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I work with companies to better understand the people that visit their websites and find ways to improve their experience. These are some of the things i've learned along the way...

  • Scott Olivares

Do you have Where's Waldo Navigation?

I really like Where’s Waldo books. My son has 4 of them and often brings them to me so that we can find Waldo, Wilma, Odlaw, the Wizard, and worst of all, the dog that only shows his tail!

The books are a fun way for my son and I to spend time together, but one thing that should never resemble a Where’s Waldo book is your website’s navigation.

Navigation is perhaps the most important tool in helping visitors understand where they are, explore website sections, and find what they are looking for.

Unfortunately, my User Experience Learning team has found that many websites suffer from Where’s Waldo Navigation.

How We Figured This Out

We conduct user test studies for customers to learn how their visitors interact with their website, identify key issues to remedy, and identify optimization opportunities to improve their conversation rates. Understanding how participants use navigation is almost always part of a website study. Too often, we have participants that can’t locate the content they are looking for when it is staring them right in the face!

Our studies usually involve 6 to 8 participants so that we don’t overreact to the opinion of one person, and we definitely have a trend of participants not seeing navigation items that are in plain sight.

Keep reading to see some examples.

Examples of Where’s Waldo Navigation

Here are some limited examples we can share from our User Testing Studies.

The Online University

Our first example is from a university’s website. In this user testing study, we were exploring how visitors find a degree they are interested in and what compels them or repels them from submitting a request for more information.

Our participant was looking for a bachelor’s degree in Information Systems but couldn’t find it in the list of options. After a few seconds of scanning, the participant chose to use the website’s search function instead. This created an extra step and sent them to a search results page that had overwhelming, and largely irrelevant results, on the phrase “Information System’s degree”.

Where's Waldo content
We get it... these are all Bachelor of Arts!

"Information Systems" was Waldo'd by over-use of Bachelor of Arts in Business"

As you can see in the screenshot above, every item in that list begins with the words “Bachelor of Arts”. If you read carefully, you’ll find that Information Systems is the 6th one on that list.

Some participants did not see it. That means that a lot of people that reach this page also do not find what they are looking for.

The B2B Software Company

Our second example is from a software company that has products and solutions for information management. In this user testing study, we were exploring how participants went about finding a solution for moving their data to the cloud.

When asked to look for this company’s answer to their need, almost all participants looked to the navigation and hovered over “Products”, revealing a list of product options.

Where's Waldo navigation
The products may be intelligent, but the navigation isn't

“Cloud Services” was Waldo’d by over-use of the word “Intelligent”

The participant in this study was looking for a way to move their data to the cloud. The products under “Intelligent Cloud Services” would have provided what they needed.

Unfortunately, most participants did not see it. One flat out said, “It looks like cloud options are not there," as he was looking at the list of product options.

In this case, the word “Intelligent” was used before every single product, making it more difficult to easily see the product description.

We have other examples of user testing participants not being able to find what they were looking for because of Where’s Waldo navigation, but you get the point.

Why Do Company’s Do this?

I’ve noticed this before on various customers’ websites and have suggested that they remove or consolidate repetitive words and phrases from their navigation to make the important stuff easier to find. However, I almost always get pushback saying that the Waldo text is required by the SEO, Brand, or Legal teams.

It makes sense that these teams push back on our suggestions to remove the Waldo text. Repetitive key phrases help SEO, build Brand value and are sometimes the safe way to operate.

After all, why would they believe me? "Experts" are a dime a dozen in 2018 and everyone has an opinion.

Thankfully, we agree that experts are a dime a dozen and avoid making recommendations based solely on our opinions. We only make recommendations based on user experience research results, because if we can prove that something is causing YOUR visitors to struggle, then it’s not an opinion – it’s evidence.


I tell my team that when you put a few really strong points in a presentation and surround them by weaker points, then you reduce the value of the overall presentation and the strong points lose importance. It’s better to remove everything that is not a strong point… this makes sure that our strongest message is read and that your presentation provides value.

Website content is the same. Make sure you provide your visitors with only the important content that helps them find what they want. Get rid of everything else. All it does is make it more difficult to find what they actually want to consume.

Of course, if you create Where’s Waldo books for a living, disregard everything I said. :)

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