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Suppose we have a horizontal menu at the top of our website like this:

products | pricing | help | login | 800-555-1234

When is it appropriate to combine help/support with contact us?

We want to keep our menu clear with as few options as possible. While currently it is clear how to get help (as in self-help from forums and online documentation), is it clear how to get support by contacting us?

Where do these two contexts merge, and how can this relationship or distinction be clearly presented to the users?

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Almost never. I always strive to give clear links to both even when the actual content appears on the same page.

You can use links to in-page headings (anchors) to direct people to the correct part of a combined contact+support page based on the link they click to bring them there.

The links are there to accommodate motivations, and support vs. general contact needs have very different motivations. Not providing clear pathways based on those motivations means you'll end up with terms that might not resonate as clearly, or ask visitors to guess more than they might be willing to.

To be clear I'm not saying you shouldn't ever combine the content of general contact with support, but rather offer distinct ways to that content that don't combine the two.

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You have a good point about the user's motivation to click. I bet if we kept Support and Contact separate, we could fill both unique pages with valuable, targeted content. –  Matt Dec 19 '11 at 4:39
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Help/Support includes Contact, so I'd say it's safe to just put Help/Support.

Who wants Help will find it easily, who wants to Contact will go with the obvious Help option. Nevertheless, I'd put an extra Contact link on the right hand side of the footer, as you normally expect to find.

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More users look first for ContactUs, unless they are visiting the site specifically for support.

As for "how can this relationship or distinction be clearly presented to the users": by the designer being clear about the distinction, and the importance of each. So, we do not merge them. Incidentally, aren't Products and Pricing inter-related?

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Yes they are, good question. In our case, we actually have one product but two very different ways to access and use it. Consequently, the two deliver very unique value to the customer. The two are almost opposites except that they do the same thing at the core. We separated the "products" and "pricing" options because, for example, one is subscription and the other is one-time. Plus, we've found in our analytics that our users prefer a clear & transparent "Pricing" option. –  Matt Dec 19 '11 at 4:43
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