Website navigation is something which seems like it should be easy. I mean, all of your favorite websites are surely very easy to navigate and use, right? As simple as it may seem, effective navigation schemes, which popular websites use, are specifically designed to be user-friendly, meaning hours upon hours of blood, sweat, and tears have gone into UI design and UX considerations. Navigation menus aren’t merely thrown together. Chances are some website developers somewhere had heated arguments about where to put the menu bar, all so that you can have a flawless experience.
A “good” navigation scheme was expected in the 90’s, but today’s expectations aim for more than just good. Websites have to provide an unparalleled user experience, and it all starts with stellar navigation. If users don’t find what they’re looking for in a matter of seconds, they’ll evacuate, leaving you with a missed opportunity and a broken dream. In this blog, we offer you four tips on how to select a website navigation scheme that is effective and user-centric, ensuring that your UI is intuitive and your UX is consistently hitting the mark.
The Case For Good Navigation
It’s true that a navigation scheme is like a map for your websites, guiding new (and returning) visitors around your website with ease, pointing them in the direction of places and sections that they want to visit. Just as a map guides you around a foreign city, an effective navigation scheme should guide you around an unfamiliar website. Although it may be trendy to have a fancy UI and unusual website navigation scheme, your website navigation scheme isn’t there to show off – it’s there to be a practical and user-centric tool which enhances your UX. Using overly complicated navigation schemes is quickly going to frustrate visitors, who will most likely end up leaving your website and opting for one of your competitors who has a site with a user-centric UI and effective navigation scheme.
Navigation schemes should give the user a high-level overview of what to expect from your website, and an effective navigation scheme should ideally be the central and consistent touchstone for your visitors as they navigate your site, ensuring an enhanced and consistent UX. For example, if your customer visits a section of your website and then decides that they’re done with it, they should be able to easy find your menu and make their way to the home page (or a different section) of your website, enjoying your site’s convenient, intuitive, and effective navigation scheme.
How to Select the Right Website Navigation Scheme
1. Don’t be so generic/ think about SEO
If you browse corporate websites for long enough, you begin to see a barrage of the same sorts of corporate buzzwords which companies seem to use for their menus. Although a label in your navigation bar which says “solutions” makes you sound like a professional company, it doesn’t really tell the user what they’re going to find there. Furthermore, there are several companies out there using the labelling, which won’t help you stand out and definitely won’t help with SEO.
SEO takes a lot of things into account these days, with Google ranking your website according to a plethora of factors. Descriptive labels in your website navigation UI not only boost your UX, they enable Google to confirm that your website is truly related to the topics you claim it to be related to. Google wants to ensure that if they show your business on their results page, that your business and business’ content is relevant to the user conducting a search.
2. Don’t get carried away with drop-down menus
Website usability studies have consistently shown that website visitors lose interest quickly when websites are covered with multiple drop-down menus. Here’s why:
- Visually, it’s not very appealing that every click unveils a filing cabinet of information. Users don’t want to hunt down information on your site.
- Too many drop-down menus have a high risk of error. Often pages haven’t been updated or were moved and result in error pages for the user.
If you must use drop-down menus
- Make sure they’re programmed for SEO. Often sites are running on outdated technology or the web developer overlooks using an optimized menu, while building the site. Without factoring in optimization, Google doesn’t know any of the pages within the drop-down exist. As a result, certain types of drop-down menus could cause your website to rank poorly in Google.
- Consider a “mega drop-down” menu.
Mega drop-downs get kudos from a UI point of view. They offer your users a large range of options, often summarizing your entire website. The mega-drop down is ideal for a site that has a large collection of services, products, resources, etc to showcase.
3. Choose a good order for your website navigation scheme
It’s recommended to keep the number of items in your menu bar low (fewer than 7), however, it’s also recommended that you place them in a good order, as this can drastically affect your UX going forward. Studies have consistently shown that human attention and retention are at their highest when looking at the beginning and the end of a list. This is based on two cognitive principles called the “primary effect” and “recency effect”. Put simply, you are more likely to remember the first things in a list and you are more likely to remember things at the end of a list because they are the most “recent” items you’ve looked at, assuming you’ve read the list in the intended order.
As you may have guessed, website navigation developers and psychologists have a lot in common! Because of these aforementioned cognitive principles, it is recommended that you put the items which are most important to your visitors at the beginning and the end of your menu navigation system, thereby enhancing your UI and making a user-centric website layout.
4. Don’t forget about mobile!
52.2% of all web traffic now comes from mobile phones as opposed to laptops or desktop computers. This means that there’s a very good chance the majority of your website visitors will be viewing your website on a mobile phone, tablet, or another similar smart device. As a result, you need to ensure that your website is responsive and uses an effective navigation scheme for mobile.
Consider the following industry standard for mobile navigation.
If you’ve ever used your mobile phone to browse a website, you’ve probably come across the infamous “hamburger icon”. This icon has become the standard for many mobile websites, quickly popping up in the mobile website navigation bars of developers all over the world. It looks like the figure at right, consisting of 3 short horizontal lines which sit on top of one another, and it shows you where to tap in order to see a website navigation menu.
Although we can’t tell you how to design an entire mobile responsive website from scratch, we highly recommend using a “hamburger icon” to help your visitors find their way around your website. It also takes up little to now room on your mobile homepage. One thing to note: Although many will be familiar with this icon, you may have some visitors who are less familiar, so be prepared to add “menu” next to the icon if your audience is less technical.