[map]A Navigation Pattern from
Patterns for Personal Web Sites

Visible Location

The Web, or even a single Web site, is hard to navigate because we never see the whole thing at once. We're restricted to seeing one page at a time. Even when we know a site's structure, it's still possible to get lost unless each page clearly indicates where it is and how it relates to the rest of the site.

The situation is worse when a site's structure is unknown. A visitor can arrive at a page in ways that bypass the site's structure completely: directly via an external link, or by typing a URL directly into a Web browser. In these cases, the visitor arrives directly at the page without learning anything about the site. Without location information, the page has no context. A page about the film Jean de Florette categorized under 'reviews', 'sociology papers', or 'film-making case studies' instantly indicates what type of page it is; a page simply titled Blade Runner does not.

Therefore, put each page in context by making its location visible.

Page location can be presented in several ways. Here are two common methods that reinforce each other.

  1. Adding breadcrumbs gives visitors an idea of where the page is in the site. Breadcrumbs support Entrances Everywhere.

  2. Listing each page's URL on the page allows someone who receives the page in a non-Web context (e.g., print or email) to find the page later. Explicit URLs enhance Offline Readability. If a site's structure is mirrored in its URLs, then the URL also gives additional context.

Adding both the URL and breadcrumbs to a page has two effects: it helps the page be found, and helps visitors understand how the page relates to the rest of the site.

A visible location can be part of a Standard Header And Footer.

Another benefit of Visible Location is that it identifies the page as yours if the page is framed by another site.

Last updated 8 July 2003
All contents ©2002-2003 Mark L. Irons