Seven top tips to improve your website navigation

30/08/2011

Hello fellow internet traveler. In years gone by, in the real world,  travellers used to use maps, compasses and even the stars in order to navigate from one place to the other. Today, in cyberspace, we use menu-bars.

If you are about to set up a new website, or if you currently own one, you’ll want people to easily be able to browse around the valuable content you have spent hours creating. Below the Attitude Design team, have put their heads together to give you our top seven tips for creating an easy to use navigation menu to help your users get from A to B. Enjoy!

 

1. Keep it consistent

One of the most important things is not to move your navigation menu bar around. Imagine you are a ships captain being guided to your location using the northern star. Then upon reaching that destination that star moves position in the sky making it impossible for you to easily find your way back. Take that offline example into the online world and you’ll see our point!

Universal, consistent navigation

Keep a simple “universal” navigation consistently available to the user at all times. Usually the best navigations have very simple grand parent pages in them. These form the top level universal navigation. When a user goes into, or rolls over, these grand parent items then parent pages and child pages will be shown – but the top navigation will always be the same and appear in the same place.

 

2. Use text links not images

Icons are a very good accompaniment to any navigation system as they help to further explain to the user what each area of the site does. Note we said accompaniment – NOT icons on their own. Why do we say this? Because icons are representative symbols and what might represent one thing to one person might not mean the same thing to another person. Often icons do not work well on their own – they need accompanying text. So if you must use images make them sit alongside your menu links and ensure they are not the menu links themselves.

Icons and text

 

3. Keep your page menu titles short

Nobody wants to read a long navigational name. Ensure each navigation item only uses one or two words to describe what is within it otherwise users will not bother glancing through them all.

 

4. Ensure titles are easy to understand

There is nothing worse than standing at a cross roads not knowing quite what road you need to go down and looking at a sign post which does not label what is at the end of each road. You wouldn’t go down each road to find out what’s down there. Likewise with website navigation why would you expect a user to go to a poorly labelled link?

Clearly named

People don’t have time to find out what your amazingly branded “techscope”, “bytes” or “snazz” links do. So – keep it simple – the most common top tier navigational items are: Home, Products, Services, About and Contact. Each item is very descriptive and is one word. Easy Peasy.

 

5. Only have up to 8 items

When you present too many options to a user they find it hard to make a decision. This is called “Hicks law” (see this wikipedia article for more information). Therefore when it comes to site navigation it’s important to give the user few (but clear) options to get them to make a decision as to what information they want. This helps them filter down to what they want rather than pushing everything at them. This normally allows sites to run the navigation bar horizontally under the header which is far better – as this follows the natural way people read.

 

Low number of top level menu items

 

6. List items by order of importance

You might not get this one right first time around because without testing it, it is sometimes difficult to know which pages of the site will be most important to users before they do what we want them to do. For example, if we want them to purchase a service, they might want to see examples of that service before they will buy. Therefore they will need to see “case studies” as a priority. But what if our users need to understand what each service is and does before they can understand the case studies? If they do, then a “services” section might be more of a priority to hook people in before we show them the case studies.

List items in order of priority

By asking yourself the following questions you can help to sort through your navigational items and order them in a user friendly way. If you mark each item out of 10 (10 being “ABSOLUTELY” and 1 being “NOPE”) then the highest scoring items should be placed at the front.

  • Does the user need to see this item in order to fulfil our site’s objectives?
  • Will this page help the user to make a decision?
  • Does this section of the site give our website credibility?
  • Does this page educate the user to specifically understand what is on offer?

 

7. Always place ‘Home’ at the front and ‘Contact’ at the end

For most websites it is very important to have a prominent “contact” item in the menu. For most businesses getting interested users to contact them is the number 1 objective of their website. Only when a brand is well known and a site is getting too many contacts to manage would the “contact us” page be dropped  in favour of filtering users through to a “support / customer services” area of the website. It is usual practice to put the contact us page at the end of a navigational list and so if a user expects it to be sat there at the end – why remove it?

A link to the home page should also be prominent  because this marks the beginning of a normal user journey and helps the user to feel “safe” – that they can always get back to the home page of the site. Home page links are usually placed at the start of menu lists or alternatively the site’s logo will normally link to the home page.

Home at the start contact at the end

Because both of these things are done by the majority of sites, users have become used to navigating in this way. If people are used to something then it is easy for them and on the internet making things easy for a user is always beneficial!

 

Conclusion

So – we hope the above tips might help you to make your website a place where sightseers find it easy to get from A to B. Feel free to leave a comment below!

If you need a hand with your next website design why not drop us a line.

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Attitude Design

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Attitude Design

4 Responses to “Seven top tips to improve your website navigation”

  1. Volha Hunt

    13th September 2011

    Thank you a lot, it’s a very useful and help me to do my hunting site more helpful and easy to use for people

  2. corvette parts

    10th July 2012

    I’m not sure where you are getting your info, but good topic. I must spend a while finding out much more or understanding more. Thank you for great information I was on the lookout for this information for my mission.

  3. Ambreen

    4th January 2013

    Very helpful article about website navigation.Effective navigation can facilitate a fruitful visit and increase the likelihood of a return visit in the future. Ineffective navigation can lead to an unproductive visit and feelings of frustration, which don’t generally bode well for a return visit. Thanks

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