When building web sites, there are many components to consider. A great deal of thought goes into determining the purpose, theme, content, and visual elements. Search engine optimization has to be taken into account, too. But one of the most important things to focus on is the navigation. This should be a priority, and planned well in advance of the graphic design. A user-friendly site gives visitors a positive experience that creates a favorable impression of the company. But one with poor or confusing navigation will drive visitors away quickly.
Even if you have the most beautiful site on the web, with cutting edge graphics and superb content, it won’t matter if visitors can’t locate the information they seek. If people get lost in the site, or can’t find what they are looking for, they will quickly click away. The success of the web site depends largely on the navigation system.
Here are some key things to keep in mind when planning your web site’s navigation structure:
Know your audience. Think about the target audience. Who are you trying to attract to the site? How sophisticated are the people who will be scrolling through the pages? If the content is highly technical and geared toward those who are very tech-savvy, then you can feel confident using a navigation system that is sleek and even different from the norm.
But if the site is one where visitors may be less intuitive, you’ll need to use a simpler navigation style, locating the buttons on the left side of the page. A system that uses breadcrumbs to show people where they are in the site is another option.
Be clear. On the Home page, make it obvious what the visitor will find on the site. Use short, simple titles for the navigation buttons. Ambiguous terms might be cute, but will confuse visitors, causing them to leave the site. If your site is one where you people have the opportunity to buy online, you want them to know exactly where to go to make a purchase.
Keep it simple. The fewer clicks it takes for the reader to get to the page they want, the better. Requiring too many clicks means that pages have to load, thus slowing down the process. Scrolling down is not as troublesome as having to click through multiple pages.
Consider the graphics. If the site is full of dynamic graphics, be aware that this may take away from or even camouflage the navigation. A header that is brightly colored may keep the visitor from noticing a navigation bar located at the top of the page. In this instance you should choose to go with a left-side navigation menu.
Be consistent. If you have developed a site that has a horizontal navigation bar at the top of the page, then make sure it is laid out the same way on every page. Changing it up and moving things around on other pages will only confuse the visitor, no matter how computer literate they may be.
Be flexible. The best web sites are constantly evolving, updating information, adding pages, and refreshing content. When designing the navigation, allow for the addition of extra sections, pages, blogs, or even e-commerce, if that’s appropriate. By planning ahead and creating an architecture that will accommodate growth and changes, you will make it much easier to expand the site when the time comes.
Proof read. When you have been working on the site very closely for a long period of time, it’s easy to miss things. It’s a good idea to have someone who has never seen the web site do a thorough review before the site goes live. You will know right away if there is a problem. Broken links can be easy to miss, especially if the site is multi-tiered or otherwise complicated. Users who encounter broken links or get the dreaded 404 error message will have a negative impression of the web site, and frustrated, they will click away.
Contact Info. Remember that visitors may not necessarily arrive at your site via the Home page. They may have followed a link from another site, and landed on a page buried deep within the site’s architecture. Without clear navigation, they will become confused and unable to figure out where they are, or how to get to the page they want.
That’s why it’s important to include contact information on every page. No matter where a visitor lands, they should be able to quickly and easily find out how to contact someone for additional information, or understand how to place an order.
Careful planning in the early stages of web site development is recommended. This will ensure that the navigation doesn’t have to be worked around a difficult graphic design or troublesome template. Planning ahead will help you create a site that is easy for visitors to navigate, and will give a positive impression of the company along with its products and services. Satisfied visitors will buy more and visit often for news and updates, and that’s really the whole point of having a web site in the first place.