7 Tips for Website Navigation

By January 1, 2018Web Design

Best Practices for Design

Little things make a big difference on a website. Think about website navigation. Structure and labels have a huge impact on results, especially for traffic and conversions. The higher you rank and easier the site is to use, greater the chances visitors will become customers, thus increasing your traffic. Below are some tips to increase traffic and conversion:

1. Be illustrative

Being illustrative and specific with keywords is the secret to success. “What we do” is not enough to explain what you really do. Use details to make people and search engines understand what you offer. This is where SEO becomes useful. Descriptive labels are relevant to search engines since they attract visitors.

A key place for search engines is the navigation bar. Inserting descriptive labels on it shows Google that the site is relevant. If you add specific products and services on it, you show exactly what your company does and lets viewers know they’re in the right place. Show off your products and services by using Google AdWords to find top-of-mind phrases and keywords to attract people.

Make sure to avoid labels such as “services” and solutions.” Listing your services on only one page will prevent the page from ranking. Each page of your website can rank but only if it focuses on a specific topic. People aren’t looking for general “products” or “services,” so don’t use them.

2. No format-based navigation

Labels like “videos,” “photos” and “white papers” indicate the format of content, but nothing about the topic, which is exactly what people really look for online.

3. Drop down menus are popular, but they’re really not worth it. Mega drop menu: the only useful.

Depending on how they’re programmed, they’re difficult to crawl by search engines since they often present problems. Moreover, usability studies show that drop down menus are annoying since visitors move their eyes faster than the mouse. Once the mouse moves to a menu item, it’s likely people already chose what to click and making other options useless.

The “mega drop-down” menu is the only type of drop-down menu that performs well in usability studies. The menu offers lots of options and is useful if you have a big site with lots of pages and many products or services.

4. Limit to seven menu items

Too many items on the home page lower viewers’ attention. Keep your page clean and tidy by using descriptive labels and few links. In order to keep your website’s “authority” with search engines, you have to bind some links on your homepage. Having many links on your homepage leads to less interest in the interior pages of the website. If your navigation is concise, then more authority will flow to interior pages and increase their chances to rank.

Short-term memory holds about seven items according to George Miller in his famous psychology paper published in 1956. Even though the brain uses a method called “chunking” to improve recall in short-term memory, the amount of items depends on the category. Past research resulted in seven items for numbers and five for words.

Aesthetically, more items on your navigation increase the difficulty to remember and process the information for your visitors. Having 8 items instead of 7 may not seem like much but visually it’s a lot more and a visitor’s eyes may scan past important items.

If necessary, group items together if you have more than seven. Avoid long lists by making groups of five to seven items. It might be tough to trim your list, but it’s totally worth it. Every time you remove a menu item from a page, everything left becomes more visually prominent and likely considered.

5. Order!

The number of items and the order they’re presented matters. Online viewers’ attention focuses on the top and bottom of each page, so put your most important items strategically in these key places of your homepage. This is the serial position effect and combines to the cognitive biases of Primacy effect and Recency effect.

Primacy effect is when items at the start of a list are easily remembered while Recency effect is when items at the end of a list or just happened are more easily remembered.

If you are not sure which items are most important, look at your Analytics. By doing that, you follow the core principle of web design and content marketing: giving visitors what they want to make them give you what you want.

6. Optimize your site’s navigation

After a month or so from creating your navigation, you should use Analytics and do a bit of “optimization.” Analytics offers you two reports to show which navigation items are often used by visitors: the “navigation summary” and the “in-page.”

The In-page report displays little orange boxes next to each navigation item with the percentage of visitors went to each page from any page. However, this report is inaccurate and misleading for several reasons as well as buggy. “Navigation summary” report does a better job by giving you more precise percentages and a better sense of what’s working in your menu.

These reports help understand which navigation items are often used,  so it’s easy for you to remove items that are rarely visited, rename/relabel pages rarely visited, and move items often clicked on to the beginning.

The homepage isn’t necessarily the entry point for many visitors. A search optimized website has many entry points, therefore many visitors won’t start from the home page.

7. Be “mobile phone-friendly”

The more mobile-friendly your website is, the more visitors you get. The trend of responsive web design has led to the “hamburger icon”, a graphical shortcut originated to save space on mobile devices. It looks like a hamburger and brings up a menu by clicking on it.

Bonus Tip: Flexibility

By giving you ideas and suggestions for your menu, we want to emphasize improving your content management system by making it flexible. Change labels and order, try to update and innovate your content. Make navigation easier for both human visitors and search engine robots.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule so if you’re not sure about making changes, ask an expert web strategist.

Any other ideas or questions? Add your comment below.

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Hannah Abraham

About Hannah Abraham

Hannah Abraham is a graduate of The Ohio State University. She has a passion for writing in different genres and styles to reach various audiences through engaging content. She’s active on social media and her literary contributions include blog posts and a field guide.

One Comment

  • Margaret Burch says:

    I really agree with these points! I think that drop down menus are hard to navigate through, especially if there are a lot of items within a menu. Sometimes, it’s also hard to be mobile friendly with a drop down menu.

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