Have you ever been tempted to change up navigation on the websites you create? If so, you may want to reconsider. It’s tempting to change a part of the website that seems to be worn out. Website navigation has been around for a long time, and it hasn’t changed much over the years.
But we need to understand that changing something like site navigation can have drastic, possibly harmful consequences.
Site Users’ Expectation
Because website navigation hasn’t changed too much, site users have developed certain expectations on how to get around a website. Site users expect to see where they are, where they have been (and how to return), and where to go next. They expect the navigation structure of a website to quickly and easily meet these expectations.
Why is it important for web developers to meet site users’ expectations about navigation? Here are some reasons to consider.
Lower Bounce Rates & Longer Stays on the Site
When site navigation meets users’ expectations, they tend to stay on the site longer. That’s because they can find what they’re looking for easily and quickly. This encourages site visitors to spend a longer time on the site.
SEO & Traffic
Navigation that’s easy to understand also improves a site’s SEO and brings in more organic traffic. The result is the site ranks higher in the search engines. What’s more, good site navigation also makes it easier for search engine bots to crawl the site. The combination of great keywords and easy navigation makes it easier for the search engine bots to determine what the site’s all about.
Good site navigation also increases site conversion rates. When site visitors can find the information they need, they usually respond more positively to calls to action. When they know what to know next, there’s a greater probability site users will follow through.
These are only a few of the benefits having good site navigation brings. But these are extremely valuable benefits, which should convince you of the importance of website navigation.
How to Design Great Website Navigation
So, how do you go about designing great website navigation? We’ve got some tips ready for you! It’s more than just placing navigation at the top of a page and arranging pages in a logical hierarchical order.
- Plan Your Site’s Navigation
When you create a website, no matter how large or small it is, the site needs to be set up correctly. Planning site navigation ensures the menu is logically arranged.
Planning a site navigation menu means determining what pages are needed. For instance, will you need a “Contact Us” page? Will the site require an “About Us” page?
The larger the website, the more complex it can be to navigate. Even so, no matter the size of the site, navigation menus should be easy to use. Think about the menu items that would be helpful for site visitors. Keep the navigation logical and as easy as possible.
It’s helpful to create a “sitemap” of your site’s navigation. The sitemap is a list of all the pages on the site, including the subcategories. The sitemap ends up creating an overview of the site’s navigation. You might think of this as something similar to an outline. The sitemap can be created with pen and paper, a Word document, or even a flowchart. Whatever works best for you. The sitemap can then be used to create your site’s navigation.
- Organise Menus So They’re Easy
Once you’ve created the sitemap, then it’s time to consider menu items. These might be sub categories that go with your main menu items.
When organising the menu, stick with bold headers, columns for related pages, and images that emphasise specific pages. Organisation like this makes it easier and faster for site visitors to find the information they need.
Another idea, one that’s often used on ecommerce sites, is to create a tool that’s used for navigation. Some designers create a dropdown menu with filters and ways to sort the information.
Whatever you do, try to keep the site’s navigation from being too overwhelming. Site visitors who feel overwhelmed become anxious and unsure of what to do next. So, keep options to a minimum and keep the site’s organisation logical and easy.
- Make the Logo Prominent
Site users have become used to company logos on the sites they visit. Company logos are reassuring—they let visitors know they’re in the right place. What’s more, a recognisable logo can help site users navigate to a company’s social media channels. The same sense of reassurance applies in these cases. It comes down to a sense of brand recognition, trust, and credibility. These instil reassurance in site visitors.
When building a site, the logo needs to be placed correctly and large enough for people to see. Here are some tips on logo placement on a website:
- The logo should be placed in the same spot on each page of the website.
- Link the logo to the homepage.
- Place the logo in the top-left corner if possible, though the centre of the webpage is also a good spot.
- Ensure the logo is large enough to see in detail. Optimal sizes are 250px x 100px or 160px x 160px. The size of the logo depends on how much space is available on the page.
Placing the logo is all about creating balance on the page with other elements.
- Highlight the Current Page the Visitor is On
Highlighting the current page the visitor is on helps them see they’re in the right place. It also shows them what page they’re on. You may choose to highlight the page in some way or change the text’s colour. Another type of highlight is to place a coloured block around the text and change the text colour.
The goal is to help visitors see where they are and find the page they’d like to visit from there.
- Use Recognisable Icons
Another great way to improve a site’s navigation is to use only icons that are recognisable by most people. Icons are a visual method of explaining what, where, and more. Icons can sometimes be used as navigation aids on their own, without text.
There are four main types of navigation icons, including:
- User profile
- Heart (signifies favourites or likes)
- Shopping bag (for the shopping cart)
- Magnifying glass (for search)
These have become universal icons over the years, which are understood across many languages and cultures.
Summing It Up
Making navigation work for your site visitors is key to the success of the site. Without easy, fast navigation, a site may fall in the search engine rankings, lose customers, and more.
So, spend time planning and creating the navigation for websites you design. Consider what’s best and easily understood by site users, and you’ll have a winning site every time!
Liam is a website designer and digital marketer based in Leeds, West Yorkshire. He spent a decade working within the charity sector before moving into the marketing space a number of years ago. Liam always strives to do something slightly different with every project and always designs to deliver results, not just pretty websites.