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Website Navigation Made Easy

By Michele Brown
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You’ve created some great content. You are ready to draw in new leads. So where is everybody?

If people are getting lost on your website – or worse, aren’t even entering – it may be time to rethink your navigation. Your website navigation is the roadmap people use to find your content. If the map is faulty, it doesn’t matter if the destination’s great.

If you’ve been using Google Analytics and noticed that most of your traffic is bouncing off your homepage, leaving that great content offer you created to stand forlornly in an empty room, the first thing to ask yourself is this: Do people even know it’s there? And even if they do, can they find it?

Distant wisdom: Your website's navigation may be blocking access to great content  

Menu Placement: Why Location Matters

Your website navigation must offer clear choices that make the rest of the site easy to find – and the navigation itself must also be easy to find. A map does no good hidden in a corner. You may remember that people tend to scan a webpage in an F pattern. This means that the two main places that draw people’s attention are across the top and down the left side.

Now think of any website you find effective or easy to use. Where is the main navigation? If it’s not across the top or down the left side, I’ll be very surprised. These two locations have become standard, and they are standard for a reason.

Because of this standard, not only are the top and left the first places people notice, they are also the first places people look for your website’s menu. If the menu is not where visitors expect it to be, they may not look any further.

Your main menu is not the place to get overly creative. Stick to these standards - and stick to the same menu in the same place on every single page of your site. If you wish to add a submenu or submenus for certain sections of your site, do so - but leave the main navigation so that visitors can find their way back out to the rest of the site. If your site is big enough to have a lot of depth to it, you may find breadcrumbs a good solution.

Descriptive Navigation

Optimizing your website navigationOnce your menu is placed correctly, it's time to make sure it's effective. An effective menu conveys information as well as linking to other content.

As an example, let's imagine a company that calls itself "Extraordinary Feats Inc."

Imagine you've entered their website, but you're not really sure what the company does. The menu across the top includes "Products and Services" "About Us" and "Customers". Does any of this really tell you anything?

You could, of course, click on the About Us link to find out what the company does, but chances are, you're not there to find out what "Extraordinary Feats Inc." is. You're there for something far more practical - perhaps you were looking for new running sneakers, for example.

You could try "Products and Services" to see if maybe running sneakers are one of their products, but there's no indication this will be a useful endeavor. The link may functionally take you where you need to go, but there is no information offered to tell you so. This is like navigating a city with no street signs - the roads may all connect effectively, but what good is that when you don't know which one you're on?

Now let's suppose Extraordinary Feats reorganizes their site - now the menu options are "Specialty Sneakers," "Dress Shoes" and "Arch Support". Do you know what this company offers now? Can you easily decide where to go next?

Make your main menu descriptive. A good menu can make an About Us page unnecessary, as well as clearly marking where to go next.

Short & Sweet: Focusing Your Menu

Often, the temptation is to throw everything in the menu. But I want people to be able to find it! you think, But this piece is important too!

Deep breath. Step back. Not every page is equally important. Don't think about what you most want to say, or what you spent the most time on. What are visitors to your website looking for? What clear paths or categories can they take? Are there basic divisions that can be made in who your visitors are or what they're looking for?

You main navigation is for the most important, top-level pages. Make sure the most common things people are looking for are in the top-level main menu. You can add one or two pieces you'd like to spotlight as well. But remember, less is more. Choose carefully, and don't allow the menu to bloat.

Web users generally don't want to sort through a 20-item menu any more than they want to read a 20-page essay. Give them a few clear choices - if your menu is a horizontal bar, try to limit the options to one line; if down the left side, keep the menu above the fold.

There are many ways to design your menu. Be as elaborate and creative as you want in the styling - just be sure that the navigation is usable first and foremost. A map with great sections marked "here be dragons" is of little use, no matter how gorgeously illustrated the dragons.

SEO Audit Graphic

Tags: Web Design