Portals: Navigation and taxonomy

This post is the eighth in a series about building portals for teams and groups to interact with customers. If you’re interested in reading more please follow us on twitter or subscribe in the right-hand margin of this blog —>

Before search, the internet was pretty simple. You either knew someone who knew where to look for thing, or you knew where to look. Is your portal the same way? Is tribal knowledge required to find the right things?

Without search, it’s difficult for users to find what they need. Since search is much simpler technologically than ever before, this is pretty much a no-brainer. Enable search.

Okay, so now search is turned on – what’s next?

Make sure search works well! Does it find the things people want? Can you watch what people are searching for and landing on? Maybe what you call your “ERP system” is what most users call “The Dom” or “MyApp” or something else – enable search to find the right thing when these terms are searched!

Once search is working well – look out for other nonsensical “browsing” type taxonomies. This would include the ever-terrible categorization of things. What makes sense to one user may not make sense to another.

Again. TO THE USERS!

Personas allow you to present the right things to the right people. And if you ask the people, they will tell you the right time to present them.

Portals with personality are the best thing on earth. Yeah – amazon is great at suggesting things related to what I have purchased, but what if they could also change the navigation, browsing and prioritization of product presentation based on who I am?

This is one place where you have a major advantage over Amazon. You can know your people much better. You probably also serve a MUCH smaller market. Take advantage of this differentiation to know your customer and delight them.

One of my least favorite features of Amazon.com shopping is “departments”. You might know about this seemingly nonsensical categorization of products.

It does have a place. Some categories (like apparel) will have sizes. Some others (like computers) will have speed attributes you want to search and filter with.

So I’m not totally against it – however, do not force your customer to use something that doesn’t make sense to them. Unless you have the millions of products and services Amazon does, there may be no need to categorize all the things.

Put your categories/departments and various views in front of customers and see if they can tell where to find things. Time them. Then give them search. Time them again. Which one wins? Is there a use-case where the customer wants categories? Can you segment that experience? Maybe it’s for group conversation, or batch ordering – can you give that access to a select set of customers?

This basically covers most navigation needs – there are other non-product and non-services navigation items to consider. Things like profiles, shopping cart (if you have one), information, FAQ, contact and other secondary content should be accessible with navigation.

In short, navigation impossible to get truly perfect. Simplicity is usually the key.  If your portal software doesn’t have a default, consider hiring great designers and get constant feedback from customers. Do a bunch of user research. It’s going to take a lot of work to even get close to appealing to customers.

Otherwise, steal from something that works (gmail, twitter, whatever).

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