An important component of website design that is often overlooked is the navigational design – the creation and placement of a website’s navigational links. Visitors can easily become frustrated with badly placed links and leave your website before ever finding your navigation. Similarly, your visitors may be reluctant to click links that are badly labeled thus leaving parts of your site completely unread. Fortunately, there are many ways to ensure your site has user friendly navigation for your visitors. Below are four tips to get you started.
1. Choose the best location for your navigation.
Just as when buying property it’s all about location, location, location. Make sure that your navigational links are obvious and so can be easily found by your visitors. Most peoples won’t bother to search hard to find a site’s navigation – there are plenty more websites out there for them to visit – so it is always best to place your links in the most obvious location. This will help and encourage your visitors to better explore your website and so spend more time there.
The most common ways to display a website’s navigational links include in a menu bar horizontally across the top of the page or in a vertical menu column in a sidebar on the left or right of the page. For websites with large scrollable web pages, a second set of links near the bottom of the page can also be helpful, or some modern websites now have floating menus that remain visible as the user scrolls down the page.
2. Use a consistent navigation location throughout your website.
After deciding the best place to display your navigational links, it is important to be consistent and maintain this location throughout the rest of your website (this is obviously easier to do if you are using a publishing tool such as WordPress). It can be incredibly frustrating for a user if they have to find the new location of a website’s navigation with each newly loaded page. Having a standard navigation location on each and every one of your web pages will make browsing through your website much easier and more enjoyable for both your new and returning visitors. A happy visitor is one who is much more likely to return in the future.
3. Label your navigation in an easy to understand way.
Some people use buttons and images for navigation links while others use simple text. Some even use a combination of the two. Whichever you choose to use for your website’s navigation, it is important to use graphics or labels that can be easily understood by your visitors. It should be perfectly clear to them what each link means – there should be no confusion as to where any of the links in your navigation will lead.
Visitors can easily be confused by badly labeled links, which can ultimately lead to your visitors leaving your website earlier than they might otherwise have done. This can produce less page views per visit and maybe even the loss of potential sales which of course could be very expensive for you. In addition, search engines are moving more and more towards using the time a user spends on a website as a metric for determining how authorative that site is and hence for how high to rank it in it’s search results. For these reasons, webmasters should be extremely cautious when it comes to avoiding confusing labels when creating their website’s navigation.
4. Ensure that each and every navigation link is working properly.
The final stage in the design and creation of a website’s navigation system should always be testing that each link works correctly. You should check that when clicked each of the links redirects to the correct page? You should also check that the links appear correctly during each of the four link states – that is: unvisited, hover, active, and visited. It can of course be a very time consuming task to test each individual link but it is an essential part of your setting up your website’s navigation system, so it is not a step that should be skipped or rushed.
Even if your site contains some of the most useful and unique content on the Internet, if your navigation linking system is poor your visitors may never even find it. By taking the extra time to design and create the most intuitive and easy to use navigational system you can, you will be ensuring your visitors enjoy a much more pleasant and user friendly experience while surfing through the pages of your website. This can only be a good thing when it comes to the likelihood of those visitors returning to your site in the future.