Website Navigation Basics

Navigation Should Be Intuitive

The navigation on your website exists to make it easy for your visitors to engage with your content. Because the aim is to make the experience frustration-free, website navigation is not the place to get creative and try to “break the mold.” Instead, navigation should be rooted in web convention  and based on the habits of how we use the internet.

Navigation Should Be Simple

Once we consider that we have a only fraction of a second to grab and hold the visitor’s attention it becomes clear how we can potentially lose users if they can’t find what they are looking for. It’s best to keep things simple when it comes to web page navigation. There are  some basic standards that capitalize on expected behaviors and anticipate how we read websites that make certain your site is simple and easy to use.

Let’s take a look at a few standard website navigation principles:

Example of Website Navigation

  1. Our eyes are drawn to a webpage just as they are drawn to a page in a book or a newspaper; we learn this in elementary school and it is reinforced throughout our lives. For this reason keep your navigation near the top and left side of your page. Your navigation will be one of the first elements visitors see. They will intuitively know how to use your site if you stick to web conventions. Items placed away from these target areas ask the visitor to search, scan, and scroll. We don’t want users to reinvent the culture of the internet to uncover the roadmap of your website. Don’t make them think.  Make them react.
  2. The same logic tells us that your company’s name and branding usually appears to the left or center of a webpage. Usability studies demonstrate that these are high-value locations on your web page. Moving your logo from one of these positions might mean it will be missed or lost. Web design conventions also set up the expectation that the logo on a website links back to the homepage of the website.  Be sure to link your  logo to the home page.
  3. We’ve grown used to the idea that the last link listed in webpage navigation shows “contact” or “contact us.”  This lies at either the bottom of vertically oriented navigation or on the far right of horizontal navigation. This information also usually appears in the footer at the very bottom of the webpage. Occasionally, you’ll find the contact link as part of a secondary navigation on the upper right in the banner.  It’s important to keep your contact information easy to find. You may have experienced how frustrating it can be on other websites to find a phone number or email address. Your phone number or contact page, may be the most important element in your site as without it, opportunities for conversion may be lost.  It is hard to overstate how important it is to make it easy for people to reach out to you!
  4. There are often standard website navigation items we are all used to seeing and we understand the type of content that will be included on those pages. A few common navigation items for product related companies are:
    • Home
    • About Us
    • Services
    • Products
    • Contact

Certainly the categories you use can be made more specific to your business, industry or specialty, but this list makes a good starting point. Avoid the temptation to change a word that works just for the sake of being different. There are better places to express the uniqueness and individuality of your brand. The content, logo, color scheme, font choices and larger aesthetic of your site will do more to communicate who you are than getting playful with navigation items. Attend to the important balance between identity and functionality and prioritize usability over design when it comes to navigation.

5. A good place to start when determining the category and page names in your navigation is to study websites that are related to what you do.  Look at sites that you admire and choose the navigational language that you feel fits your brand and describes your business best.  Pick and choose the categories from various sites using your best instincts.  Don’t copy, but research and learn what you can.  Then put the information together in a way that is original and smart.  Think about your target market and whether they will relate to this language and feel comfortable surfing around through your site.

You’ll want to lay out your main navigation considering content that may be added later on.  Be sure to have a catch all category for information that may not fall under one of your main navigational items.  Some ways to do that include main navigation tabs like: Resources, Helpful Information, News, Articles, Evaluate, etc.

Once you have decided on your main website navigation categories, you can begin the process of outlining your sub pages or sub navigation.  For example, if you are going to have a main navigation item for “products” you might consider a secondary level of navigation, or a drop down list. A secondary level of navigation becomes visible when you rollover the main item. So when rolling over “products” a list of individual products might appear. Here’s an example of a secondary
navigation setup for a medical practice website:

Remember the key to Navigation is ease of use, so take time to think about your goals, what you want to say and the key information people will be looking for. We can work with you to identify navigation items and develop a structure for this but having somewhere to start makes this process easier and faster. Opportunities to make your site standout come in other areas of web design.

For more information on Web Design Services, contact Synerge-marketing, 203-220-9333

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