website navigationA hard-to-navigate website is like a very disorganized closet. When you open it to look for something, your instinct is to close it again and give up. And that’s what visitors to your website will do if the navigation is confusing. A recent survey by Clutch found that 94% of people say easy navigation is the most important website feature. Knowing your target customer, which of your products and services are most popular, and tracking your website’s usage will give you the information you need to build the best navigation for your business’ website.

An easy to navigate site increases conversion rates by engaging visitors and improving your brand. It will also improve SEO rankings since search bots will find it easy to study your site. Once visitors find you, they will make a very fast judgement about whether to linger. An easy-to-follow navigation system invites them to stay.

Websites usually use one or more type of navigation, including:

  • Horizontal Navigation Bar: Most websites have these. Headings across the top of the home page take the visitor to the corresponding web page. Depending on the type of business, headings might include “About Us,” “Contact” and major product groupings. For these, an additional drop-down menu can list products more specifically. Service organizations might include a “Testimonial” header or recent photos of completed work. Knowing your customers and your products will steer you toward the best set of headings. Keep the wording brief and descriptive, and don’t overdo it. A crowded list of headings is confusing.
  • Vertical Navigation Bar: This is the list of headings shown in a vertical sidebar. If organized carefully, this method allows more headings with more words.

Footnote: Footnotes allow businesses to show headings at the bottom of the page with more detailed information. Many businesses will have a footnote list in addition to a horizontal bar. The horizontal bar will be attractive to new visitors, while repeat customers may prefer the footnote.

These types of navigation work well on a laptop or PC, but space is more limited on a cell phone. For mobile applications, the Hamburger is a good navigation choice. It’s common now to see the three short horizontal “hamburger” bars appearing at the top left or right on a website.

hamburger menu

Clicking on it opens a vertical list of heading, similar to what is on a website. Many websites now use the hamburger as well as another form of navigation.

Another useful navigation is the Breadcrumb. This shows users the path they’ve taken to the current page they’re on. If they want to go up just one step, it’s easy to do by clicking on it in the breadcrumb. Here is an example of a one type of breadcrumb. These are especially useful for shoppers who want to keep looking but not start their search from the beginning. It can mean the difference between losing the shopper and keeping them engaged.

bread crumbs

Users who are looking for something specific will look for a search bar and may not use any other navigation tool. A search bar is a necessary feature for ecommerce sites. An icon where shoppers can link to their cart is also necessary. A link to a contact page is useful if shoppers are experiencing a problem or have questions.

Tips for creating navigation headings and subheadings:

Start with a list of the major pages that make up your site. Make these your navigation headings and add sub-headings with items included on the pages. Test your arrangement with others to see if it’s useful. Google Analytics ‘Visitor’s Flow Report’ tool will help. It provides data showing how visitors flow through a site. It will highlight popular products and services and indicate which should be in the navigation bar.

Keep headings and subheadings short and descriptive. Knowing your target audience helps you include headings for products they are interested in.

Use metrics to gauge success. Google Analytics has a Navigation Summary Report that lets you see how users move from one page to another on your site. Measure School offers a guide to use the report. Your web designer can help you create and measure your navigation success.

Your website navigation is part of your brand, and if it’s easy, clean and descriptive, you’ll attract and retain visitors. It will encourage visitors to become customers who feel secure purchasing from you.

Wheaton Website Services understands the needs of small businesses and the importance of creating a competitive website for them. Contact us to learn how we help small businesses design and maintain their websites.

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