Global navigation options on IT websites haven’t changed since the beginning of the Internet. You must have Products for the buyers, Support for the customers, Partners for the partners, and About for the investors – and everyone else.
But does it need to be that way forever?
Recently Adobe.com ditched its unique hamburger navigation panel design for a more conventional link-based style.
But as it turns out Adobe.com’s new navigation is far from conventional.
Unlike most sites that display the standard set of navigation options, Adobe.com has limited its new navigation to its product groups – “Creativity & Design,” “Marketing & Analytics,” “PDF & E-Signatures,” and “Business Solutions” (with “Support” added in for good measure). Gone are those pesky “About Adobe” and “How to Buy” links. Now, it’s all about the products.
Adobe isn’t alone. Other sites have joined the product-only global navigation bandwagon. HP.com, HPE.com, Microsoft.com, and Apple.com have their own versions of this approach. Even IBM.com toyed with it for a while.
And it’s no wonder. This navigation strategy has a lot going for it. It gives products the limelight, simplifies global navigation designs and makes sites that use siloed architectures more logical. But it’s not for every site. In fact, if not thought out properly, this approach can do some damage to your corporate ecosystem — and bottom line.
“When your navigation shows your main services or products, your site will communicate instantly.” – Andy Crestodina, Are You Making These Common Website Navigation Mistakes?
What’s in a name?
As it turns out, everything. When we look at the sites that use this navigation strategy, one thing stands out — name recognition. All the companies whose sites use this approach already have very strong name recognition — HP, HPE, Apple, Microsoft, and Adobe.
This doesn’t mean that lesser known companies can’t use this approach. Putting products front and center can convey a lot about a company. But if your company’s name isn’t on the tip of everyone’s tongue, then introducing your company is as important as the products you offer. So, keeping the “About” link nearby isn’t a bad idea.
Name recognition also determines how these sites structure their navigation. When it comes to naming conventions, each site plays to its company’s sweet spot.
The companies that sell easily recognized products use the names of those products as global navigation options. This luxury is usually limited to consumer companies that have millions of people clamoring for their Xboxes or iPhones.
Companies that sell solutions-class products use monikers that communicate the product or solution type. This is a perfect fit for the likes of HPE.com that sells enterprise products or HP.com that sells hardware. But there are exceptions.
For example, Adobe.com, which has made its Photoshop software a household name in design, just started using solutions-based naming conventions to better align with the business markets they’re seeking to woo and win.
Home is where the footer is
When you turn in your standard navigation strategy for a one that only shows products, some audiences in your ecosystem are invariably moved to the cheap seats.
Partners, who enjoyed pride of place in the global navigation may suddenly find themselves relegated to a small link in a crowded footer. Same goes for other important supporting characters, such as developers, investors, and members of the press.
The sad fact is there isn’t any space for corporate ecosystem players in a product-only navigation strategy. The only people that get attention are the buyers.
That’s okay for some companies that have enough pull to draw in even the most reluctant partners. But companies with that type of reputation don’t grow on trees.
Check it out
The other crucial link that ends up in the footer is the one that speeds visitors to the checkout line – “How to Buy.”
That may not be a big deal if your company only has one way to begin the purchasing process, like contacting sales. But what if you are a site like HPE.com that has multiple purchasing options, such as online stores, configuration systems, financial services, and resellers? Well then, that vital repository of purchasing venues takes a backseat too.
Omitting the “How to Buy” link in the global navigation panel also puts added pressure on your calls to action to be consistent, persistent, and always on point. Who does call to action best? The 2017 Call to Action Index results point to Usability leaders Dell.com, DellEMC.com, and Adobe.com for best practice behaviors in this all-important category.
The bottom line
As attractive as the product-only global navigation strategy is, there is much more to it than meets the eye.
Before moving to this structure it’s important to identify the site functions and corporate audiences that will be left on the cutting room floor once product-only global navigation is in play.
It’s also essential to consider the impact that editing these links out of global navigation will have on accessibility of information for these functions and audiences — and to have a strong plan B in place in case your traffic stats tank or the natives get restless.
Perhaps the past is prologue
Earlier in this post we mentioned that IBM.com previously played with product-only global navigation. In 2016, the site boasted a product-focused navigation menu paired with a hamburger menu — very forward-thinking stuff for the time.
Given that IBM boasts name recognition, product dominance, and a loyal corporate ecosystem, this approach should have panned out for IBM just as well as Adobe, Apple, HP, HPE, and Microsoft undoubtedly hope it will now. Yet, for some reason, within months this global navigation strategy was replaced by the conventional structure we see today.
Maybe IBM.com was just ahead of its time. Or maybe the team at IBM learned what the folks at Adobe, Microsoft, and the others have yet to find out — that you really can’t teach old visitors new tricks.
Category: Case Study
Websites Profiled: Adobe, Apple, HP, HPE, Microsoft, IBM