Thesis: Usability and Website Navigation an Analysis

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¶ … Usability and Website Navigation

An Analysis of Site Navigation Techniques (ebuyer.com)

Identify Different techniques used provided to users by interaction designers to help them find their way in a complex website with a focus on site navigation

The criticality of having usability defined for the specific needs of a given website's target audience and market segments precisely defined as been shown to be a catalyst of significantly greater levels of loyalty over time (Heim, Sinha, 2001). Developing a usability strategy and executing it however is not enough. There is ample empirical evidence showing how critical it is for any company or organization with a website to continually seek feedback on how it can be improved and made more usable over time (Norgaard, Hornbaek, 2009). From this standpoint, usability as a design objective for specific audiences and market segments must be interactive and collaborative in nature. Strategies for enabling continual customer listening, collaboration, and communication with regard to the development of enhanced navigation to a website over time is relying on Web 2.0 technologies more than ever before (Bernoff, Li, 2008). Web 2.0 serves as the foundational technological element of social networking applications, which are used for gaining additional insights into how usability designs can be made more responsive to the unique needs and requirements of users over time. Appendix I: Web 2.0 Applications provides an analysis of each of these social networking applications used for listening to the unmet needs, concerns and recommendations of website users for augmented usability and navigation. In the last two years, social networking applications have been responsible for a revolutionary change in how usability is evaluated, managed and augmented over time. One of the best-known examples of this is the work completed by Facebook on their Beacon Program (Tsai, 2008), a tracking system for measuring where Facebook users visited on the Internet. The beacon system would then report back cross-sell and up-sell preferences and changed the entire Facebook interface without the consent of those users who had the "beacon" attached to their accounts. When this was discovered there was uproar across the blogosphere (Tsai, 2008) in addition to many people and organizations with Facebook accounts cancelling them. This example underscores how powerful social networking has become in evaluating usability and gaining insights and feedback from customers.

Basic navigational aspects of any website need to strive first for consistency and predictability, followed by transparency and the ability to quickly differentiate between services offered in addition to products and 3rd party advertising (Brooks, Magun, 2008). The use of breadcrumbs as the dominant means of tracking paths throughout websites has given way to contextually-based menus (Tucker, 2008. Figure 1, ebuyer.com laptop catalog, shows this specific usability in use.

Figure 1: ebuyer.com use of contextual menu systems for navigation

Also apparent in Figure 1 is the successful balancing of services offered by ebuyer.com and the 3rd party advertisements used to underwrite the cost of the website as well. Relying more on a balanced approach to 3rd party advertising that does not interfere with primary navigation yet also provides for value to site visitors adds value to the site (Brooks, Magun, 2008).

Driven by the increased insight into how users need to have several approaches to navigating through content, the increased availability of knowledge management systems that can provide multiple paths to data to nurture greater loyalty (Applen, 2002) and the reliance on recommendation management systems (Schonfeld, 2007), websites are attempting to have a multi-role structure. Figure 2, ebuyer.com use of knowledge management and recommendation management systems to provide greater usability is evident in the pull-down menu of sort criteria. The use of this specific navigational element is to provide for access to multiple content taxonomies quickly depending on the specific attribute of interest (Fang, Holsapple, 2007). The menu-based approach is overtaking the breadcrumb and trackable path usability and navigational approaches as it allows for product and service taxonomies to be parsed significantly faster.

Figure 2: ebuyer.com use of knowledge management and recommendation management systems to provide greater usability

The use of recommendation systems in website design also increases the level credibility and loyalty over time and varies widely in its implication from a usability and navigational perspective. The most commonly used approach to integrating in recommendations and quantitative measures of performance in websites is to provide the option as a part of the Search selection (Schonfeld, 2007). This has in fact proven to alleviate confusion in prioritizing products and services during navigation throughout websites in general and catalogs specifically. The most well-known recommendation system is from Amazon.com. What is fascinating about this online retailer's approach to integrating the literally millions of product ratings and recommendations, personalization logic that guides preferences shown to users, and the use of localization based on opt-in data is that combined effect of these leads to significantly greater sales of recommended products. The Amazon.com recommendation system integrates at the system level several different databases so that a consistent, coherent and intuitively-based path through their website is delivered to users based on their preferences. At the process level the recommendation systems ensure a higher level of potential loyalty being achieved (Heim, Sinha, 2001). For ebuyer.com this translates into the challenge of ensuring recommendation systems, product catalogs, personalization and any pricing discount that apply to the specific user logged in all are taken into account. This strategy of ensuring a high level of usability over time predicated on system integration that leads to interprocess efficiency is critical for the success of any catalog-based online selling system

In Business-to-Business (B2B) sites specifically this approach to navigating through taxonomies has become increasingly common as a navigational and usability design practice as B2B companies often have several roles their purchasers, product evaluators, and members of the decision-making process undertake. Ebuyer.com does not significantly differentiate navigation for their mainstream Business-to-Consumer (B2C) versus B2B customers, yet it does have a forum that abides by the design principles of social networking to ensure a higher level of responsiveness with their customers (Bernoff, Li, 2008).

Another interesting aspect of the ebuyer.com website is the use of a multi-faceted classification in web site searching and browsing that enables for personalization for the ebuyer.com site (Uddin, Janecek, 2007). This navigational functionality in effect lets users of the site create their own taxonomies of product interest over time. When users can create their own taxonomies of interest, in effect their own personas or identities on a given website over time, there is significantly greater loyalty achieved (Heim, Sinha, 2001).

Navigational design and the development of usability standards throughout the development any effective website is also must take into account the wide variation in learning. Specifically taking into account the visual, auditory, read/write and kinesthetic (VARK) learning styles inherent in how varying audiences and segments of users access and use websites is also a critical aspect of creating consistent navigation and usability (Hossain, Abdullah, Prybutok, Talukder, 2009). These design principles are also reflected in the wide variation in electronic catalogs and their integration into the overall website. These specifically focus on two-dimensional, three-dimensional, and animated catalogs, in addition to virtual trials as well. The concept of using an evenly distributed mix of these representations has also been shown to compliment the learning and perceptual biases of older adults as well (Becker, 2004). Creating websites that take into account the wide variation in catalog approaches as defined in the VARK-based methodology defined also create multiple navigational paths through sites, which further provide users from all age groups with alternative approaches to learning and therefore increase usability over the long-term (Cappel, Haung, 2007). VARK methodologies for usability across websites are heavily reliant on content management, e-commerce, pricing, and services systems and processes being tightly integrated. To the extent these systems are interconnected is the extent to which usability can be defined from a strategic standpoint in terms of analyzing a website in terms of consistency of navigation. System integration is critical for usability to be consistent, and also support graphically-based recommendation systems (Wang, Dai, Yuan, 2008). As has been established, recommendation systems are critical components of usability that can nurture loyalty to a website overall and significantly enhance its usability as well (Heim, Sinha, 2001). Figure 3 provides an example of this level of integration in the ebuyer.com website, specifically with the content integration shown of recommendation systems, product catalog management, pricing and the use of social networking integration and publishing points. The support for multimedia-based demonstrations is also evident in the upper left corner of the screen, which is consistent with the VARK-based methodology (Cappel, Haung, 2007).

Figure 3: Evidence of system integration throughout the ebuyer.com site with the recommendation systems and product content management systems being integrated into a common Web-based catalog. Integration completed to this extent significantly increases usability

All of the usability frameworks, strategies, and techniques defined to this point are based on both theoretical analysis and empirical research to validate their assumptions over time. There is also further aspect of standards and their… [END OF PREVIEW]

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