Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Navigational Structure of the CSU, Chico Home Page - Then and Now

An analysis of the types of links on the CSU, Chico home page in 2003 and 2006.

In 2003, before our last "redesign", I cataloged some of the characteristics of our home page a la Jakob Nielsen in Homepage Usability. In beginning to think about the next redesign, I thought that it would be helpful to review the past and compare it to the present.

So, without further fanfare, here's the navigational structure of the CSU, Chico home page, circa 2003.


Navigation on websites is typically organized by various categories in order to help users make sense of what is available on the page.

There are many ways to categorize links: by task, type of user, topic, organization, etc. These groupings are often referred to as navigational schemes. Few websites use only one scheme. A well designed website might use several schemes, separated visually to differentiate the "audience" nav section from the "topic" nav section. This helps users recognize and easily use the organization scheme. "Current Students" is an audience segment, not a part of the campus organization; placing it with other audience segments and away from "Library", "Bookstore" and other organizational links makes the site easier to use and understand. Unfortunately, many sites - including Chico State mix-and-match schemes. See the page on Navigational Schemes for a more information.

There are 33 links on the Chico State homepage, and fall into four general categories: topical/informational, audience, organizational, and task. These categories are ambiguous and non-exclusive in nature, so it is possible that one link could fall into more than one category. For example, is "Athletics" an organizational or informational link? By following the link it was clear that it was intended to be informational, and was counted as such. Disagreement is certainly possible when categorizing links and schemes.

  • Topical/informational links dominate the Chico State home page, with over half (52%) being topical/informational. Some of these links were general in nature (e.g., "Campus Resources"), while others were very specific (e.g., "Directory"). 17 links on the home pa
  • Organizational links accounted for 27% of links and occurred primarily along the bottom of the page, though "Colleges & Departments" is clearly organizational.
  • Audience links all occurred in the main nav on the left side of the page. This is by nature a small group; and accounted for 12% of all links.
  • Task links are almost absent from the home page, accounting for only 12% of all links. Task-oriented links are most often used a shortcuts for common tasks, such as checking email or logging into the portal. However, they are often also used for activities such as "Apply for Financial Aid" and "Register for Classes".

As Rosenfeld and Moreville state in their book, "A single inconsistent [navigation] option can introduce an "apple and oranges" effect..." In those terms, the mixing and matching that occurs on the Chico State homepage is sort of a navigational fruit salad. The main navigation links mix several schemes together, and it is apparent that links at the bottom have accreted over time in no well-defined order.

A redesign might better group and separate schemes. Consideration might also be given to adding more task-oriented items. "Financial aid" is the second most searched for term on the site, indicating that a task-oriented link like "Apply for Financial Aid" might not be amiss.


In 2006, there are 38 links on the home page. Since the last "redesign" did not address home page links or site structure, almost all of the links are identical to the 2003 page.

Link 2003 2006
Degrees & Majors x x
College & Depts x x
Prospective Students x x
Current Students x x
Faculty & Staff x x
Alumni & Friends x x
Campus Resources x x
Life in Chico x x
Chico Today x x
Events & Calendars x x
Box Office x x
Inside Chico x x
New & Achievements x x
Admissions x x
Athletics x x
Bookstore x x
Library x x
Registration x x
Catalog x x
Class Schedule x x
Distance Education x x
Portal Login x x
President's Welcome
Administration x x
Make a Gift x x
Chico Values Diversity
Consumer Info
Help x x
Contact Us x x
Directory x x
Campus Map
About this Site x x
Announcements (more)
Announcements (more)
Email x x
Wildcat Mail
MS Exchange
Security Notice

User Services x
Student Computing x

The proportion of link types has not changed much either:

Link Type 2003 2006
Topical/Informational 17 20
Organizational 8 8
Audience 4 4
Task 4 6

No comments: