Written by Brian Cray on February 3rd, 2010
You may have noticed that I've been going through design changes like crazy over the past month or so. That's because I'm tracking almost everything my readers do into web analytics. With the right web analytics tools, you can gain real-time empirical data on your website visitors' habits in massive quantities.
What I'm learning may shock some of you, and it may confirm ideas for others. It's not far from what I've blogged about in the past: Supplemental navigation is, in most cases, visual junk.
Breakdown of link clicks by area
Interpreting the chart data
As you can see, supplemental navigation—including related posts, historical post navigation, popular posts, most commented posts, sidebars, etc—has accounted for about only 10% of the navigation on my site during several design variations. Of that 10%, historical navigation and related posts alone accounted for about 99%. The rest? Fluff. Garbage.
On the other hand, navigation inside the content area accounted for approximately 70% of clicked links on my site. Header navigation, including menu, logo, search, accounted for 30%.
Design implications of data
In short: less is more.
If you visit almost any blog today, you'll be bombarded with 5,000 sidebar widgets, gadgets, and gizmos that are there to do what? Lower the bounce rate by increasing page views? Is that an actionable metric? No.
Blogs should be especially ashamed of these design practices, because the user's goal is clear in 99% of the time: Read an article.
And the conversions are clear: subscribe, comment, share.
Those conversions are getting lost in too much choice and information overload. Do you want your users to subscribe, or do you want them to get lost in a sea of sidebar gadgets?
If the Paradox of Choice has taught us anything, it's that how many choices you provide to users is a serious issue you should confront with every design decision.
Actionable design recommendations
- Start tracking exactly how your users are navigating your site. If you don't know how, here's a good place to start.
- Apps like Readability and WriteRoom exist for a reason: Distractions suck. Eliminate low performing navigation options to increase the performance of effective navigation and user goal completion rates.
- Integrate important navigation into your content. Don't leave it off to the side where it's unnatural for people to look.
- Focus on what you want your design to achieve. Don't focus on inflating your stats and ego with page views or lower bounce rates.
Using information to make design decisions is something that should be practiced more in the web design community. In this case, a little data has provided a significant argument against a common blog design practice. What else could we be doing wrong or could we improve?
I think we'll also find what works better for our users, also works better for our conversion rates. Please share your thoughts or data on the subject.