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Chapter 5: Evaluating Web Sites
Site Navigation Testing
Once the first layers of the site have been examined, it is time to perform simple tests to probe the quality of the global site navigation. Good sites will provide consistent, well-executed navigation and should provide alternative navigation schemes, such as site maps, indexes, and search engines. First, look to make sure that placement of navigation is consistent from page to page. Subtle shifting may occur, so try browsing the site extremely fast and notice whether the menu items bounce or jump position slightly from page to page. Even this minor variation can break the perceived stability of a site. Next, look to see how robust the navigation is and whether multiple forms of site navigation are supported. Numerous navigation execution questions should be asked during this phase. Is the current location clearly indicated with labels or link path indicators? Does the site have text links at the bottoms of pages? Is alternative text used for graphical navigation buttons? Does the site require excessive scrolling? Are back-to-top links used on longer pages? Does the site have a map or index? The questionnaire in Appendix B presents many of the questions you should be asking during the navigation analysis phase.

One form of navigation that deserves special attention, if present, is the search facility. Very often, search is poorly implemented in a site, despite the fact that more and more users are coming to rely on it. Chapter 9 presents a thorough discussion of how search should be implemented in a site; but for now, focus on how the search is accessed, how it deals with errors, and how both positive and negative results are presented. Search facilities should be clearly marked and easily accessible from every page. A well-implemented search should correct errors or at least clearly indicate them when they occur. Once a positive query is returned, the results should be easy to navigate and refine. All these issues are covered in the sample evaluation; but if you evaluate sites on your own, make sure to enter nonsense queries and "extreme positive" queries, like the organization name, in the search field, to see how the extreme cases are handled.

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