Avoid Dead Ends

If you conduct yesterday’s exercise a few times, it’s fairly likely you’ll encounter a common problem with most websites: the dead-end page. Someone has progressed along one of the many paths through your site, and now they’re at a page where they can go no further. This, very simply, should never be allowed to happen.

Now, I’m not talking about the ever-present get-out-of-jail-free card of a standard header or footer that always lets people get to some of your key starting points again — that’s not progressing: that’s simply going back to the beginning. No, I’m talking about harnessing the momentum someone already has. Someone is merrily moving through your site, sufficiently engaged to actually click links and do/discover more, rather than just bouncing straight back out to somewhere more appealing. If they get to a page where there’s nothing obvious to do, or nowhere obvious to go next, then you’ve lost them.

There are two main ways out of this problem. The second, more indirect approach, which I’ll talk about in more detail later, is simply to make sure that everything that could be a link is one. But ideally you should also have something much more direct and obvious that you want people to do from this page. You site may be super tightly focussed, with only one thing it’s trying to drive every visitor towards. Or there might be lots of options. Either way every page should be clearly and explicitly helping people towards at least one goal — and it should be obvious to anyone looking at the page what that is.

If someone is simply browsing at your site out of curiosity, you don’t even necessarily need to drive them towards some other form of action yet — you can simply provide them more options to go deeper, or view other similar pages. One particularly effective, but often-overlooked option is to let them sign up for alerts when something new happens — when there’s new information on this topic, or when a person concerned does something else, or even just when someone adds a comment to the page. The options will differ depending on what the page is, but the key underlying approach is the same absolutely everywhere: after someone is done with this page, make sure there’s something obvious for them to do next.