Website navigation has to be the most basic and one of the most important features of a site. Without it, users simply wouldn’t be able to find what they are looking for. With this in mind, you would imagine that every website would have an excellently optimised and concise navigation structure. So then, why do we continuously come across websites that make it annoyingly hard to find what we are looking for?
Websites need to be easy to navigate because users will get bored and move on if they find it hard to seek out exactly what they came to the site for. You want to do everything possible to lower your website bounce rate and well-structured, easy to follow navigation is a big step in making this happen.
A Concise Menu is a Good Menu
It’s important that the user is not overwhelmed with the choice of menu options available to them. The less options available the easier it is for them to decide or deduce which item they should be clicking on. Grouping items together is a great way to begin to narrow down your menu and make it clean and easier to use.
An example that I recently came across on one website was the use of the “About” menu item and accompanying sub-menu. The sub-menu consisted of 5 additional items, and the main “About” page was not being sufficiently made use of.
We transferred the “Meet XXXXX/About the Company” pages from sub-menu items to the content of the main “About” page. This allowed for a more concise sub-menu as well as a more professional looking path to the all of the about content.
You should also look at whether there are any main menu items that can be transferred into a sub-menu. A good example of this is an events page. Unless events are a major part of what you or your company does, they can easily be added to an “About” or “News” sub-menu. But don’t just place them anywhere; think about what the easiest path for the user will be.
One of Boom’s directors, Rob, has written a particularly useful article on Information Architecture which goes into the importance of the flow of information on a site.
Consistency is Key
Having consistent navigation throughout your whole website not only looks professional but also allows the user to move about easier and remember where important items are. If the main menu changes about from page to page, users will lose patience and find the site hard to use and messy.
Similarly, the most important menu items (ideally all of the main menu) will be on every page. A visitor to a site will lose interest if they find themselves having to go back and forth in order to go through the whole site.
Consistency in navigation isn’t only down to the using the same menu items on each page. It also has a lot to do with the visual aspects of the menu and other clickable items. The same colours and styles should be used throughout so that users can easily familiarize themselves with and identify links and buttons that may help them to find what they are looking for.
Don’t Forget Your SEO
Menus also contribute to how your web pages can be found in search engines. If you use buttons, or non-specific menu items, it’s not going to help users find the relevant pages when searching for your site.
Anything that can minimize the number of clicks a user needs to make in order to find what they are looking for is a bonus. If someone is searching for your contact details it’s going to be a big help to them if the relevant page comes up at the top of their search results.
Additionally, the way your navigation is structured can hinder or prevent search engines from finding new or altered documents on your site. Keep your linking systems and structure concise, simple and distinguishable. Pages with hundreds of links and pages that are too many clicks away from the homepage both present difficulties for search engine crawlers. It might result in your pages not being indexed! Distilled has a great guide to site navigation for SEO that is definitely worth a read.
Finally, and it might seem obvious but some people really do go wrong here, keep things clear! It’s great being creative and coming up with interesting phrases and colourful designs, but if your users don’t know what the heck you’re talking about and the visual aspects are overwhelming then what’s the point?