How important are those navigation labels at the top of your website? According to new research conducted by branding, design and marketing agency Tank Design, labels are essential – as long as you care about your customers finding what they’re looking for. After all, it’s not called “navigation” for nothing.
But many large companies – especially in the business-to-business or B2B space – use the exact same generic navigation labels on their websites, leading to no differentiation for either potential customers or Google.
It turns out that people generally don’t know what’s hiding behind generic labels like “Products,” “Solutions,” “Services” and “Resources,” because they all sound interchangeable.
“We were seeing a pattern that’s become undeniable,” said Tank’s Senior User Experience Designer Hilary Basch, who along with Senior Manager of Data Insights & Analytics Laurel Marcus, conducted an in-depth survey of what site users think certain navigations mean. “We were having such a hard time convincing our clients to move away from it because so many people were doing it.”
Researchers Hilary Basch and Laurel Marcus of Tank Digital found that vague navigation labels cause confusion about where to find certain content.
Basch and Marcus believed that a better user experience was possible. User experience, or UX, is an important subset of customer experience, or CX. According to the International Organization for Standardization, user experience is a “person’s perceptions and responses resulting from the use and/or anticipated use of a product, system or service” and is “a consequence of brand image, presentation, functionality, system performance, interactive behaviour and assistive capabilities of the interactive system.”
The team decided to conduct its own research after failing to find concrete evidence of what they had always assumed.
“While there was research out there explaining the danger of vague labels, we couldn’t find hard evidence to convince clients that these ‘marketing terms’ didn’t resonate with users and had a potential for real impact on the experience, engagement, and even conversion,” Basch said in an interview. “Our hypothesis is that terms hold meaning for those behind the curtain, but we proved that they don’t for users.”
The researchers developed a realistic scenario of a small business owner searching for a conference call solution that works across multiple countries. They then asked 217 respondents to imagine that they went to a company’s website and encountered a fairly typical navigation strip containing five options: Features, Platform, Products, Services and Solutions.
“After we set the scene, we asked participants to make their best guess about where specific content would be,” Basch explained. “For example, where would you find information on international call rates? Integrations? Mobile capabilities?” There were five such location questions.
Across all demographics, including gender, geography, income, age, and education, the results were the same: “What we found is that no matter how you sliced the results, there was no consensus,” said Basch. “Consensus” was defined ahead of time as 75% of users picking the same location for a certain piece of content – a fairly low bar because it still means 1 in 4 users would fail to find the correct spot.
Of the 5 questions, only one even saw more than 50% of users choosing the same label, and in every question, at least 5% chose every single label. In other words, total digital chaos.
“The results translate to: If 10 people visit your website, 3 people are looking in the Solutions section for this content, 2 are looking in Platform, 2 in Products, 2 Services, and 1 in Features,” said Basch. “That’s a failure.”
Failure, indeed. According to separate research by famed website usability expert Jakob Nielsen of Nielsen Norman Group, the average web page visit lasts less than a minute, and in order to increase that, companies “must clearly communicate your value proposition within 10 seconds.”
“That’s not enough time to tolerate failure,” Basch cautioned.
So what’s the answer?
“Labels should be as specific and clear as possible,” said Basch. Tank cites Chewy.com as a good example; after choosing “Shop by Pet,” users are presented with clear, descriptive labels: Food, Treats, Supplies. (Besides a strong user experience, Chewy is also known for a great customer experience generally.)
Specific labels have the added benefit of helping not just user experience, but also search engine optimization (SEO). “Being specific in your navigation encourages Google to route searches to your website,” Basch said.
Putting oneself in the shoes of the customer is a core concept in customer experience, and one that translates well to the digital world. So companies should choose navigation labels that make sense from a user’s perspective, even if they aren’t the exact same terminology used internally. After all, customers don’t care about a company’s organizational chart; they look at a company as a single entity.
“Let your customers tell you how you should be organizing your offering,” Basch advised. “They often can say it better than you can because they’re not mired in how it all works behind the scenes.”
Companies that don’t heed this advice and instead insist on looking like everyone else will face consequences.
“By using vague navigation labels, we’ve proven that you are creating space for failure and missing an opportunity to create clarity around your brand and offering,” Basch said. “If [users] are failing to find the content they’re looking for, they will go to your competitors or somewhere else to find it.”
The full research results, including interactive charts, are available here.