I’ve written about the importance of labels before. In particular, examining link text (aka “anchor text”) as a label of the material it links to is a fruitful exercise. When I help people reorganize their websites and navigation menus, improving the menu labels is frequently the biggest “win” of the project.
Five-Point “Audit Framework”
Recently, I read “Four Dangerous Navigation Approaches that Can Increase Cognitive Strain” and it included a fabulous five-attribute test on which to judge menu labels:
When we evaluate labels, we test them against the following 5 criteria:
Label Audit Framework
Attribute Description Accurate True to the content Concise Streamlined; contains just enough words and no more Familiar Uses meaningful words to describe options and doesn’t require users to already know the offerings Comprehensive Adequately describes all of the section’s content Front-loaded Starts with the “most–information-carrying word(s)”
I don’t think I could put that better myself. Which is why I copied-and-pasted it here.
In particular, the authors found that “Familiarity” is often the biggest problem, and that aligns with my general observations too. It’s easy to use a technical term or bit of intra-organizational jargon in a menu. Don’t.
Don’t Make People Think
The whole article linked above is worth reading and will be familiar to anyone who has read Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think, Krug just simplifies “cognitive strain” to “thinking.”
A good menu uses terms that a user already knows. When you’re successful, the site visitor skips “I wonder where this link will take me?” and jumps straight to “Now that’s what I was looking for.”