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So we have a website that got really big over the years, there were no UX-Designer involved before and the current website navigation is really messy and hard to understand for users.

Since we are planning to do a complete relaunch i am wondering whats the best approach to improve the website navigation?

When we did usability testing of the current site and navigation we found that many of our older visitors know how to navigate to get to their goal, but not because the navigation was so logical, rather because over the years they managed to work around our mistakes.

Now our project managers are scared to change the navigation to much because "users will get mad because they have to learn it all over again".

So whats the best way to rebuild a website-navigation? How would you approach this?

If necessary: we have arround 20.000 - 30.000 visitors each day, most of them are customers that open the website a few times a day.

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Generals

  • Let them search!: if the users are used to get through the navigation forest and arrive , let's say, at a "inventory report" page, just give them the change to search that section in a search bar and go straight to it (also matching any similar words that they could relate that section with). If you can't put a search bar in the home page (although if you have enough sections, you should), maybe you can add it in subsections as a form of filter. Once they get to the sections, get sure the breadcrumb is there, so they can "reverse engineer" how to get there through the navigation if they like so.
  • Get the stats of the most used functionalities of your site and get sure to make them quickly accessible for them. Those quick accesses could be set already in the first login in the new site, based on the history and most recent activity of that user.
  • Give the users to ability to customize those quick accesses manually.

  • I won't go heavy on changing the "leaves of the tree" meaning the actual name of the pages that users visit and probably remember. Just do it if it doesn't make sense and a new name will result undoubtedly clarifying and on point. If you change the structure where that page is contained and it's well thought, they'all adapt fast. Probably after some expected whining :).

  • Ask users. Bring them in: As mentioned in the other comment card sorting is a good option. Also just ask them how you could make their daily actions more practically while navigating the site, it's likely you get great insights from that. As I said above, you can get a little ahead of their thoughts by checking the stats, if you have them. If that's not the case, I really recommend you to start registering user actions. After 1 month you'll already have a good enough sample to analyze users most accessed sections.

Before launch

  • Make one main video tutorial or some kind of instructional document with some examples of how to get the old stuff in the new way, featuring the most used functionalities or paths in the navigation, showing how easier and better it's now. Explain that they will get used to it and enjoy it soon. Plus you'll save time in customer service.
  • Communication: You could probably email that video with the news 2/3/4 days prior to the launch so it's not like "whoa, what the hell is this", they should all know with anticipation that this is happening and that it won't be headache inducing and you're there to help and make thins easier.
  • Progressive: If possible, don't change the site for the whole user base at a time. Try maybe 5% (~1000 users) and then see what issues or concerns arise in that limited sample so you can make improvements before reaching the whole user base.
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Card Sorting exercises are generally the best first activity to undertake when reorganizing a menu structure or starting information architecture. One thing I really like about doing exercises like this is you can do sessions with internal stakeholder, client stakeholders and current users. If you have internal stakeholders scared of making User Centred changes looping them into the UX processes and exercises is a great way to demonstrate value an generate buy-in.

Another great tool here would be User Flows. Remember navigation isn't the only way to lead users through a site. Being able to anticipate their next steps and guide them to the appropriate pages through CTAs, related content blocks, or on-page selective sub-navigation is super user friendly. Identifying your key user roles/personas and building some User Flows for through will definitely show you some navigational improvements.

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