals either!

    • Ah, that looks better! Yes, I think its time for them to catch-up a little on the design. It would be good for us to get a chance to flex our fingers on using search in this fashion.

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