Navigation is an essential element of the Web, capable of providing a vastly improved experience for users and influencing several key performance indicators. While it may not be as exciting an element to test as pricing, it does carry a major influence on creating a meaningful interaction for Web users and a profitable one for your Web enterprise. Information portals and e-commerce sites are those that may benefit most from testing navigation. Groups or individuals focused exclusively on landing page optimization should certainly be concerned with and consider testing navigation, but when the notion of “conversion” rules the focus of every page, calls-to-action and other elements (e.g. imagery) that aid in the conversion process often take precedence. However, navigation should never be an afterthought, as it is an element that can undoubtedly move users closer to the end of the sales funnel, even from a very specific landing page.
Informed, Educated Testing Depending on your website’s audience, understand that the navigation menu experience will change dramatically from site to site. You may find with a younger, hipper audience that users will prefer rollover menus but detest auto-expanding menus. You may find with far older audiences that text-style menus outperform Flash and hyper-sensitive flyout menus. While you can certainly make some broad guesses as to what will perform best, only testing will ensure the best experience for your audience and, therefore, the best opportunities for conversion.
Commit to Testing Users must be able to easily find their way through a website from every page, ultimately reaching the information they want or need quickly. It’s hard to take a different point of view. When testing, both designers and site owners must understand users’ expectations of their website navigation. Finding a way to provide easy access to what users want (and with fewer clicks) when designing website navigation and structure will improve the information-seeking experience and make a positive impact on key performance indicators like time-on-site and bounce rate — important factors in everything from advertising metrics to SEO. The point is, even if you’re not committed to running elaborate tests on navigation, do recognize the importance of helping users get what they want.
How to Test Website Navigation If you are committed to testing navigation but have not yet, selected a vendor (and don’t want to run manual tests) know that there are a variety of site testing tools available. Forrester’s recently published report on online testing platforms reviewed the top nine players in the space which included Adobe Test & Target, Amadesa Customer Experience Suite, Autonomy Optimost, Google Website Optimizer, Maxymiser Content MVT, SiteSpect, Vertster Conversion Optimization Suite, and Webtrends Optimize. Forrester indicated that Adobe Test & Target (formerly Omniture) and Autonomy Optimost were placed as the leaders — Adobe Test & Target excels in overall application usability, customer satisfaction, and content support, while Autonomy stands out in administration, deployment options, and breadth of testing techniques.
While free site testing tools such as Google Website Optimizer are attractive to many, other Web professionals demand more and these commercial vendors all provide competitive and effective solutions. Know in advance, however, that investing in any testing platform can be costly and time-consuming. The cost of experimenting often depends on the number of traffic pages receive, the complexity of experiments, and, in some instances, the difference in conversion rates for your combinations. As such, know how these site testing vendors charge for their services and, based on your own needs, determine if using their services is necessary or warranted.