ExxonMobil : Overstretching a format

Split-level principal navigation comes with issues.

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The Site

ExxonMobil, the world’s biggest oil company, in unable to sustain a landing page format across its principal sections. ExxonMobil divides its primary navigation across the top of pages between a solid bar in which headings are ranged left and a subsidiary string ranged right above the bar. The headings in the string are user-focused (consumers, investors, media, careers, contact us) in addition to ‘home’. Headings in both sets launch a section landing page on click; the pages follow a standard format, with sub-sections listed in a left-hand menu and the main page body used to feature content from each sub-section shown in the left menu. Three ‘string’ sections diverge from the standard, however. Consumers has only the section title in the left menu but four featured-content highlights (for example, products & services worldwide, data sheets), all of which launch pages in other sections or microsites in the current window. Careers has two left-menu items, one of which (recruiting scams) opens a page in the US country site’s careers section, while the main body is given over to an interactive region-finder tool. Contact us replaces landing page highlights with an online contact form, with the left menu offering targeted alternatives (for example, aviation, credit cards).

The Takeaway

ExxonMobil’s management of landing page content raises an interesting question about the use of split-tier primary navigation. The system itself has gained traction over the past few years on corporate sites and has its advantages, such as the one Exxon is exploiting to cluster user-focused headings and raise their profile by lifting them out of the horizontal bar. Where it runs into problems is when section content is not a natural fit with the landing page template; the consequent forcing of ‘square pegs into round holes’ produces inconsistencies in top-level navigation that are made all the more disorientating in the consumers section by the apparent uniformity of the page. The problem with consumers illustrates an underlying issue with this type of system: to what extent can it diverge before it compromises site navigation? Including standard sections in the string creates different expectations of consistency and conformity in the minds of visitors than if the string were simply a set of utilities (contact us, locations etc). The answer may lie in looking at the design of the landing page or using it more explicitly as a staging page where content is not a neat fit.

First published 17 November, 2011
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