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Ken Ward's HTML Tutorial ...

Making your site navigable!

The larger the site, the more difficult it is for you to manage it. And the more difficult for others to visit it and go where they want to. Unless the site is well signposted! This subject is not so much about HTML as about the thought that goes behind presenting the documents. It is, in principle, the same problem one faces in writing an essay, organising the parts so that the reader can read through smoothly.

I started writing this lesson with a sense of embarrassment because it is not something that I always do (although I always try to!). But I am made more confident, as we all are when we do something wrong, in knowing that sometimes even major sites are hopeless at organising their pages so that visitors can find what they are looking for.

Even with the best intentions, things start going wrong when we have lots of pages and change our minds in the middle. Correcting the organisation of the pages seems too daunting. Sometimes we are at a loss to know what to do so we just hope the reader will be able to muddle through.

Nonetheless, in spite of the excuses, the work on navigation is a crucial part of the website design and if a site does not have friendly navigation - however good it might otherwise be - it will annoy and frustrate the visitor.

How to organise your pages

Suppose you had a home page with three other pages:

Home Page
        Page One
        Page Two
        Page Three

The home page links to each of the three pages. It has a contents section. The browser can get to page two, for example by clicking the hyperlink in the home page. Clearly if there were no link to the home page, then the reader couldn't get back to the home page or access the other two pages. Obvious, but actually untrue because the reader could use the back button on his or her browser?

Have you ever searched for information, found an interesting page only to find it has no links to the home page or anything else? I certainly have. The writer must have thought everyone would get to that page via the home page, and forgot about search engines!

Have you ever been browsing in a site which you like, and know the site has the information you want, only to find that you are trapped into following the current sequence of pages from one to the other and no links to the contents, or any way to get back to the home page? Every page needs at least a minimal set of navigation links.

Maximum Navigation

Every pages, should, of course link to some other page. Where appropriate, it should link to the previous page, the next page and the contents page for the group of pages. A minimal navigation bar may include:

[Back to: Previous Page][Home][Contents][On to: Next Page]

Where Previous Page and Next Page should be the names of the previous and next topics. With these minimal controls the reader can follow the sequence, go back in the sequence, go to the contents page, or escape to the home page. In our small web site with a home page and three other pages, the contents link wouldn't be necessary. With bigger sites, a little more thought is required. For example, if each page has the navigation:

[Home][Top Page][Grand Parent Page][Parent Page] This Page

Then the reader knows exactly where they are in the site arrangement, and they can slip out if they want to.

If you use image maps or java script or java navigation, also include minimal text hyperlinks for those who do not have browsers that run your java script, etc.

Clear Hyperlink Labels - that is where will they take me?

It is always worth some continuing thought on what the label, say 'Home', or 'Index' will mean to the user. In some cases it might be better to say 'Contents of the Java Script Tutorial', if this is clearer. I think it is better to be clear even if you are saying things that are obvious to some people. In the end a web page is something to be used for some purpose, not be smart and unnecessarily draw attention to itself rather than the subject (unless the subject is the design of the page!)

I think it is better to say 'click here to learn more about met tags' even if some people think its obvious you have to click hyperlinks, but that's an opinion.

Larger Sites

As our site grows, each of the three pages may have several sub pages expanding on the topics in each page. Each of these three pages may then need a contents section. And the sub pages might lead on to more topics, so some of these might need a contents. By ensuring that each page has at least the minimal navigation links the reader will be able to find their way about the site and not be stuck in any sequences they don't want to be in or end up in a dead end page.

Frames pages can raise special problems for people using text-only browsers and for search engines, and this subject is dealt with in the no-frames section.

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Most Recent Revision: 18-Oct-98.
Copyright 1998

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