Website Navigation Optimization:

The Basics and Best Practices

Website navigation influences how your visitors will use your site. A great navigation design increases their browsing time and number of pages visited. This translates to higher search ranking and a better chance of them taking action or buying more products. Moreover, a well-designed navigation helps users find a page fast and without any help.

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What is

Website Navigation?

Website navigation is the user interface elements that website users utilize to find content, pages, and features on a site. These elements include the navigation menu, buttons, link text, web copy, and search field input. There are different ways you can design these elements and each way will affect how your website users will experience your site and use it.

The Website

Navigation Menu

Out of all of the navigation elements, the menu is the most important consideration in website navigation design. It contains all the other navigational components in your website and users expect to find it on every page of your website. Its design and location also influence how well your users can browse your website and lead your customers to convert. Because of this, most, if not all, website navigation designs are based on the location, look, and functions of the navigation menu.

Types of

Website Navigation Menu

Horizontal website navigation bar

This is the most common navigation menu and is also referred to as the header menu. It is positioned horizontally on the header of the page and has the links arranged side-by-side. Horizontal header menus stay on the screen even when the user is scrolling through the page to make the menu accessible to the user. The header menu often contains the links for the home, about, blog or articles, pricing, products, services, and contact pages.

Vertical navigation menu

Also known as the sidebar, this navigation menu type stacks its links on top of each other vertically. This is situated on the left side of the page and usually contains longer link texts and more top-level menu options. Sidebar options are often arranged according to their importance since people rarely look beyond the first five links in them. 

Dropdown navigation menu

Dropdown navigation menus appear when a mouse hovers over its link text or graphic or when the user clicks on it. This is often used to list important links that do not have the same importance as the main or general links. Dropdown menus are often used to direct users to categories or sub-pages under the blog, product, service, contact, and about page links.

Hamburger navigation menu

The hamburger menu is called such due to its three-line icon resembling a hamburger. It is often used in mobile pages to replace the larger menus from desktops or larger screens. When clicked, the icon expands or drops down to show the full-size header or sidebar menu of the page.

Footer navigation menu

The footer menu is a horizontal menu placed on the bottom of the page. It is often paired with a header menu to provide a more expansive list of links for the user. However, unlike the header menu, it does not scroll along the users’ screen and users will have to go to the bottom of the page to see it.

Sub-navigation menu

Also referred to as local navigation, it is a menu for lower-level categories of a website. These lower-level categories are often the subcategories of the website’s main menu links. Sub-navigation menus make it easier for users to discover deeper pages on your website. 

Four Types of Sub-navigation Menus

  • Accordion menu – This menu reveals a vertical stack of links when triggered. It is best to limit the number of links to a maximum of six items. What makes it different from a drop-down menu is it pushes down the content while a drop-down menu lays over it. 
  • Category landing pages – These are pages that users are taken to after selecting a category in the navigation menu. Category landing pages are best for categorized blogs, articles, products, and other items that need a summary, photo, or video for users to understand.  
  • Section menus – This type of menu is found in the page’s contents and is used to guide users through your content. Section menu items are usually the first and second-level headers of the content. This is used on pages with 6 to 15 headers. 
  • Sequential menus – This is used for items of multiple layers from the website’s main navigation. This is best used for large sites with multiple categories and subcategories that require hierarchical website navigation. 
  • Mega menu – This is a larger drop-down menu that displays several navigational options to the users. This is used when a menu item has several categories and sub-categories under it. 

Website Navigation

Best Practices

Here are some website navigation techniques and best practices to optimize the website user experience and create an SEO-friendly navigation menu:

1. Design your navigation with a site map

Starting with a site map is a good way to get everything right in your navigation design. It will help you identify the primary and secondary categories found on your website and plan their order and groupings more easily. To do this, you only need a piece of paper and a bit of browsing your existing pages.

2. Place your navigation menu where users expect it

Your visitors must have no trouble finding your navigation menu. Because of this, you should place your main menu where they expect to find it – at the header or the left side of your page. This is the standard placement for most sites and your visitors have an intuitive knowledge of where to find it. Going off the beaten path is more likely to confuse them and make it difficult for them to navigate and find information on your website.

3. Include the links your users expect to find

Your visitors expect to find certain links on your website menu when using your site. It is best to place these links in your menu and in the order they expect. In this way, they can navigate your website without needing to think very much about it.

The essential links any website must have in its menu include the links for the homepage, about page, and contact page. Depending on your business or website, your users will also expect to find a link for services, products, pricing, testimonials, and or blog.

4. Do not place more than 7 menu options

Placing more than seven navigation menu options will overwhelm your website's users. This will both discourage them from reading the different options available and reduce the menu's effectiveness in leading traffic to your important pages. If you have more than seven important links for your menu, you can group similar ones under a single menu item and the user will only have to click the group name for these links to show up in a drop-down or sub-header menu. For example, if you have several category pages for your products, you can group these links under “Products” in your global website navigation menu.

5. Do not use more than two menu levels

Larger websites will have several categories and subcategories for their pages. This may lead to a main menu’s drop-down being too limited for users to navigate to a site's other important pages. Instead of using another drop-down menu to branch off from the first drop-down menu, you should place these items in a mega menu and group them according to their main categories.

6. Use a sticky website navigation menu

Regardless of how you choose to style your website navigation bar design, it will not be the most effective if it is not fixed or floating on the screen while your users are scrolling the page. Fixed or floating menus make it easier for users to navigate your website since they can access it even when they are in the middle of scrolling through a page. This feature is non-negotiable for long-scrolling pages since users will have to scroll back to the top of the page otherwise.

7. Link your business logo to the site’s homepage

Using your logo as the homepage button will help you save space for more navigation links in your menu. Moreover, website users expect this functionality so they will use your logo as the home button intuitively.

8. Use clear language for your menu link texts

Your visitors should have no trouble understanding your menu text and know where it will lead when they click it. Here are the three most common ways you can label them:

  • Object-based labels – This is the most common approach in labeling menu links. Object-based labels are used when the menu is used as a table of contents. It also groups the pages according to the topics or categories that make the most sense for the users. Examples of object-based link text include “Blog”, “Products”, “Services”, “Videos”, “Account”, and “Resources”.
  • Action-based labels – This type of link text is suitable for websites that have users visiting it to perform a specific action. Examples of action-based labels include “Learn”, “Apply”, “Visit”, “Sign in”, “Register”, “Request a Quote”, and “Get Started”.
  • Audience-based labels – This type of link-text works best in websites with pages that target one or more specific segments of their audience and when the visitors can classify themselves where they belong. Examples of audience-based labels are “Students”, “Faculty”, “Members”, “Jobseekers”, and “Employers”.

9. Place a primary call-to-action in your header navigation bar

Your top website navigation features all the important links that users may need to browse your site. As a result, your web visitors will instinctively look to this area while browsing your page. Take advantage of this by placing a call to action on the right-most side of your header menu.

For best results, you can color your call to action button with one that will stand out and use a link text that prompts them to take action.

10. Arrange your menu based on importance

The order of your menu links or buttons must be based on importance. However, you should not order the links from the most important to the least important. Instead, the most important items should be at the beginning (left side of the menu) with the least important ones in the middle of the navigation menu. The last item (far right side) on the menu is left for the contact page or call to action link.

11. Use breadcrumbs as a secondary navigation aid

Breadcrumbs let your users know their location on your website. It displays the trail of pages between the users’ current page and the homepage. This makes it easier for the user to make their way back to higher pages such as their pages’ category and subcategory pages.

12. Never place social icons in your main navigation menu

Social media icons will lead your website visitors away and to another website. This is against your website and business goals since you want them to browse more of your pages and convert in some way. Because of this, you should never place your social media sharing icons on your navigation menu. You should instead place it at the bottom of your content or the footer menu.

13. Make your navigation responsive

Your website navigation must have a responsive design. It should adjust according to the users’ screen size and should provide a good navigation experience regardless of its configuration.

14. Optimize your website navigation design

Not all of these tips will always be in line with how your audience uses your website. Because of this, you need to keep an eye on how they use and experience your website through website analytics and heat-map tracking. Doing so will help identify any improvements you can make to optimize the usability and navigability of your website.

Find Out How You Can Improve

Your Website Navigation Design

You may already have these best practices implemented for your website. But, as the last point implies, there is always room for improvement. If you want to find out how you can improve your website’s existing navigation interfaces, we can help you figure it out through website analytics and testing. Contact us and schedule your free consultation with Big Market Solutions!

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