Website Navigation – Do Your Visitors Need a Compass?

A good navigation system is one of the most important aspects of web usability.  If your site is difficult to move around, your visitors will leave almost immediately.

Easy-to-use navigation is key to successfully guiding visitors through your site, keeping them engaged and away from that exit button.  If you get it right, you’ll see the rewards through greater sales, higher contact points and more sign ups.

How does website navigation work?

Website navigation is all about the structure of your site.  Unlike a book, where the next page is an obvious turn away, websites have multiple options.  And that means your visitors could find themselves lost. If they’re not in the right place or can’t easily find the things they need, more often than not, they’ll leave.  And that could be a dropped sale.

Setting up a good structure is dependent on the size of your website, the content and the layout.  You have lots of different navigation solutions, here are just a few:

  • Side menu:  pretty common and works well for smaller websites
  • Text menu:  better when used with a main navigation but offers a great accompanying solution to help with your SEO
  • Pull down or drop down menu: shows the main tabs titles and often has a hover over or click function which expands the menu to reveal more links.

These are all familiar solutions to your website users.  Play it safe, and make navigation as easy as possible to improve retention.

Why do surfers need a compass?

Web users are more skilled and experienced at browsing sites than ever before.  They are also more efficient at quickly deciding whether the site is right for them.  There are millions and millions of websites out there, so your competition is intense.  Creating a straightforward, user-friendly navigation system is essential to prolonging visitor’s time on websites.

How do I know if my navigation isn’t right?

Your bounce rate will give you a good indication of where you’re going wrong.  Check out your web stats to see how long people are spending on each page and which pages have the highest bounce rates.  If a page registers a high bounce rate, then take a closer look at your content, design and navigation.

Navigation is something you should always review and can always be improved.  Ask yourself some questions:

  • Can your visitor quickly and easily find the product or service you’re selling?
  • Are the navigation buttons obvious?
  • Can you get to the desired page within 3 clicks or less?
  • Is your navigation system consistent throughout your site?

Always put yourself in your customer’s shoes. If you answer no to any of these questions, then consider restructuring your site so it’s far easier to move around.

How to make sure your website navigation is successful

There are many things that you can do to move your visitors around the site in the way you want:

  • Make sure your logo is always linked back to your homepage.
  • Site map: add a dedicated page on your site which acts as a roadmap to all of the content by using text links.  You should consider a site map anyway to help improve site indexing, but they’re also really handy to keep your hurried visitors focussed and engaged.
  • Search function: these are perfect if your site is fairly big and you think your visitors might appreciate a quick approach to navigating your site.  You can use an add-on or even a third party server to make sure the scripts are user-friendly and people can really find what they need.

Ultimately your visitors are savvy, time sensitive web users.  If you don’t make navigation simple for them, they’ll hit the exit button quicker than you can say naviga…