The cause of most confusing menus and links stems from organizational language and thinking. Take, for example, the FAQ. Over the years, I’ve found that most customers don’t know what a FAQ is. That certainly surprised me because I thought everyone knew that FAQ meant Frequently Asked Questions, just like everyone knows that the logo links to the homepage.
However, the FAQ has a deeper problem. From a customers’ perspective it is essentially a useless link. It is a classic example of organization-centric language.
I tried to renew my TV license recently and was offered two choices: General FAQs and Online Service FAQs. Which should I choose? On another website I was given two different choices: Frequently Asked Questions and Most Frequently Asked Questions.
You’re a visitor to Ireland and you’ve hired a car to drive around the country. You want to go to Mallow in Cork and on the way you see a signpost stating: “Frequently Visited Towns.” That’s helpful, isn’t it? Do you follow the sign or not? It will be the first time you’ve been to Mallow, but maybe Mallow is a frequently visited town. How do you know? Of course, you don’t know. How could you? The Irish road authorities know. They’ve got the data, so to them it makes sense. But to you, the traveler trying to get to Mallow, it’s useless.
How about the link “Useful Links”? Is that useful? What are all the other links? Useless Links? And what about “Quick Links?” Are the other links slow? And what about “Tools”? Is that helpful? When you go to an airline website are you looking for a tool or are you looking to book a flight?
It’s incredibly hard to create clear menus and links that are truly customer centric because there is a pressure to be organization-centric.
We were trying to simplify the links in one website recently and an IT person became agitated. “We have to have a Tools section,” he said, “because that’s what we look after and we need that section so that we can have proper control over it.”
But if we have a Tools section, shouldn’t we also have a section called “Stuff,” or “Content” or “Information” or “Infinity and Beyond”?
The Web team’s single greatest challenge is to truly think like and use the language of the customer. However, there is pressure is to think like and use the language of the organization.
I do a lot of presentations. I have a presentation folder and inside that folder are names like “Microsoft” or “Cisco” or “HP.” This works for me because I’m preparing a Microsoft presentation and calling it “Microsoft” is logical to me. However, how useful do you think it is if I send a copy of my presentation to Microsoft and it’s still named “Microsoft”? What I really need to do is call it something like “Gerry McGovern Presentation.”
Naming things based on your internal working structure is fine in certain cases. But when you want to make these things public you need to rethink how you organize and name them.