Written by: John Hooley
Heladería Coromoto in Merida, Venezuela has over 860 flavors of ice cream. Flavors include saltwater fish, garlic, avocado, and concoctions with names like “British Airways” (which I assume tastes like Earl Grey tea and Biscoff cookies). Visiting an ice cream parlor like Coromoto is fun in large part because of the number of flavors. Figuring out exactly what you want is a delicious and entertaining challenge. However, the number of options you present can create exactly the opposite experience as well, frustrating and angering people. This issue is actually one of the key obstacles that prevents members from having an intuitive experience with your association website. In this blog post we’ll explore how this occurs, how it impacts your website, and a quick fix to overcome it and make your site instantly more intuitive.
How can the number of choices entertain in one context and frustrate in another?
Imagine it’s a sunny July day and you’re heading out the door to indulge your inner eight year old with a waffle cone from Ben and Jerry’s. As you leave, your spouse asks you to get a scoop of the cookie dough flavored ice cream for them.
At the ice cream counter, you spend five minutes sampling everything before deciding on a scoop of Bourbon Brown Butter for yourself. You’re happy, but then you turn to the task of feeding your spouse and ask yourself, “Okay, where’s the cookie dough?”
Perusing the glass case, it takes you a bit, but you find, “Chip off the Dough Block.” That must be it. But wait, as you walk down to the clerk you notice, “Wake and No Bake”- is that it? Marching up and down the case, you discover “Cindoughrella.” Is that what they meant? Or “PB Doughable Chocolate?” Or “The Tonight Dough?” You end up getting frustrated and ordering them a scoop of vanilla. They’re lucky you’re getting them anything! Storming out the door, you glance at the case one last time and your eyes lock on, “Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough.” You stamp your feet and toss the scoop of vanilla into the garbage!
That’s the frustration in these situations, because here’s the thing:
Our precious little brains can only hold so many choices in our mental “bucket” at a time. Scientists call this working memory and it’s been shown that most people can’t hold more than 4 - 5 items in their mental buckets. Processing 38 flavors of ice cream is hard and creates a mental challenge. Challenges can be fun in the right context, like choosing your ice cream, but they can be frustrating in others where you’re just trying to accomplish a goal, like getting your spouse’s ice cream.
Your Association Website Options
On your website, this situation occurs in your navigation. Visitors are coming to your website, not for an entertaining challenge, but to achieve a goal. They want to:
- Sign up
- Access online training
- Get a question answered
- Register for an event
- Connect with other members
- And more...
Your navigation is their primary tool for them getting what they want. It’s the ice cream case for visitors.
If you overload visitors with options and try to present everything available on the website you’re going to make them work for what they want and frustrate them.
So what’s the answer? Remove options. Every page you remove from your navigation makes it instantly more intuitive.
In our ice cream parlor example, imagine how easy it would be to find what you’re looking for if the only flavors were chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. That would be so easy a child could get their parent a scoop (no marriages ending at that ice cream counter!)
How Many Pages Should Be In Your Navigation?
How many pages should there be in your main navigation?
No more than four.
I’m only half-joking, because that’s the chocolate, vanilla, strawberry level of intuitiveness that our brains are designed to easily process. Unfortunately, there are probably more than four things your visitors are looking to get out of your website.
I like to quote Albert Einstein when thinking about what to remove and what to keep, “Make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler.”
The closer you can get to 5 main navigational items and 4-5 sub-navigation items (e.g. a drop down menu), the more intuitive the experience will be for your members.
Be Selective About What to Show Members
There are several tactics to re-organize and curate the pages available in your navigation. In general, I recommend to remove options that don’t serve members from the main navigation and put them in secondary navigation options (like the footer or a smaller text top navigation) or remove them altogether.
Every page you remove from your navigation makes the remaining items more potent. You have to weigh how useful a page is to your visitors, members, and mission versus the tax it creates in your members minds when they try to find what they’re looking for.
5 Fixes to Build Engagement With Your Association’s Website
Creating a more intuitive navigation is just one tactic that you can use to build member engagement with your website.
If you attend this year’s annual MASAE 2019 meeting, I’ll share with you an additional “5 Fixes to Build Engagement With Your Association's Website.” You’ll learn not only specific techniques to improve your navigation that build on what I’ve shared here, but also:
● What unfair advantage you have over your association’s competitors.
● How to create value for members without working more or hiring someone.
● A 3 minute test to get actionable feedback on what on your website is hurting your association.
On top of all this, the session is packed with shortcuts, tips, and strategies that will help you better serve your members. It’s designed specifically for you, the association professional, with tactics you have the power to implement.
If you register for MASAE and attend my session you’ll receive a free copy of our $19 e-book on this topic. (https://goresurgent.com/products/5-fixes-ebook.html)
Save $50 by Registering Today
It’s going to be a fantastic meeting with the theme, “Reaching the Peak of Association Leadership.” Save $50 by registering today as an early bird: https://www.midatlantic-sae.org/event-3296788
John Hooley is the president of Resurgent, a digital strategy agency with a mission of adding 90,000 members to professional communities by 2029. https://goresurgent.com