Keep Your Navigation Simple

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Navigation StructureA common issue I encounter on many websites, both on new small business sites and big corporate websites, is inadequate navigation.

This often happens when those that designed and implemented the site’s navigation lost sight of its true purpose: to help users find their way through the website.

Sometimes the navigation is rendered in Flash or JavaScript, ensuring that it won’t work properly in all browsers and that search engines won’t be able to use the navigation to find all the pages on your website. This will cause all kinds of long term problems with your site’s visibility in search engines and usability for visitors.

When you decide on the navigation of your website you need to keep its purpose in mind. Navigation is meant to be used by visitors to find content on your site. Here are some tips on creating a good navigation structure for your site:

  • The navigation on your site need to be clear and visible. If you hide your navigation among other loud design elements, users won’t be able to find it right away.
  • Keep the list of items short and use submenus to divide your content into logical structures. If you have a lot of content spread over many different pages, think hard about a good, sensible structure that results in short lists of navigation items.
  • Consider the order of your navigation items. What are the most important pages you want your visitors to see? Put those higher in the navigation. If you have content you feel is critical for your users to see, don’t hide it deep in your navigation tree but give it a prominent place.
  • Use plain HTML for your navigation. Don’t hide your navigation in slick JavaScript or Flash-applications. It’s OK to use images and mouse-overs, as long as you can accomplish it with plain HTML and CSS. If you insist on JavaScript or Flash, know that a percentage of your site’s visitors won’t be able to use it properly.
  • Indicate the current page. Users always need to know where they are on your site. You can accomplish this by indicating in your navigation what the current page is. You can use highlighted text, a different background, or any other visual way of indicating where the user is in your overall site navigation.
  • Don’t hide pages from your navigation. Every page on your site should be a part of your navigation structure. If you really want to hide a page from the regular site navigation, ask yourself what that page’s purpose is and why you really want to hide it.
  • Your site’s navigation alone isn’t sufficient. Also link to the content on your site from within the text. When you do this, try to use the same link names as in your navigation structure, so that users won’t be confused as to where they’re going when they click on that link.

Always keep in mind that navigation exists to help your users find what they’re looking for. It should never be a hindrance. It’s OK to sacrifice the ‘cool’-factor. First and foremost your website’s navigation needs to do its job properly.

If you have a tip of your own for creating great website navigation, please leave a comment!

Comments

  1. By on

    I wish I could get away from using JavaScript for my navigation, but I’m using a master page that everyone on our development team must use.

    I really like the idea of indicating the current page, but I would need to modify the code of the master page, which may not be possible.

    A comment about hiding pages: sometimes you only want a user to get to a page by executing certain steps. For example, the user has to search for an item before he or she can view the detail of that item. In that case, I would hide the detail page.

    Reply »

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