If website visitors can’t quickly find what they’re looking for, they’ll move on without further thought. For this reason, website navigation (also referred to as the menu) is a critical feature of a website. If your potential customers can’t find what they’re looking for quickly, you may miss opportunities.
Visiting a website is similar to taking a road trip:
- There is a specific destination in mind
- An expectation to find the destination by following clear directions
- Get to your final stop in a timely and efficient manner.
However, if your GPS takes you to the wrong place, for example, the roads are closed, or an accident keeps you from reaching your destination, you’re not going to be very happy.
Website navigation operates under very similar principles:
- There is a need for a product, service, or information.
- An expectation to find the product/service/answer by clicking on the relevant links.
- Find what you’re looking for in a timely and efficient manner.
When website navigation is poorly strategized, users can get frustrated and have trouble getting back to where they were to start all over. It’s similar to getting lost and needing to circle back and try again. Anyone who’s ever had the privilege of driving downtown in a big city is intimately familiar with this phenomenon!
Internal linking is the process of hyperlinking to different pages on the same website. A typical example is a website menu that takes the visitor to another page in the same domain.
Alternatively, By using hypertext (links), websites can connect users to an authoritative outside website. This is known as “external linking,” when one website links to another website.
Standard Features of Website Menus
A website menu should be prominently displayed when someone visits a site.
It should contain a list of options (tabs/buttons), and each option will link to a different part of the site. For example, common items included in a website menu are:
- About Us
- Contact Us
A menu should have links relevant to the specific/emphasis website. I.e., an eCommerce website should have a loud and proud shop button. A hairdresser would want a navigation item that sends people to their appointment calendar to book a visit.
CAUTION! Keep your menu text short and sweet. If one menu item text is too long your menu might extend into two lines. Your website navigation should fit on one line.
How to Create an Effective Website Menu
Consider the following points when designing your website navigation.
Always Plan Your Website Navigation First
When designing a site, almost everyone falls into the same trap. They want to dig right in and start making content for their visitors.
This passion isn’t a bad thing. After all, customers want to work with brands that are excited about what they do. But more often than not, companies forget about website navigation entirely during the process and end up with a complicated mess.
Before diving into designing and content creation, it’s critically important to plan the website menu. Knowing how to structure your website before doing anything else will pre-emptively remove headaches that come with fixing navigation issues later.
Creativity is Important, But User Experience is More Important
Many visitors will recognize common internet symbols. For example, the hamburger menu is three horizontal lines that represent the menu. Hamburger menus are found on most mobile websites. Not everyone recognizes it, so you need to know your audience before you use it.
Familiarize yourself with some of the universal symbols and practices for website designs to avoid driving visitors away due to confusion and frustration.
Consider SEO and Your Audience
Who visits your site? Do they use industry jargon or common language?
These are important to keep in mind when designing your site and your website menu. Using clear language your visitors understand will help keep people on your website.
Optimize Your Site for Mobile Devices
For many people, mobile devices have replaced desktop computers. For this reason, make sure your website navigation is mobile-device-friendly. Unfortunately, many people have had the experience of trying to navigate a website that’s not optimized for mobile devices:
- Text is hard to read
- The links are tiny and difficult to click
- Some features may not be accessible at all
Mobile devices are the future of technology. So make sure to optimize your website and menu for mobile.
Make Your Navigation Features Distinct from Your Content
Make your website navigation completely different from the content. For example, use different fonts, text colors, spacing, and buttons that change color when you hover over them. Whatever method you use, make the text link that takes a visitor to another page obvious.
One could easily overlook website navigation as an element of web design. It’s unfortunate because the menu can be helpful for visitors.
There are lots of considerations and different ways to optimize your website menu effectively. But remember visitors won’t stick around if they can’t find the information they want.
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