Amount of Navigation Items
We abide by the +/-6 rule for global and local navigation on our sites. Sometimes a local subsite will require an amount pages outside this standard, which we assess on a case-by-case basis.
If you give site visitors too many navigation options it makes it harder for them to find what they need quickly. The visitors will get frustrated and leave your site. Research has shown that up to six global navigation items is the most sensible number, seven is still acceptable.
In order to achieve consistency across DePaul's web properties, we have come up with the following standards for the ways in which we label our navigation items, subsites, and pages.
Academic college websites will have at least the following global (top-level) navigation items:
- Admission & Aid
- Faculty & Staff
- Student Resources
Additional items (up to a total of seven) can include:
- Centers & Institutes
- News & Events
- Departments (current project in progress to roll departmental content into Academics)
- Alumni (this is a legacy audience-based label that will eventually be phased out)
Any labeling outside the above has either been granted to the college based on unique programs or needs (i.e. the School of Music, College of Law), or is a legacy label from a old, pre-standards site and will be changed in the near future.
Department/School/or Academic Program Navigation (within a college's Academics subsite)
Our new standard departmental navigation is as follows:
NAME OF DEPARTMENT/SCHOOL/PROGRAM
About (if applicable)
Undergraduate or Majors & Minors
Combined Degrees (if applicable)
Faculty & Staff
Navigation Labeling Philosophy
Our standards for naming navigation items, especially subsites, includes using topic-based labels rather than audience-based labels. We also use nouns rather than verbs.
Topic-based versus Audience-based
Audience-based navigation labels, while seemingly a simple way to organize website structure, actually cause a lot of issues. Labels such as "For Staff" or "Current Students" and "Prospective Students" create issues with Search Engine Optimization (a.k.a. "SEO", or the way Google finds and serves up your site when users search for things) and often end up containing duplicate content.
We prefer topic-based navigation labels for the following reasons:
- Terms that are topic-based perform better in search
- Consistency across all sites and within individual sites
- Prevents the occurrence of duplicate information that would apply across audiences
We have found that when people search for something, they don't use search terms that apply to their audience. A prospective student doesn't think of themselves as a prospective student -- they wouldn't search for "DePaul prospective student biology admission". People search simply for things like "DePaul biology admission". This means that not only would an audience-based navigation label bury the information, the page ranking in Google would be lower.
By separating audiences, we run the risk of having duplicate content as well as the risk of that content getting out of sync across sections. If you use audience labels in a site, and current students, prospective students and alumni all need to know about common resources such as the hours of the library or how they access on-campus wifi that would mean putting the same information on pages in all three audience-based sections. Then one day the library changes their hours and eventually the university adds an additional, more secure wifi connection option (these examples actually happened). Now, not only is there potential that the information in each section would not be updated, there is also the risk that some pages would be updated and others wouldn't, and then it would be out of sync. It is also more work for the editor of the site to keep track of updates on three separate pages, rather than a single Resources page for all audiences.
Nouns versus Verbs
In the same way that people don't search based on who they are (their audience), they also don't search in verbs. And Google doesn't like verbs either. Think of how you would search for an accountant around tax time -- you might search "Chicago CPA" and a website with labels such as Services and underneath that CPA would preform much better than a website with labels such as Meet Our Team or Find Your CPA. The same goes for our websites. When we use labels like "Find Your Academic Advisor" rather than just "Academic Advisors" it give us a disadvantage, and thus gives our visitors a disadvantage.