It is very important to have good content on your website, but often the way visitors interact with the site can be just as important. One of the things that have direct impact on the user experience is navigation. It is important that people are able to find the page they need and go to it with ease. This is why, you will rarely come across a website with more than a couple of pages that doesn’t have a menu of some sort. Is that menu sufficient, though, and does it look usable at all?
Your goal should be easy and intuitive navigation. No matter what page people end up on, they should be able to find their way with a couple of clicks. If they cannot find with ease what they are looking for, they may get frustrated and leave.
Here are ten useful tips how to make the navigation on your website better.
1. Link your logo to the home page.
Many people are used to clicking on the logo of a website to go to the home page as lots of sites are designed in this way. This is the easiest and most intuitive way for your site visitors to start over, no matter what page they are looking at. If the website has a lot of pages, it will be easy for some people to get disoriented, so they will want to go to the home page. This is valid especially if they are browsing your site on a mobile device as mobile websites are a bit harder to navigate.
Another argument to add a link to the logo is that some people may go to your website through search engine results and they may end up on an inner page. Clicking on the site logo will be the easiest way for them to go to the home page if they want to explore the site further.
2. Make your logo stand out.
If the logo looks like a part of your menu, people may not really notice it, especially if it is not located on the top left where most people are used to seeing it. Make sure that the logo stands out and do not position it among the menu items. This way, the logo will be more visible. This will give your brand more exposure, and the navigation on your site will be easier as there will be a clear separation between the elements in the site header. It will also be easier for people to find and click on the logo, if needed.
3. Use a responsive menu.
You should always make sure that your menu looks good on any device. About half of the traffic worldwide is from mobile devices, so spending more time or even paying extra for a web designer or for some plugin to make the navigation on your site mobile-friendly is worth it.
If it is appropriate and/or necessary, do not hesitate even to use a hamburger menu on the desktop version of the website. While this type of menu is usually used in tablet and smartphone views, sometimes it may be better for the overall layout if you use it for all resolutions. This way, there will be minimal layout changes when a visitor switches between desktop and mobile modes.
Of course, your entire website should be mobile friendly, so if it is not, check out our article on the topic:
4. Keep menu item names short.
Navigation should be easy to use and people should be able to find what they need at a glance. This is why, using short names is important. The site menu is not the place to add the entire page title or a description of the product/service you offer. Adding even a couple of long names can make the entire menu unreadable, especially in mobile view. Using “Contact”, for example, is much better than “Get in touch with us”. Long names can easily frustrate visitors as they may not be able to find the option they are looking for, so they will probably just leave your site and go to one of your competitors. Of course, the menu item names should be relevant and user friendly.
5. Add only items that you really need.
You should keep the website menu short, not just the item names. Adding 10 or more items as first-level links will make it harder for people to find what they need. Choose a few main items you believe people will be looking for the most if they come across your website. First impression is always important, so you should spend some time deciding what to add. If you have a restaurant website, for example, you should have only one “Menu” item, not “Appetizers”, “Main course”, “Deserts” and “Drinks” as separate entries.
6. Use drop-down menus.
You may want some items to be on the menu, but they may not be that important to be a first-level entry. This is where drop-down menus come in handy. You can have one or a few drop-down menus, so the site will still look clean and organized, but your visitors will have more options to choose from. Of course, do not overuse them – usually a couple of drop-down menus are enough. You should try to use only second-level menus. If you use third-level menus, it will be more difficult for people to go through all options, especially in mobile view.
7. Use a sticky menu.
If your website has a lot of content and people have to scroll down more than a couple of times on some page, you can consider using a sticky menu. This way, visitors will be able to jump quicky to any section on the site whenever they need without scrolling up. The sticky menu will allow them to browse more pages easily and for a shorter period of time as they will not have to distract themselves by going up and down all the time. They will also see all menu items at all times, so it will be more likely that they will be curious to check other pages on the site. For an online store, for example, more time spent on the site may result in a potential sale.
8. Add “Back to top” button.
This seems like a very trivial tip, but very few sites have such a button. Many websites these days include a lot of information on their home page and some sites that use continuous loading may even have only one page. This is when a Back to top button can be very useful. It is something very small to add, but in some cases, it can greatly improve the overall user experience on your website.
9. Use a fat footer.
This is the term used to describe a footer that includes a lot of links and serves as secondary navigation. Sometimes you may have pages that you want to link, but you prefer the main menu to include only important links and you want to avoid using second or third-level menus. Website owners often ignore the footer of their site, but it provides a lot of space for additional quick access links. Anything you add there will be just a click away and will be displayed in a non-intrusive way as it will not interrupt people from browsing your site in any way.
Apart from the trivial Contact, About and Terms pages, you can add a link to any product or service located on an inner page that you believe is worth mentioning. An order status checker, sponsorship information, or service documentation are a few examples of what you can add to the footer that doesn’t fit in the site main menu. These are all pages that people should be able to find quickly, but simply don’t fit anywhere else.
10. Indicate the page a visitor is on.
You can underline, highlight or bold the text of the menu item when somebody visits a page. If they are on a page that is not linked in the menu, indicate the section of the menu the page is a part of. This way, visitors will always know what page or section they are on, so they will not get disoriented. This is important if you have a lot of pages.
Bonus: Add a search bar.
This option is very useful for large websites with a lot of content. You can add a small search bar around the main menu or a search button next to the menu items. The search option can also be considered as a part of the site navigation as it will help people find what they are looking for. Depending on what you want to appear in the results, people can see only links to specific pages or whole paragraphs of the page content. The search option will save them time and will improve their overall customer satisfaction.
How to test the navigation
The site navigation may look perfect to you, but this may not be the case for other people. Even if you follow the tips above, there may still be issues that you haven’t noticed, so it is important that you find and resolve any possible issues promptly. Here are a few ideas how to do that:
Use analytics software.
If you use an analytics platform like Matomo, for example, you can generate a heatmap of your website. This is a visual representation of the most popular (and unpopular) parts of a website. The platform can generate a Click map that will tell you where exactly on the website people click. If you notice that they click a lot on some links in your menu and very rarely on others, you can consider changing something. Using the heatmap, you can also see if people scroll all the way down to the footer. If they do, it is worth spending more time on creating a good fat footer.
Use A/B testing.
In essence, A/B testing is a technique to try different versions of something to check which one will work better. You can try with different names of the menu items, a different style or a different number of items in the first or second-level menus, for example. Depending on the number of hits on each version, you can decide which one will be optimal.
Ask friends to have a look.
You can ask your friends to have a look at your website and give you feedback. They can tell you first hand if they find the navigation on the site easy to use or if they experience any difficulties. The insight they give you can be better than any software analysis as they can tell you what exactly is the problem with a particular element of the site navigation.
Preview your site on different devices.
The navigation elements may look fine on your computer, but what about other devices? Open the Developer tools in your favorite browser (usually by clicking on the F12 key on your keyboard, or Control + Shift + M) and you can toggle between desktop and mobile view. You can easily select different devices – phones, tablets, laptops, even TVs, and see how the site will be displayed on them, including its navigation.
When it comes to navigation, website owners often add a few items in a menu and consider the job done. In reality, there are lots of small perks that can make your website more user-friendly. This can help you to keep ahead of the competition. While navigation is not the only factor that will drive traffic to your website, people will definitely appreciate it if they can browse the site and find what they need with ease, regardless of the device they use. Good user experience increases the chance that they will return to your site in the future.
Concise menus with drop-down options, relevant links in the footer and a logo link are a few of the things you should consider when you build or redesign your website. Having good and easy-to-use navigation will leave a good first impression, which is important for keeping visitors longer on your site and eventually for finding new customers.