Linear Navigation
Navigating through your website in a straight line

Straight line navigation

Linear navigation is used when you want the visitor to go from one step to another in a particular order. This form of straight line navigation is usually seen within a website's structure but seldom used as a stand alone design.

The idea behind linear navigation is that the visitor is enticed to follow the pages in a predefined order or sequence that you have chosen. This pattern of visitor interaction is determined by you the webmaster.

Linear navigation in website design

Linear navigation is particularly usefull for tutorials like this one or study guides in general. But, it also has many other uses. Photo galleries lend themselves well to linear navigation as do shopping carts and check-out areas on commercial websites.
To gain a better understanding of this type of guided visitor behavior see the linear navigation diagram below.

Linear Navigation Diagram

Linear navigation diagram

The mechanics of linear navigation

The graphic diagram above shows how a linear navigation scheme is linked. As you can see each page of content is designed to link directly to another in a pattern that is determined by the webmaster. This can take the form of building up an idea or progressing toward the purchase of a product. But, keep in mind that your visitor can opt-out at any time by using their browser buttons so keep each page brief and to the point. Express your point of view clearly on each page and avoid boring your visitor with unnecessary verbage or graphic distractions.

Linear navigation is used any time that you want your visitor to follow a bread crumb trail, or train-of-thought, through your website content. This type of navigation establishes a predefined path through your site that can be used to promote a product or idea. By using this method you can direct your visitors step-by-step or page-by-page toward whatever goal you have in mind.

Arrange your webpage links in such a manner that they only permit movement in a straight line from one page to another. By doing this you are setting up the basic layout of your website in such a way as to compel the visitor to start at one end and continue to a conclusion. This is straight line (i.e. linear) navigation.

Reciprocal linking and linear navigation

Sometimes you might want your visitor to view a thread of information in a linear fashion with the option of back clicking. This is where reciprocal linking works well. Below is a diagram that explains how this is done.

Linear "reciprocal" Navigation Diagram

Linear reciprocal navigation diagram

Reciprocal navigation, just like linear navigation, follows a straight line through a website. But, it allows the visitor to move back and forth between a series of pages of content. To do this set-up your links with a start page an end page and provide reciprocal links that tie the intermediate pages together. This method of navigation will keep your visitor in one area of your website until they decide to opt out. Basically this is how a web browser works. The back and forward buttons in the toolbar perform this reciprocal function. You can move forward or back in your browser window but always in a straight line.

Website content and navigation

Website navigation is only a tool to help webmasters present their message, not an end in itself. It is the content that you provide to your visitors that is the key to designing a website that grows and expands across the internet.

You can have the most innovative and original navigation model on the Web but, if your content is lacking in interest and doesn't satisfy the people who visit your site it won't matter. Your visitors are looking for information and your website content must provide that information or your site will fail.

How you present your ideas and message to the people who visit your website is in large part determined by your choice of navigation model and website structure. A concise and intuitive navigation scheme should be your goal. Remember, the people who are visiting your website do so seeking information and your navigation scheme is the framework for dispensing this knowledge. Design it in such a way that this is accomplished as clearly and concisely as possible.

The next type of website navigation we will study is database navigation.

BACK: Website NavigationNEXT: Database Navigation

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