Gerry McGovern // New Thinking

Why audience navigation usually doesn’t work

January 29, 2012 -- Gerry McGovern

Links cause most problems when they overlap and audience based links are particularly problematic.

Some years ago we worked with an educational website. They had links such as Teachers, Students, etc. All seemed very logical and reasonable. Until we started testing tasks.

We gave teachers tasks about putting together some sort of classroom exercise. We expected them to click on Teachers but they kept clicking on Students. Why? Because even though they were teachers they were using the website from a task point of view. They were putting together a student exercise and clicked on Students. With audience-based navigation you’re not sure if the link is FOR the audience or ABOUT the audience.

We have found that where audience-based navigation works well is where the audiences are totally separate, meaning that they have totally different tasks. So, there might be logic to audience navigation on a council website for Business and Citizens. It might also work on a tax website for Individuals and Business.

We worked with one government website that had links such as Seniors, Women, Disabled, Minorities. What if I’m an older woman who is disabled and part of a minority group? I saw an agriculture website that had links Farmers, Exporters, Researchers. What if I’m a farmer who exports and want to do research?

Dell is company that continues to feel like it has lost its way. There are many excellent aspects to the Dell website, but its core navigation is anti-customer.

When I go to the Dell website I want to buy a laptop. What I’m forced to do first is choose For Home or For Small and Medium Business, etc. I don’t want to do that. In tests, I have found that 90% of people don’t want to do that. Not alone is this audience-based navigation irritating; It reduces trust. I’m thinking: ‘If I choose Home, will I get a worse price than if I choose Business?’

Why does Dell do this? Because that’s how it’s organized internally. It forces its internal organization structure onto its customers. In an age of the empowered customer that doesn’t work well.

One of the most irritating things about audience-based websites is that you click down several levels reading bland marketing content only to reach, for example, a generic price list that is for everybody.

For example, when I click on the Schools section of the Dell website I get a whole load of generic content, including the following: “Dell is focused on a complete range of solutions that helps enterprise customers reach TCO and ROI goals.” What has that got to do with Schools?

If you’re considering audience-based navigation, ask yourself these questions: Are my audiences totally distinct and separate from each other?
Are their tasks totally different?
Do I have the budget and resources to build and maintain unique content for my audiences?