Six Fixes

Our example site’s designers have several options for correcting user misconceptions about the IA:

1. Merge the two sections into a single area so that
users won’t have two similar options and mistakenly select the
wrong one. Users who previously went to “Foo Basics” or “Using Foo”
won’t necessarily go directly to a new, unified section to find
information. However, we can assume that roughly the same number of
people who visited the separate sections first would choose the unified
section, giving us a 75% success rate. That percentage might even prove
to be bigger, since the unified section might attract users who went to
other sections in tasks D, F, and G. Of course, it might also be too attractive and get clicks from users who need to go elsewhere. Only additional testing will show.

As for the (distinct) downside, merging two sections would create a
larger, more complex section. This new section would have twice the
features of the old individual sections. As a result, users would be
more likely to get lost within the new section and would have to spend
more time scanning the section overview page to find the subsection
they need.

2. Rename the two existing sections. Different labels
could make the distinction between the two Foo areas more clear and
thus users might be more likely to click the right one. In this case,
the solution isn’t likely to work because the two sections are
inherently too similar for a single label to clearly denote the
difference. For other sites, however, simply relabeling a site section
using words with much stronger information scent
can greatly increase users’ success. This is particularly true if the
original labels were made-up terms and they were replaced with familiar words that people understand.

3. Explain the two choices. Instead of (or in addition
to) new labels, you can help users by providing additional information
next to the navigation labels. Pictures can sometimes help,
particularly when you have categories for two distinctly different
products. Other times, a line or two of text for each option can
explain what they mean. Although such text can be pure exposition, it’s
often better to list a few specific examples of the information
contained in each category.

Of course, we know that users don’t like to read a lot online,
so brevity is essential. Also, the homepage is typically the only place
with room for such explanations; navigation menus must stand on their
own. For users who arrive through a deep link or who decide to keep using the site once they’ve completed their initial task, clear navigation labels are a must.

4. Restructure the site. In our example case, the
designers might be able to split the two problem sections’ information
up in a way that better resonates with users. Alternatively, they could
restructure the entire site, which might also address cases like task
F, where most users went to the wrong site section. Site restructuring,
of course, is a lot more work and thus it’s rarely the option of

5. Move information around. In a case like task C,
where most users went straight to a wrong section, you could simply
move the target information to the place where users looked for it. The
potential downside here is that it undermines the integrity of the
site’s structuring principle, which might make the structure harder for
users to master in the long run. But it’s often equally appropriate to
simply stick the information in the other spot. If that’s the case,
just do it.

6. Add cross-reference links. Finally, you can
recognize that you’ll never have a perfect IA where users always click
into the right section every time. Even though it’s a kludge, you can
add interface elements to overcome common mistakes before they snowball
into true usability catastrophes. The Web is built on hypertext, so
there’s no reason to restrain yourself to offering users a single way
to find important information. If you know many users are going to the
wrong site area, add a cross-reference link. Obviously, every extra
link is an additional feature that will delay users who don’t want to
visit the other area, so use cross-references judiciously.