Website Navigation: 6 Best Practices, Design Tips and Warnings

Posted by Mark Volkovich on October 17th, 2019

When it comes to Website Navigation, little things make a big difference in how successful a website is. The structure and labels of your navigation can have a huge impact on results. Navigation affects both traffic and conversion. The site’s navigation affects the traffic that comes into your website, how high you rank and how much traffic is coming in through search. Conversions are in turn affected by the inbound traffic to the website, indicated by the conversion rate. This blog will provide you with the best practices when it comes to the design of a website’s navigation.

1. Be Descriptive

Your website architecture is the story that you are trying to convey through your website. It is key to a successful Search Engine Optimization effort. Descriptive labels help you tell that story and in turn increase your SEO score. To be successful you should use top of mind phrases, phrases that the general public would use while searching for a specific product or service, you should be “thinking like the consumer”. Use your main navigation as a place to tell people and search engines your story. Stay away from general labels such as “what we do” or “What we sell”, use key phrases that describe specific activities that the company does.

Descriptive labels are favorable for visitors, your navigation bar is visually prominent and so it communicates instantly the topic of the page to the visitor. Having descriptive topical labels allows the visitor to know they’re in the right place.

Read more: 7 Ways to Give Your Business Blog Google's Seal of Approval

2. Avoid format-based navigation

Format-based navigation labels such as “videos”, “photos”, and “white papers” inform the visitors of the format of the content, but not the topic. People don’t visit websites looking for videos or photos, they visit sites for answers, information or products. Labels indicating the format and not the subject matter are not descriptive and therefore aren’t very helpful to visitors.

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3. Limit the number of menu items to seven

Some websites tend to have hundreds of links on their homepage, this is not best practice. Limiting the number of links in your main navigation to seven will improve your search engine quality score. A website’s homepage has the most “authority” with search engines due to the number of links linking back to it. This authority flows down from the homepage through the navigation and into your interior pages. Having too many items in your navigation reduces the likelihood that your interior pages will rank. The more concise your navigation, the more authority flows to each interior page of your website.

Another reason to limit the number of items is the benefit for visitors. As George Miller said in 1956, short term memory holds only seven items, give or take. The higher the number of items in your navigation, the harder it is for visitors to remember and process the information they’ve seen. If you desperately need to have more than seven items, consider breaking them up into groups. Each item you remove from the menu allows the rest to be more visually prominent.

4. The order of the labels in navigation is important

In website navigation, just like any other list, items at the beginning and end are most effective, due to the fact that attention and retention are highest at these points. This is called the serial position effect and it combines two cognitive biases:

    • Primary effect – items at the beginning of a list are more easily remembered
    • Recency effect – items at the end of a list are more easily remembered

For this reason, anything at the beginning or end of our navigation becomes more prominent. Always seek to put the most important items in the most prominent place. This aligns with the core principle of web design and content marketing, “first give the visitors what they want, then they might give you what you want”

Read more: How to Tell Your Brand Story Using Web Design

5. How to optimize your website’s navigation

Designing your navigation is just the beginning, a few weeks after creating and launching your navigation, you should go back and look at the analytics behind it and evaluate the performance. The first report to look at is the “in-page” view of the behavioral report. The in-page view will indicate what percentage of visitors went to each page from any other page. This is not always accurate, so you should back it up by checking the “navigation summary” report from your homepage, it lists the pages and percentages of pageviews for each of your site’s pages.

Another report to look at would be the behavioral flow report. This report allows you to get an idea about which navigation item visitors are using and which ones are expendable, making optimization possible.

There are three actions/decisions that could be made following analysis of the reports:

    • Remove items that rarely get clicked
    • Rename or relabel those items that are rarely clicked on
    • Move items that often get clicked to the beginning of the navigation

One thing to consider, the homepage may not be the entry point for some visitors. An optimized website has many entry points.

6. Website Navigation on mobile devices

Responsive websites are the new trend in the world or website development, it’s brought on mobile navigation best practices and standards to follow. The mobile navigation is commonly known as the “hamburger icon”. The hamburger icon is made up of three short lines on the top right of mobile websites, clicking it reveals the navigation menu.

Read more: In Context. Notes on Content and Brand Strategy

Although it has become a dominant standard, adding the word “menu” may help visitors find this type of hidden navigation easily. Hidden navigation menus increase task completion time for the visitors and may lead to the loss of some visitors.

Another way to improve the experience for mobile visitors is to add a call to action button for calls. Ease of use and convenience are important for mobile visitors and something as simple as a CTA will enhance the visitor’s experience and may lead to repeated visits or conversion.


Mark Volkovich

About the Author

Mark Volkovich
Joined: July 30th, 2019
Articles Posted: 14

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