There are two main features of your website that will either keep a visitor there, or send them back to their search results: your home page and your navigation. Here, we’re going to go over how to improve navigation, and how to use it to your advantage.
Leave Innovative Design Out of the Menu
No matter how slick and fancy your website, your navigation should not follow suit. Your menu should not receive your design focus, but rather your organizational focus. Your visitors are not looking to your menu to deliver artistically, they are looking to your menu to deliver them into the rest of your awesome website. If your menu doesn’t do this, they’ll never experience the rest of your site.
Despite the number of innovative and unique website designs out there, most visitors still want a standard form of navigation, and may get frustrated if they have to search for it. Most standard forms of navigation consist of a horizontal main menu somewhere across the top of the page. It doesn’t have to dominate the page or be beautiful, but it should be there.
What Do I Put in the Menu?
Let’s address this by tips on what not to put in the main menu.
Do you really need a Home page link in your menu? This is really up to you. A couple things to keep in mind when considering whether or not to include this link are the fact that most websites have a graphical logo at the top that doubles as a link back to the Home page (and most visitors know this), and a Home page link in your menu may take up space it shouldn’t.
How Do I Organize My Menu?
Your visitors will leave your site if your navigation is too complicated, doesn’t make sense, or has too many layers. Think of your site the way a visitor might think of it, not the way you think of it. These are often not the same. Send some people you know and trust through your site and get their feedback. Give them something specific to look for, like a particular service or tip you have in your site. Then find out how long it took them to find it (without using your site search function), when they found it, did where it sits make sense to them, etc.The length of time most visitors stay on a particular web page is 10 seconds or less. This means they have to be able to find what they need in that amount of time, preferably less. Organize your menu in an order that visitors would logically go through to learn about your service/company/product. If you were to right a book, what would the order of the chapters be? That’s the order of your menu, but you many need to be more succinct than chapters in a book.
Most visitors will view your site top to bottom, left to right. That’s why things like blog and contact pages are usually at the far right of the menu – that’s the last place in the menu people will look, and that’s the least important stuff on your site (unless you have a blog site). I hear quite often, “Don’t I want my contact page more prominent? I want people to be able to find me easily.” If you put your contact page in the “usual” spot in your main menu, that won’t be a problem. You want your primary real estate to sell your stuff.
Avoid using too many layers in your menu. Most of what your visitors need to know should be in the top, visible links of your menu. Yes, if you hover most drop down menus, other fun things show up, but most people don’t peruse your sight with their mouse, they use their eyes, which means they won’t see those drop downs, unless something they do see makes them want to look for more.
Wording to Use in the Menu
Stick to using common language in your menu. If someone searches for “your product”, you don’t want to have the menu labeled “my fancy whatchamacallit”. That menu label is what is likely being indexed in the search engine, so if that’s what you’ve labeled it, a search for “your product” will come up bare. Be conscious of SEO when labeling your menu items, and use terms that are descriptive of what’s inside, not necessarily that tell how funny and creative you can be. Leave that for the content.
Let Visitors Know Where They Are
Once inside your site, you want your visitors to know where they are. A common way to do this is use breadcrumbs, like on this site. At the top of each page, it says, “You Are Here: X-Y-Z Page”. However, breadcrumbs aren’t always a good choice, depending on the complexity, size and design of your site. Make sure your page titles are clear and give your visitor a way of know what section of your site they’re in. If your site has instructions or a process of some kind, let folks know what step they’re on and how much further they have to go.
It’s always a good idea to go and browse some of your competitors’ websites, and judge their navigational structure for yourself. Take notes on what you liked, what you didn’t, what was confusing, how long it took you to get what you wanted, etc.
Think your navigation out thoroughly before you institute it, and then don’t make big changes later on. It’s always fine to tweak things a bit, update it when your content dictates, but don’t make huge shifts in your navigation, or past visitors may get frustrated that something isn’t where they’re used, kind of like when you go to the grocery store and they changed where everything is. You know all the same stuff is there, but now it takes you longer to find it and get used to where it is again. You don’t want to do that to your visitors.
What’s your preference? What kind of system do you use on your site, and why? Let us know!