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CASE STUDY: Where should loans live in bank website navigation?
After 17 years of designing and developing custom websites for financials, we’ve learned a lot.
But that doesn’t mean we automatically have all the answers.
Despite our proven four-phase approach to creating bank websites and an easy-to-use content management system (CMS) fully stocked with tools financials love, we are wise enough to acknowledge there’s always room for improvement. Technology changes; trends come and go. It’s our duty to periodically reevaluate our approach — starting with the questions and quandaries that most often creep up.
Here’s one that has been haunting us for a while: does the Business Loans page belong under the label of Business or Loans — or both?
Doing double duty
Off the cuff, “both” might seem to be the obvious answer. It’s certainly an easy solution since it avoids having to pick one piece of real estate over the other. Perhaps treating page positioning as an either/or construct is a mistake?
Since the early days of our proprietary CMS, we have adhered to the belief that a webpage belongs in only one place in a sitemap. With few exceptions, our bank websites reflect that.
But as more and more clients expressed concerns that someone might not find a page if it lives only in a single location, it’s worth another look at our philosophy. Cue the research!
While we don’t consider ourselves copycats or believe that the popular approach is necessarily the correct approach, it’s worthwhile to see how other website agencies handle business loans. Perhaps a new trend is emerging.
After surveying more than 150 bank websites, here’s what we discovered:
- 51.6% of bank websites put the business loans page under Business Banking and avoid any mention of Loans or Mortgages in the top navigation.
- 31.0% include both Business and Loans (or equivalents) in the top navigation but put Business Loans in only one place:
- 18.7% of those put the page under Business Banking only.
- 12.3% of those put the page under Loans only.
- 9.0% put the page under Loans and avoid any mention of Business in the top navigation.
- 6.5% include both Business and Loans (or equivalents) in the top navigation and put Business Loans in both places.
- 1.9% put the page under something completely different (e.g. Banking Services, Services, What We Offer).
The fact that only 6.5% of bank websites duplicate where the business loans page can be found suggests positioning webpages in multiple places in the navigation is far from the popular approach.
Yet this was just the beginning of our deep dive.
Usability and accessibility research
After scouring dozens of articles about how people use websites and best practices for design as it pertains to usability and accessibility, we identified the following advantages and disadvantages for letting pages live in multiple navigation menus.
- Logically and empirically, the more a link is included on a website, the higher the likelihood that someone will click on it.
- Because people think differently from one another, there can be no single right answer; some visitors will check one location, the other location, both places or neither places. Therefore, the more options, the better.
- Increased traffic to a page with multiple navigation links could be the result of frustrated visitors clicking multiple links and expecting to find unique content. When seeing two pages with the same name in a main menu, some people “pogo” back and forth to make sure they aren’t missing anything, artificially inflating pageviews.
- Scattering pages in multiple places through the navigation can confound important wayfinding conventions, such as breadcrumbs or other visual indicators of where a visitor is in relation to the primary navigation.
- Generally speaking, if a page is intended for a specific audience, the images, words and other information on it should target that audience. Plugging a page into multiple categories robs you of an opportunity to personalize the message.
- More links means more options are present in each menu, which raises the overall cognitive effort of visitors. It can easily become unmanageable in terms of design and usability, as navigation categories become crowded at best and irrelevant at worst.
Based on all the above, we continue to recommend that webpages should not live in multiple places in the navigation.
Which means a decision must be made between the Business Banking menu and the Loans menu when it comes to a Business Loans page.
Audience segregation and sitemaps
The Business Loans page conundrum is connected to a specific navigation philosophy: audience segregation.
Most bank websites steer visitors down one of two paths when it comes to shopping for products. By separating accounts, loans and so forth between Personal Banking and Business Banking, these websites require a visitor to self-identify as one or the other. For the most part, this isn’t a problem. A visitor ought to know whether they are looking for products and services for themselves/their family or for a business.
Things get muddier, however, when a business must choose from Business Banking, Commercial Banking, and/or Corporate Banking. The criteria for each might be crystal clear in the minds of the website administrators, but visitors will struggle with the nuance. An alternate approach would be to focus on the individual products and services first and then divert traffic flow based on the intended customer.
But again, splitting the visitor’s path neatly between Personal and Business remains a rather intuitive setup — except when a product line that could belong to either (in this case, Loans) is pulled out of the audience categories and positioned alongside them.
What we recommend
Simply put, resist the urge to make Loans or Mortgages its own separate section and place Business Loans under Business Banking. Correspondingly, information about home loans and other personal loans should live under the Personal Banking header.
We understand this may be a hard sell for banks. Because lending products are often a core component of a bank’s success, there is a strong temptation to showcase these products as a top-level navigation label. Banks, understandably, want customers to realize, at a glance, that they offer loans!
Here are five reasons why that probably isn’t necessary:
- Website visitors tend to be task oriented. If they come to a bank website in search of loans, they won’t immediately give up just because they don’t see what they are looking for at first glance.
- Human beings are psychologically flexible, and most visitors are adept at altering their expectations of where to find things. If they don’t see something in one spot, they will try the next logical place.
- By making the decision to segregate audiences between Personal and Business, you are giving visitors a clear path to the products designed for their specific segment. Most will implicitly understand where to go based on those labels.
- Navigation menus are but one means of moving through a website. Some visitors never even bother with navigation, preferring to plug their keywords into a search box or pull up the sitemap page that shows all pages in one glance.
- There are other — and arguably better — ways to showcase loans, including homepage promotions and focused landing pages linked from banner ads, social media posts, and paid search marketing.
We’re a custom website agency, which means one size seldom fits all. The best we can do is keep our thumb on the pulse of usability standards, changes in user expectations and behavior, and emerging technology to ensure every BrownBoots website serves our clients’ visitors. Even if a solution works well for one bank website, that doesn’t mean it’s a universal rule.
We will continue to collaborate closely with our clients, making recommendations based on your bank’s unique circumstances, getting your feedback and compromising as needed.
After all, learning always starts with listening!