Introducing yourself may be the first thing you do in a real life social situation, but it’s probably the last thing you want to do when you’re using the web. Last Friday, I was analyzing an EDU website that asked people to identify themselves so that it could “better serve” them. In place of the expected topical menu, it offered up options like “For Students,” “For Parents,” and “For Alumni.”
Then on Sunday at church, I found myself visiting with real people in the social hall right after morning services. And there was a huge table full of refreshments: cheese and crackers, veggies and dip, delicious pastries, and coffee to wash it all down.
The thing is, I really like Oreos. And there they were, in abundance, over on that other table. Yeah, the kids’ table had a very different selection. Graham crackers, cheese puffs, fruit juice, and many other things I’m happy to live without. But the Oreos… I really like Oreos.
Whoever was in charge of refreshments that day decided which food was for kids and which was for grown-ups. I would have appreciated having a say in the matter, because the one thing I wanted was not offered to me. And as there is absolutely no disguising the fact that I am a grown-up, any play I might make for some Oreos (ooh, and milk… do they have milk over there?) was not going to go unnoticed.
User menus are a good way to help individual types of web visitors get a quick overview of the content that’s most useful to them. In fact, they can be key to creating a website that truly focuses on a single user type, because they give other users a place to go, along with the assurance that they have not been overlooked.
By giving them their own “home” pages, an institution can address each user type with individualized messaging, guidance to meaningful information, and news and events that are filtered and prioritized according to their interests.
But we’re talking about very targeted content here, not the principal means of navigation. The site I was viewing last Friday placed the topic of Academics under the “For Prospective Students” tab. Are prospective students the only ones interested in academics? Heck no. Are they likely to be the most interested? Possibly. But the tab doesn’t say “Mostly for Prospective Students.”
So in order to find Academic information, people have to either be prospective students, or be willing to go to a table that is clearly labeled for someone else. Wait, did I just say table? I meant tab, of course.
The main menu of a website should focus on what people are looking for and what they are trying to accomplish, not on who they are. It should make any content available to anyone who may have, well, a taste for it. As for me, while I appreciate that there’s a grown-ups’ table and a kids’ table, show me a table that says “Oreos,” and I’m good.
- Include user-specific areas for individualized guidance, not as primary navigation
- Don’t silo information that might be useful to multiple user types
- Never go to church hungry