Navigation vs categorisation

If fear this is going to come off as a bit of a ramble, so bear with me…

The site I work on has its navigation as a list of categories, like most sites do. But sometimes word comes down from above that we want something else listed in the navigation that isn’t strictly a category. Usually we’re trying to give increased exposure to something popular. This usually causes some technical headaches as I then have do some hacky stuff to make a subcategory into a category that is still a subcategory.

For example, if we were Amazon and they list “home”, “electronics” etc, but you really really wanted “mp3 players” in this list, even though “mp3 players” is actually in “electronics” anyway. Now there’s a lot of different categories on our site, and people might not be aware of everything we sell (unlike Amazon), so it seems beneficial to put things in your navigation that sell well, but people might not know you do.

This sometimes seems a bit wrong, a bit hack-ish. But then I thought about what we call that list on our websites - we call it “navigation”. And what is “navigation”? It’s “how to find stuff”. We don’t call it “categorisation”, although categorisation is usually an aid to finding things. The fact that we call it “navigation” and not “categorisation” hints at what it’s main purpose is. Which makes me feel a bit better about putting “MP3 players” next to, and at the same level as, “electronics”.

Has anyone else found their site navigation go though similar bending-of-rules? Even if I get my head around the semantics of it, there’s still the technicalities. Do you duplicate top-level categories for the lower-level subcategories that you want to appear? Or is your navigation not necessarily the hierarchy’s top level? Perhaps you have your categorisation structure, and your navigation list simply points to whatever arbitrary location within the categories.

Another approach would be to maintain a categorisation-type navigation, but to push other popular lines through other means, such as image ads which maintain a look separate to the navigation. But the client, I think, wants to have his own way.

There’s never an easy answer for classifying content!

First question - what would your customers find easiest to use? Category based links are navigational aids.

I don’t know your site, but if it’s a large ecommerce site then I’d probably look at using a “department” type categiry structure for top level navigation, eg Clothing, Electronics, Home & garden, Toys, then when you enter a department present the customer with a set of sub-category links, eg if I go into clothing I may get options for Hats, Shirts, Shoes, Trousers etc, then probably sub-sub categories, so if i go into Trousers I may get Jeans, Casual, Shorts.

For promoting specific products or categories then there are plenty of methods for doing this:

  1. Promo spots on home page
  2. “Related content”, eg cross linking similar pages
  3. Listing bestsellers, new products, special offers, sale items