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Navigation Woes

There are many reasons why individuals and companies have a website, be it for selling things, advertising, information etc. Irrespective of the sites' subject, everyone who builds a site wants people to visit it. Without visitors there is no point in having the site.

Over time, I have noticed that many sites are making life difficult for their visitor by hiding links.

Think about this. People visit websites for a reason, if you hide your links in fancy graphic design then the chances are the visitor won't find them. Why would you want to do that?

Hiding your links until you mouse over them is one of the biggest mistakes I can think of. Yes, the site can look nice but they just don't work as an easy to find what you are looking for site.

Eye candy is important but it has to be secondary to a usability, if a site is not easy to use then it won't matter how nice it looks. People want to see what is a link so they can scan the page quickly and move on to the info they are looking for.

The most common error is to hide/reveal links with javascript. Perhaps it might have small icons, normally they are a designers interpretation of an associated image that relates to the link. While that's fine for the designer, joe public may not see the connection. It's not until you place your pointer over the icon that the visitor will see a text description.

First of all - people should not have to move their pointer over every icon and remember what that icon represents - it's a website, not a memory game.

Secondly, what if the visitor doesn't have javascript enabled, how are they meant to decode your cryptic image?

Graphic designers don't like things that interfere with their creations so they tend to omit the alt tags on images as it spoils the look. Well it might spoil the look but it also spoils the chance of people using the site.

I have even seen some sites that don't have icons, instead it had small squares that matched other small squares on the site design, I had to search for them by moving my pointer over every inch of the page. Small squares with no alt tags, javascript dependant links are not the way to help your visitor.

Flash and Java applet Navigation

Flash navigation is nice to look at but again similar mistakes are made, don't make your visitor search for links. Personally, I dislike Flash, not because it is bad but mainly because of how its used. Flash is a great tool, but design and usability are 2 different beasts.

Until Flash users realise that then Flash will never really move on beyond eye candy. Correctly designed and usable Flash sites are great but they are few and far between.

The simplest error Flash users make is always using the latest version of Flash , not a big deal really, it would seem but consider this. If you save your movie in the most recent version then you are forcing users to update their plugins for no good reason. Not all movies need to be saved in the most up to date release as most don't take advantage of the new features of that release.

Save and test your movies in different versions (having messed about with Flash I know this is possible) and see if the plugin upgrade is required or not. I have been testing this theory out for ages now cancelling prompt after prompt to upgrade the so called "this page requires Flash plugin xxx to work" I haven't had a Flash animation fail yet. I click cancel and the Flash plays. All that does is annoy me and others, why should I upgrade something that doesn't need upgraded just because the developer can't be bothered to do some research.

I am not against Flash, used properly it's a fast and exciting addition to a webpage but used badly it's a big turn off.

Java applets when used for navigation is pointless, they are slow and normally buggy and add no value whatsoever to the page. Many organisations and educational institutes have java disabled by administrators as they are also seen as a security risk.

For both Flash and Java navigation what is often missing is alternative navigation. They spend so much time making their creations that alternatives are overlooked. Developers and designers tend to keep all their software and plugins etc upto date and automatically assume that Joe Public does the same - big mistake - making that assumption is going to lose you traffic. Always consider the visitor.

By all means create your Flash or Java navigation but always prepare an alternative just in case. Consider this as well, what if a person visits your page and agrees to install the plug in, what if the plug in server is busy or unreachable for whatever reason, how is that person going to be able to use your site?

I was going to post links to some bad navigation sites but that is unfair, what I have done instead is to explain the problems encountered. The chances are you will have visited sites with bad navigation as explained above. So don't make the same mistakes :)

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