In what has become one of my favorite blogs to read, Creating Passionate Users has to be one of the best blogs about taking care of your customers. Kathy Sierra recently posted an interesting picture about how important graphics are to communicating ideas. This graphic, a sign posted at a trailhead, was the example:

Unfortunately, this picture may be worth a thousand words, but those words would be in confusion, not clarity. I suppose only purebreds are allowed? No Muts? Maybe only German Shepherds and Sheepdogs are allowed? The clarity of this sign leaves people confused. Not one of my friends or associates could identify the meaning of this sign.

Too many times, I have seen navigation on a website take this type of turn. Or as my mother has said, “It’s not what you say; its how you say it.” It is not to much our message that is incorrect, but how we communicate that message.

Too many times, a web site’s homepage has either distracting or irrelevant graphics, or the information structure has been lazily put together. Whenever I see “products” and “services” as the main menu options, I get agitated. Here is a perfectly god chance to classify your business in a major part of the website, and it was blown on a generic term that doesn’t properly explain what makes your business unique. This is the principle of Taxonomy – properly classifying data into groups that makes sense to your users (my amended definition).

My personal favorite of websites that confuse the user is a now defunct company called Valorum. The page had three elements of confusion;

  1. Confusing Navigation: While not relying on the standard “products and services” they opted for the even more cryptic, “value added services” and value added network” as main navigation headings.
  2. Obligatory Confusing Graphic: Usually, a graphic helps a user unconsciously understand the concepts being described on the page. However when joined with non-descriptive text and navigation, the graphic takes confusion to another level. It’s not a dartboard supply company; it is a “solution provider.”
  3. No Clear Message: Upon visiting this site, there is no clear message. Nothing that quickly describes this site for the user. Only a few paragraphs about “value added” and “strategic business decisions”, but nothing that offered a definitive – “This is who we are” message.

Click the image for the full-size view

The lesson here is to review your site for confusion or conflicting information. You may need an independent opinion, as we can be too close to our sites make these types of judgment calls.

  • Do your navigation, images and content all work together to provide a descriptive experience for your visitor?
  • Do your images relate to the message?
  • Is there a clear message that a visitor will see and understand within seconds of loading the page?
  • Is your main navigation a clearly organized and well-named organization of your web-site?
  • Are you using keyword research to better classify the navigation on your website?

If the answer is no to any of these questions, you may be confusing your visitors.