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Web navigation testing methods

18. 12. 2009 17:43 (aktualizováno) | Martin Popelák

this article is based on the book “Designing Web Navigation”

An important thing in the web development is a design of web navigation. Especially when we are talking about a complex multifunctional web site, such as social network. You can try to design the web navigation „from the ground up“, it is a difficult and interesting way. But it is better to use the world experience of web developers, remember received basic principles for the navigation, using the established web navigation testing methods and methods of estimation its effectiveness. Our team has the tendency to make decisions based only on the amount of subjective views of the team members. Of course, the opinion of each member must be taken into account. But it is necessary, together with it, to use more objective methods of estimation. I offer you a short description of the basic design principles and methods of testing web sites, related to web navigation.

More important qualities of successful navigation:

  • Balance. Balance between the number of visible menu items on page (breadth) and the number of hierarchical levels in a structure (depth).
  • Ease of learning. Increasing the time it takes to learn a navigation for a site will generally lower its success.
  • Consistency. In terms of navigation, this usually refers to the mechanisms and links that appear in a steady location on the page, behave predictably, have standardized labels, and look the same across the site.
  • Feedback. Feedback in navigation can be considered in two ways: with rollovers before selecting a navigation option, and by showing location after transitioning to a new page.
  • Efficiency. Good navigation minimizes the effort to get to content. For instance, dynamic menus that require hand-eye coordination just to reach the option will slow users down.
  • Clear labels. The optimal balance of a site’s structure is related to the clarity of labels.
  • Visual clarity. Visual design isn’t just about making things look nice: it creates a better sense of orientation and to the usability of navigation.
  • Appropriateness for type of site. The success of navigation is relative to the kind of site in appears on.
  • Aligning with users needs. First, You must define your target group. Second, identify information needs of the target group.

Evaluation methods:

Heuristic evaluation. A popular, low-budget analytical usability method, heuristic evaluation are qualitative and rely on subjective inferences made by the person doing the evaluation.

  1. Prepare
    • Agree on who will do the review.
    • Becomes familiar with key pages of the site.
    • Determine the principles for evaluation.
    • Agree on key content areas and features to review.
  2. Execute
    • Go through the site, focusing on the principle at a time.
    • For each heuristic, provide a severity rating from 0 to 4.
  3. Consolidate
    • Discuss your findings with other reviewers. Agree on the potential problem areas and on the interpretation of issues.
    • Summarize reviews.
    • Determine appropriate recommendations for addressing the identified issues.
    • Create a presentation for the project team and stakeholders.
    • Develop a plan for addressing the identified issues.

Checklist review. Evaluating navigation with checklist is similar to a heuristic evaluation. But instead of overarching principles, concrete test statements. Similar to a heuristic evaluation, it’s best to conduct the review with more than one person.

Navigation stress test. The stress test method is simple. Pick a page (pages) randomly from deep within the site. Print pages, assume the you are a first-time visitor to
the site and murk up the printed pages with the symbols for each test question:

  1. What is the page about? Mark title of the page.
  2. What site is this? Circle the site name.
  3. What are major sections of the site?
  4. What major section in this page in?
  5. What is one level up from here?
  6. How do I get to the home page?
  7. How do I get to the top of this section of the site?
  8. What does each group of links represent? Circle the major groups of links:
    • More details
    • Nearby pages
    • Pages on same site, but not as near
    • Off-site pages

For question, that can’t be answered, determine the cause.

Usability testing. With this method, participants use computers as they normally would to browse the web site. Software then tracks where they clicked and how they navigated. Usability test are often structured as laboratory-based trials. Can be costly and time-consuming.

Metric analysis. A good way to learn whether your web site is achieving its goals is to gather traffic data. But it’s difficult to show cause and effect with web metrics. Modern web measurement tools are captured many important business-specific metrics, such as:

  1. Conversion ratios
  2. Customer-acquisition costs
  3. Order size
  4. Overall sales

Your goal is to tie an improvement in the navigation to an improvement in business. Before a relaunch, get a baseline measure of a key statistics important to stakeholders. The steps break down this way:

  1. Prepare
  2. Agree on the metrics to measure success, such as conversion rate or revenue.
  3. Get a baseline reading on this criteria before making improvements to a site.
  4. Execute
  5. Conduct heuristic evaluations of the current site, as well as usability test, to arrive at a list of improvements.
  6. Implement design changes.
  7. Consolidate
    • After a period of use, compare the agree-up on metrics to the baselined values.
    • Calculate the increase or decrease in the figures. Note other possible factors that could potentially influence the findings (marketing campaigns, promotions, etc.) and include these in your conclusions.