Many web sites have no orientation for visitors. Why is this so rare? It seems to be mandatory for complex, information-driven web sites. Yet how often do you see it?
It is wrongly assumed that users will quickly and easily figure out: 1. what the purpose of the web site is, 2. what the site's target audience is, 3. what can be accomplished at the site, 4. what each site functionality is, 5. the priority site pages to which a user should go, according to the specific user type.
For example, a Boy Scout adult leader web site for a local BSA council. Users could be adult leaders, adult volunteers, parents of scouts, scouting council administrators and staff, potential donors, and potential sponsors of a scout troop (such as a church).
There is so much information on the web site, a specific user type can encounter trouble trying to determine what should be read first, what should be done immediately, and what is merely optional or for leisurely browsing.
The scouting council earnestly desires that troop leaders and volunteers receive certain news updates, forms downloads, and event information from the web site, rather than phoning the council offices. But the web site's Information Architecture is not conducive to rapid identification of such priorities for users.
See www.wdboyce.org for the specific web site in question. The site map needs improving, and you have to scroll down beyond the fold to even see it.
I like the Library of Congress home page (www.loc.gov) for a fast identifying of where to go, depending on who you are and what your needs are. Quick, simple, and upfront.
I also like the United Kingdom Parliament home page (www.parliament.uk) for the way the center column helps users decide where to go in the site, based on their user type.
Has anyone dealt with this dilemma successfully? I'm working on an article for Boxes and Arrows online magazine on the topic of MUSS Maps: Multiple User-Segmented Site Maps, as one possible solution.