At the Adobe Summit earlier this year, I heard a speaker say to the crowd, “We all generally, agree, don’t we, that navigation is dead?” Meaning, that search is everything, and faceted searching equals all the navigation you need.

It’s a common refrain these days. I am willing to concede that navigation is fading in importance in light of robust search technology and ever better SEO. But after a summer of interviewing and watching customers work with product documentation information, I think good navigation is an essential and supportive partner to search; at least for a little while yet.

The Citrix Information Experience team is re-designing the product documentation experience, and we’re not throwing out efforts to improve navigation. We’ve learned a lot recently:

  1. We surveyed 1200 eDocs users and conducted more than 50 in-depth interviews to understand our users better.
  2. We observed two large buckets that users tend to fall into.
  3. We observed a typical pattern:  Users begin their information search journey with a Google.com search, then zero in and refine by navigation. And depending on whether they know exactly what they are looking for, they behave differently.

Our research demonstrates that users utilize what is provided to them: search and navigation. I call these groups the seekers and the hunters. Interestingly, most people will tell you that they prefer or use one of these methods above the other, and yet observation shows that they mostly use a combination.

Seekers

Seekers want to solve a specific problem. They are often in crisis, in a hurry, maybe even desperate. They go strait to the mountain sage and ask their question. Heart pounding, they seek the one true answer. Seekers are a faithful and consistent lot. (They are also the majority of our users.) Sometimes, however, they give more credence to the answers they are handed, because they believe in the sage.
Seekers have questions like:

  • What are the new features?
  • Does our Receiver version support the new iOS release?
  • What database is supported?
  • Why are so many sessions getting locked out?
  • Can I add a site to my StoreFront?

The sage of our time is Google.com. If impatient, (or, if the answer is not in the first 4 search hits), they abandon, disappointed.

Our seeker customers need excellent search engine technology. If they choose the local search box, it has to be as good as Google.com. They deserve and expect nothing less.

Hunters

Hunters want understanding. They have experienced tracking skills. They need informational sustenance — a whole meal of information or supplies for the winter ahead. They have enough persistence to pause, look or sniff around, pick out some clues, and follow a trail (if it’s not too long). They get frustrated less quickly than the seeker. They might not have a single simple question, but are often looking for broader information. They want the book, the report, the overview – a swath of information. They have a whole series of questions. They might even break off the trail to follow an interesting lead. They are not in an emergency. They are stalkers at heart and sometimes enjoy a good chase or a romp in the wilderness.

Hunters have questions like:

  • Our deployment is 5 years old — should we move to the newer version?
  • They use Citrix at my new job, so I need to study their implementation
  • How many products do I need to add mobile device management?
  • Can I move application management to the cloud?
  • My CIO doesn’t understand what a Citrix solution can do – I need to prepare a report and explain it to her
  • Does our Citrix implementation meet the standards for that new government contract we’re going after?

Our hunter customers need excellent site navigation to help them understand the landscape, get their bearings, and pursue understanding. They benefit from good navigation, context, and discovery. Even seekers tend to use navigation and context after an initial Google.com search targets them into Citrix.com. Especially if they are not certain of the terminology or specific information they are looking for.

Google.com is difficult to match

Customers are clamoring for better enterprise search. One very real challenge is that it is amazingly difficult to develop search for local web sites that is as good as Google.com. It’s hard to beat, well, even match, all those PhD think tankers at Google who do nothing but refine and refine their algorithms into world-class best of breed search. There’s no problem with customers using Google.com as their primary entry point to our product documentation – it’s very smart to do so. There are several projects at Citrix studying this problem and we WILL succeed.

WHEN we have local searching within Citrix information sites working as well as Google.com, we can begin to rely less on navigation schemes. But until then, we need to provide robust navigation, and keep testing whether navigation benefits the users.

Plenty of room for good navigation

Until users can find everything they want with search alone, navigation is not dead. And our research indicates that customers still use and need it.

In Citrix IX, we haven’t removed navigation from our redesign project. We’re making sure our navigational strategies help fill any gaps. We are dedicated to providing rich, contextual stories for users painted by great navigation. When it’s a snap for the enterprise web search to match what Google.com does, we’ll rethink that. We want to take care of seekers and hunters alike.

Browse, search and linked product versions

I’d love to hear what you think!