BC Tip: The British Royal Family - Making a royal mess of navigation

The marriage of Meghan Markle to Prince Harry received a lot of news coverage globally, but the Royal Family’s website is not without a hitch when it comes to navigation

The Royal Family's website

The Royal Family's website

The Feature

The British Royal Family’s website has a splash page, with an image of the newly-wed couple.

Clicking on ‘Explore’ or scrolling down reveals the ‘usual’ home page, which employs tiles, with and without photos, to guide users to content within the site.

The main site navigation is hidden behind a hamburger icon and the label ‘Menu’ at the top right of the page, but there is a brief left hand menu, indicating the user has landed on a page ‘About the Duchess of Sussex’. The only other option in this navigation is ‘Biography’, and there is no breadcrumb trail.

Clicking on the Royal Coat of Arms at the top left of the site header, which appears without a site title, takes the user back to the home page – with the splash image displayed again.

The Takeaway

The site as a whole looks appealing, and the use of big, bold images featuring smiling, candid shots of the Royal Family adds a warmth and authenticity to the site. The incorporation of Instagram images on the home page and in other areas also sends a positive message of modernity and inclusivity.

But the overall impression is let down by deficiencies in the navigation.

The fact the home page defaults to the splash image each time the user returns to it is likely to frustrate some, and the lack of any site title or navigation on it could confuse those who arrive here from links or search engines. While devices like splash pages can be used to add impact, especially around important events, the fundamentals of user experience should not be forgotten.

Those users who navigate within the site, or who find themselves sent there from search engines, are given no help with orienting themselves; even clicking on the Menu label and icon does not reveal where in the site they are, and there is no website title to help – just the Royal Coat of Arms.

For example, a Google search for ‘Duchess of Sussex’ returns a page from the site as the first result, so the lack of orienting devices including the absence of a website title will be a major problem for them.

Site managers should remember that it is not enough to ensure good search engine performance: the experience of the user once on the site, especially those who may arrive deep within it, must be taken into account too. And that means providing easy ways of understanding where they are, and how to navigate around the site, in addition to visually appealing and easy to read pages.

For more commentaries, tips and downloads for online corporate communications professionals, visit our website.

If you have a query or for more information about Bowen Craggs, please contact Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com.

BC tip: Merck - Rise of the footer

A US pharmaceutical company’s home page footer expands upwards when the mouse hovers over it.

BC tip - Merck.png

The Feature

The Merck.com home page has a narrow footer panel with three headings in a row – ‘Latest News’; ‘Social @ Merck’ and ‘Other Merck Sites’.

When visitors hover the mouse over any part of the panel, it rises up the page to reveal more details under each of the categories – summaries and links to press releases; the latest tweets and social media follow icons; and links to other parts of the web estate. Moving the mouse off the panel causes it to collapse back down the page.

On a smartphone screen, the three elements of the panel are stacked vertically. The expandable footer appears to be limited to the home page; it is not on any of the section landing pages, for example, or anywhere else that we clicked.

The Takeaway

Merck’s expanding panel tries to do for footers what the mega dropdown menu has done for primary navigation. On the Merck home page, the feature is a space-saving way to let visitors see options that are not in the main menus at the top; and helps to keep the home page from scrolling. It could be a useful design in some circumstances – if footers can expand downwards, why not have the option to go up too?

It is not clear this works completely – for example, the way Merck have implemented it means they cannot have a longer home page, even if they wanted one. There are some other disadvantages in the way it is executed – on smaller laptop screens the panel obscures some of the text in the carousel.

If in doubt, a useful guideline to follow is, don’t try to innovate with navigation.

www.merck.com

 

BC tip: Philip Morris International - Smoking headline

An intriguing home page headline makes it difficult not to click.

The Feature

The home page of Philip Morris International’s recently relaunched corporate website has the headline, ‘Designing a Smoke-Free Future: How long will the world’s leading cigarette company be in the cigarette business?’

The large white lettering takes up much of the page above the fold, as repeating videos play in the background – employees smiling, and meeting, shots of PMI buildings, etc. Clicking on the call-to-action ‘Read more’ takes visitors to a page in ‘Who we are’ explaining PMI’s investments in smoke-free products.

The Takeaway

Few companies outside the tobacco industry will be in the position of needing to explain why they are investing in alternatives to their core business. But as a piece of writing designed to draw people into a corporate website and hear the company’s messages, the PMI headline is one of the best we have seen and well worth emulating.

It is simple, counter-intuitive and poses an interesting question; all of which makes it very difficult not to click. Other companies will have subject matter or ‘stories’ that could be treated in the same way on the home page.

www.pmi.com

Fashion and good navigation can work together. Maybe.

Anyone who follows our thoughts will know that we’re not big fans of the current trend towards minimalist navigation on corporate websites. We can see the attraction of clearing left menus out of the way, and for simple sites it’s quite fine – but for more complex ones usability always suffers. Or at least it has everywhere we have looked. Apologies if you’re bored with the whole subject, but there may be a way out.

The trend is overwhelming. A few sites have relaunched in the last couple of years with left nav – BP, Total, NovoNordisk come to mind – but they are many times outnumbered by those that have taken the minimalist route. While we would be quite happy if everyone headed back to menu-land, that isn’t going to happen. So let’s keep looking for a compromise.

We have an expression – the navigation challenge – that is all about finding that compromise. Can anyone create a complex site that mixes top usability with ‘no left nav’ on a full size screen (the sort used by most visitors to corporate sites)? We run tests with realistic journeys. For example a jobseeker in the careers section checking out a company’s environmental credentials and history. Or a financial journalist looking first at quarterly results, then the annual report, then the latest press releases. These require horizontal movement, perhaps deep within the site. And that’s tricky when you have got rid of a nicely visible set of links alongside the page.

A few companies do not acknowledge the problem. ExxonMobil makes you click and scroll like anything, especially in an area like Investors that does not have a dropdown menu. But most make at least some effort to tackle it. Big dropdown panels are the most common technique – the best, as used by Barclays, allow you to drill down into the site; and so by extension move across it when you are already deep in it. But you always have to click again to see the panel, and unless there is a breadcrumb trail as well, you cannot see easily where you are. Shell does have a trail, but the panel only goes down one level, so it is hard to avoid scrolling and scanning to move around. A fashionable spin on this is to have a mobile-style ‘hamburger’ menu to display a panel – though I don’t really understand this as it removes the option of having a different panel for each main link.

Other ideas have surfaced. Daimler uses the hamburger thing, but also changes the top menu as you move from the first to the second level: it could be clever, but I find it more confusing than anything. Qualcomm and ABB both use narrow strips down the left – click on different elements and panels pop out with more options. These look elegant, but have the same disadvantage as dropdown panels – you have to click them each time you want to do something.

Then last week we wrote up a particularly promising one in a BC Tip: Verizon’s ‘triple deck’ approach. Double deck menu bars used to be fairly widespread in the old days, though always in combination with a left menu – they were one way of keeping that menu shorter on a deep site. But the triple decker approach is designed to replace a left menu, and it works pretty well – the top two menus are in view when you are at the second or third level, so you can get around a fair bit without having to open up a new menu. But the third level menu does not stay in place when you are looking at a page down there – see for example the quarterly results page. That’s a drawback.

So can there be an answer to the navigation challenge? I think the Verizon approach could come close, with a bit of modification: keep all decks of the menu in view at lower levels, squeeze them together to free up viewable space. Maybe add a fourth deck. ‘Stick’ the menu to the top of the screen. If the links being used are highlighted, you will have a de facto breadcrumb trail. Then see how easy it is to move around. Of course minimalist purists will scoff because lots of links will be in view. Let them I say: it’s the users I care about.

Not all fashion is bad

We may not like what’s going on in navigation, but a trend we do rather like is for ‘looping videos’, particularly on home pages. They bring gentle life to what can otherwise be rather dull pictures – JK Rowling thought them up for her Daily Prophet newspaper, but here they are flourishing on Muggle websites. We wrote about some of them last year and were not enthusiastic, saying that ‘they can be headache-inducing’. But we were talking then about the very short, and thus inevitably dull, Vine videos – seeing the same thing again every six seconds is likely to have you reaching for an aspirin.

But the new generation videos are longer and subtler, with ‘joins’ that are hard to spot. There are several, stacked, on the home page of Verizon’s corporate site: the drone at the top is fun, though I think the low profile videos of kids in a classroom, or even a lady whose head moves a little, work particularly well. If you want more examples, try TNO, Siemens’ current home page, and Tetrapak’s innovation section. There will surely be more; no aspirin needed. 

David Bowen

Zombie home pages

Is the corporate website site dead? Is content marketing ailing? Is Twitter dying? The world of technology journalism likes to pose such questions, usually in click-baity headlines, every now and then. Invariably, the answer is "no".

A few years back, it was the turn of the home page. "Is the home page dead?" asked the Columbia Journalism Review in January 2013. "The home page is dead", Quartz helpfully answered in a May 2014 headline.

As we pointed out at the time, while it was true that news websites such as the New York Times were seeing a relative drop in the proportion of home page visits, because more people were arriving deeper in the site (via links to articles from Twitter and Facebook, for example), this was not the case for corporate websites.

And it's not the case now, either.

As this chart from Bowen Craggs' latest Google Analytics benchmarking survey (which covers some of the world's biggest companies) shows, the proportion of corporate website visitors arriving via the home page remained sky-high and rock-solid - indeed if anything it went up a bit - between 2014 and 2015. 

Bowen Craggs Google Analytics Benchmarking Survey 2016

So what about news sites' home pages? Are they still dead? I can happily report that they are now back to being alive. I know this because I read it just yesterday in the technology press. See for yourself here

- Scott Payton