How many clicks before you give up on a website where it’s hard to find what you’re looking for? The goal of any website is to provide information to current and prospective customers, but if they can’t find it on your website, they’ll go elsewhere. So how can you help deliver the info they need with minimal, intuitive effort? Here are three tips to improve your website navigation.
1. User Experience Comes First
First, think about what your customers might need from your website—don’t ignore their needs in favor of new customers only. Are there one or two quick links (like a login or product guide) you can pin to the top or bottom of your site that will help them jump straight to what they’re looking for? Make note of these early on in your site development plan and don’t forget them.
Next, consider the journey of a new or prospective customer. When they land on your site, they need to be able to find their next stop easily, regardless of where they came from.
If they’re just casually your site, they might scroll through your homepage without any set agenda. This is an opportunity to communicate solutions to the problems these prospective customers may have.
Quick tip: Keep bounce rates low and time-on-website pages high for improved SEO ranking.
It’s also an opportunity to highlight some of your best solutions you want new or returning customers to know about without making them to dig through all of your product pages to find them.
“Sticky” navigation (nav) bars that follow you down the page are a great way to make sure your menu is there the moment a visitor decides to explore your site further.
If your new customer is on a mission for a particular product, however, your menus need to be easy to navigate, otherwise you risk page abandonment. If you only offer a few products or services (like a medical office), you want to make sure your navigation has clearly labeled navigation links like Medical Staff and How to Prepare for Your Visit. But if you offer dozens or hundreds of products, you might consider the “mega menu”:
2. Pursue Best Practices, Not Trendy Tactics
The newest, hottest thing might be an exciting idea, but it may not be right for your customers yet. Take the great “hamburger” menu debate of the 2010s: the little three bar icon caused much controversy in the web design world for hiding all of the navigation behind a button that didn’t really communicate what it was for.
However, many sites used it anyway for two main reasons: it was the easiest way to deal with the emerging world of mobile website navigation (more below) and people started seeing it “everywhere.” So it must be the current best practice, right?
By now, it’s been around long enough that most users will recognize it right away. But how much traffic was lost in the meantime? It’s easy to get pulled in to the new and exciting trends because “everyone” is doing it. But with every new emerging trend you must ask yourself: Is it right for your customers and your brand?
The savviest brands will find a way to adopt but adapt, like including the word “menu” near the hamburger menu. Or like embracing Google’s love of deep, content-filled websites with a deep-scroll design that also incorporates a sticky nav menu or “back to top” button. With these tweaks, you’re staying at the forefront of design trends without sacrificing the user experience.
3. Mobile Navigation is Key
As we’ve been hinting, the last tip is likely the most important: consider your mobile design first. 2017 saw mobile devices account for 63% of all web traffic—a number that is sure to only get larger every year. This changing landscape practically demands that websites plan for their mobile experience at least at the same time as their desktop experience (if not first and foremost).
Quick tip: “TL;DR” is internet language for “Too long; didn’t read.” Readers will often look for content summaries or highlights so they can skim at their own pace.
One important distinction between mobile and desktop design is that mobile users will be navigating with their fingers and not a mouse. Your site buttons will need to be easily clickable but difficult to click by accident. Clicking the wrong link can be frustrating, and it might even cause visitors to abandon your site. Make sure your links are not in graphic buttons, but rather text that resizes within a colored shape.
As far as the mobile navigation structure is concerned, you’ll do well to pare things down to just your key pages. Then simply make sure you have links within pages to related content, as well as a robust search function on your site.
Sites with smaller page counts don’t need to worry about this strategy as much, but if you have a deep site, it’ll need to be well indexed for internal and external search engines.
Quick Tip: If you have a few related pages, consider consolidating them and adding a table of contents so visitors can jump to the section they’re interested in (think Wikipedia).
- Keep your navigation as clear and simple as possible, especially for mobile.
- Know your customers and how tech-savvy they are.
- Keep up-to-date on what search engines (Google) are looking for.
- Take the time to map out your site pages and then group and consolidate them.
- If you structure your site well from the beginning, then you’ll only have to “re-skin” the design elements when it starts to look old—not rebuild it.