Few things are as important to an effective website as its navigation. That means menus and structure, buttons and breadcrumbs: essentially the architecture of how a user can quickly and easily find the content they’re looking for.
An easily navigable website situates users clearly, enables them to find their way smoothly, and provides clear guidance as to where – and how – to locate key information. Achieving all of that requires careful thought and close attention to user behaviours.
Keep an eye on your site’s bounce rate. This is a measurement of how soon after arriving at your website the average user leaves it. Most visits last for less than twenty seconds – and that means you’re not converting. Good navigation is one of the key ways sites can persuade users to stay long enough to make a difference.
Make your navigation menu plain and clear. If you try to be clever or creative with your page headings, your user is likely to get lost. Make life easy for them. If you have a Contact Us page, then just call it Contact Us!
Guide them through your site. Include relevant links to further content on each page, use smart design to guide their eye-lines to the important buttons and pages. Keep menu choices concise – seven items or less – and use sidebars to add further information.
The search engines like all of this – short menus, not too many links, clear page headings. That’s great! But equally, menus are meant for humans – and they should be designed primarily with users, not search engines, in mind.
You want to encourage your users to click. Part of this is about using design to draw attention to key actions. But it’s also about using active phrases: “Order Here”, for example, or – as above – good old “Contact Us”. Consider what your audience wants to find, and use appropriate phrasing to emphasise those areas.
Perhaps the majority of your users will log on to your site using mobile devices, such as a smartphone or tablet. That means your navigation needs to work on mobile. It should be smooth and readable on every screen – don’t lose users because your menu won’t expand, or can’t be seen, on mobile!
Search is a fall-back, of course – it’s most useful when all else has failed, and where a user needs to go isn’t clear. But having a Plan B is always a good idea, and search puts a user’s journey back into their hands when necessary.
Follow these rules of thumb and your users will understand how your site is structured – and where to find the content they need. That’s the key goal for any site’s menu – and that’s why these are the definitive website navigation best practices.
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