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The Navigation Challenge

How easy or how frustrating a website experience is, is generally determined by how easy or how frustrating the navigation of a website is.

User-friendly navigation tools are more than a matter of aesthetics. To an economic development professional, it can mean the difference between attracting leads and being passed over – even if you don’t know that a visitor has come and gone.

Your investment-attraction website is competing with many others at all times. The majority of initial research by site selectors is done online. Such searches are anonymous, of course, so you will never know who is considering your community and evaluating it. If your website doesn’t do the initial talking for you, you won’t have a second chance.

Site selectors typically look at hundreds of websites at the beginning of their process of elimination to compile short lists. This is much different than practices of eight or nine years ago, before Internet research came to dominate in this field. At that time site selectors may have looked at a couple of dozen potential locations. Today your competition is much wider and stronger.

In addition, the length of time for an initial search has shortened to four to eight weeks from six months or more. This means that economic development professionals need to be ready and armed with more information at all times so they can address initial search criteria of site selection professionals and respond to requests for details immediately.

Failure to find the information you have provided will cause those searching for prospective locations to simply move on. There are plenty of websites that are able to quickly deliver the necessary information required to meet demanding deadlines.

What are the tools you can put in place to ensure an enjoyable navigational experience?

Content Architecture

To begin with, you will need a well-planned content architecture to communicate with today’s unforgiving audiences. Following best practices, the architecture needs to incorporate all necessary information and organizes this information into logical and practical sections, enable information to be found as easily as possible. This might sound complicated but it’s not.

An architecture is essentially a content plan. It can be envisioned as an organizational chart in the shape of a pyramid, with building blocks, or boxes, representing web pages and lines connecting the boxes to show how a visitor would move from one page to the next.

The challenge of constructing the architecture is to make sure that the boxes contain the right information, and enable the functionality that will best serve the mandate of the organization and the needs of your prospects for finding key information easily and quickly.

This article is concerned with the lines between the boxes – moving visitors around the website. It has to be simple, quick and intuitive if you are to meet the demands of impatient site selection professionals!

Search

More than half of your website visitors are “search dependent”. That is, they will look for the search bar and use it as their primary means for finding specific information on your website.

It is vital to provide a search tool that delivers the information your visitors are likely to want without delay. There is nothing more frustrating than poor search results that fail to produce expected links.

Seventy-five per cent of the searches conducted by your visitors will consist of one or two words. Given the industry sectors you are trying to attract, what are those words most likely to be? Anticipate the kinds of searches your website visitors will conduct and ensure that you have relevant content available for them; fresh, relevant content that is!

Breadcrumbs

In the story of Hansel and Gretel, breadcrumbs were used by the children to find the way home. In the same way, breadcrumbs are a tool; a series of links, at the top of a web page, that help visitors navigate the website or find the way back home.

Breadcrumbs typically appear horizontally across the top of a web page, usually below title bars or headers. They provide links back to each previous page the user navigated through to get to the current page. Breadcrumbs provide a trail for the user to follow back to the starting or entry point. Typical breadcrumbs look like this:

Home > Section page > Subsection page

Studies have shown that breadcrumb navigation makes websites more userfriendly as it makes it simpler and more efficient for searchers to find information and retrace their steps.

Navigation Menus

Remember that speed is paramount. Usability studies reveal that you have less than 10 seconds to guide visitors to where they want to go on your site, or you will lose them.

Your navigation menus are an invitation to your website visitors to find out more about the topics that you wish to direct them to. These menus can be structured to help visitors quickly find the most common information and to steer them to what you consider the most important information.

Menus that fold-out and let visitors quickly scan deeper page titles can make it quick, easy and intuitive to move from the home page to a page deep on the website in one click, saving time and delivering relevant information quickly.

Menu titles are critical. They are short and need to be just right to be as effective as possible. Don’t be cryptic or cute with titles – be practical and obvious instead!

How you organize the content of your investment-attraction website is just as important as the content itself in determining the success of your site. Make it really easy to find things! Take the time to organize your content in a logical structure and include multiple ways to help searchers move from one page to another. The less that a viewer has to move the mouse around the screen, the better.

A user-friendly site will pay dividends for you when you discover that a site selector has placed your community on a list of places to call.

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