We began a series of columns on navigation aides in the last column, What Comes Next?, all of which are based on the concepts of landmarks and visitor-designed navigation. In that last column we offered a tool for guiding visitors through websites based on information gathered from the website log files. We're going to continue that discussion, this time describing a navigational aide that works best for information-rich, not necessarily content-rich, sites.
Information rich versus content rich
Most people who've seen mysteries like Cadfael or Oliver's "Travels" or "Midsommer Murders" know that these shows have elements of complexity which are delightful. (At least, I find them delightful. Some people don't like complex levels of plot and storylines. To each his or her own.) I like mysteries such as these because they keep me guessing right through to the last minutes of the show. Once the mystery is revealed, however, I realize that all the facts necessary for an accurate solution were provided as the story went along. One of the reasons these shows are as complex as they are is because of the amount of information relevant to the solution they give you in the time period they have. Other mysteries don't inspire me as much because, while providing lots of information, most of it has nothing to do with discovering the solution and more to do with adding local color, eye-candy or the producer's daughter to the credits of the show.
The difference is information-rich versus content-rich, often abbreviated to "context versus content." Sites can be information rich and be only a single, short page long. Sites can only be content rich if there are lots and lots of content. Information rich sites deal a lot with the context, the meaning and use of, the content they provide. Because information rich sites tend to present their content more concisely they can be more difficult to navigate. Instead of presenting one topic per page they may introduce and cover four or five -- and sometimes in a single paragraph! Sometimes this causes confusion because visitors lose track of where, exactly, they found something of interest. The goal is to remove this confusion by creating a navigation aide for visitors unsure of where things are or how to find them. The technique described here is one I often recommend for information rich sites and it can be used for any site in which you believe it fits.
Back to the map
In the last column, I described how to learn the map visitors are making as they navigated your site in order to learn about you. Briefly, go through your server logs to find:
- the most often requested pages...
- ordered by average time on page
Again, you have a listing of what's most important on your site as determined by your visitors, by the tourists who are in the process of becoming locals, and you're going to use the map they create to help design navigation aides for other tourists coming to your site. What we're going to do is use the histories of visitor navigation to spread breadcrumbs for future visitors to follow.
What's next is MIPs
Last time I suggested using the information gathered from your log files to create a "Next" navigation tool on your site. This time we going to use that same information to create a MIPs or MORPs navigation tool. MIPs are "Most Interesting Pages" and MORPs are "Most Often Requested Pages". Whether you call it MIPs or MORPs or something else is up to you. The point is to create a word which is eye-catching without having a meaning inside your industry. For example, if your business is food processing management, then you don't want an icon called SALT as it may cause more confusion in your audience than it alleviates. Many people think a clever, industry-specific acronym is a good thing, and it is when it defines a product or service and no competitors are using it as such. Clever, industry-specific acronyms tend to cause more confusion than they're worth when they aren't actually about the industry or your company's specific products or services.
Just as "Next" was based on a variable array or list of pages from your web log search, MIPs is much the same. Instead of possible menu item, though, MIPS is a definite graphic somewhere on your site (upper right, beneath your banner and slightly separated from any introductory text on each page seems to work best). The mouseover on the MIPs graphic pulls up an explanatory box of what is offered. Click on MIPs and the visitor is presented with a list of the pages in the order defined above.
Unlike "Next," the MIPs list never empties and is always available. It may even be periodically or dynamically updated based on your site's traffic load and how often you update your site's content.
As before, you may discover that people aren't navigating your site the way you intended or want them to navigate it. This isn't a problem because MIPs doesn't have the visual authority of "Next." "Next" could be a menu item while the term "MIPs" is visually distinct from the menu system and separate from what's around it. It is a curiosity because of the strangeness of the word (MIPs or MORPs or whatever) and people, like cats, are a curious lot. Seeing something they are unsure of they'll mouse over it -- maybe not at first but eventually -- and learn what it's about. If they're not able to find what they're looking for on their own, here's what our billions of other visitors found interesting enough to spend their time on. Give these pages a look. Hopefully it'll help you, too.
Next time we continue this discussion by making cookies out of breadcrumbs, then we finish with ways to create a site search tool based on what people think they found.
Joseph Carrabis has been everything from butcher to truck driver to Senior Knowledge Architect to Chief Research Scientist. His 22 books and 225 articles have ranged among cultural anthropology, mathematics, information mechanics, language acquisition, neurolinguistics, psychodynamics and psychosocial modeling - and other eclectic topics. His knowledge and data designs have been used by Caltech, Citibank, DOD, IBM, NASA, Owens-Corning and Smith-Barney among others. Carrabis is CRO and Founder of NextStage Evolution and NextStage Global, and founder of KnowledgeNH and NH Business Development Network. He is also the inventor and developer of Evolution Technology. You can download sections of Carrabis' next book, "Reading Virtual Minds," at www.hungrypeasant.com.