Your Website Navigation Checklist

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  • August 4, 2010

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.

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About Jeff Foster

Jeff Foster is a co-founder of WebBizIdeas, a company providing website development and e-commerce web design.

18 Comments

  • Nabeel | Create Your First Website says:

    Hi,

    Great advices. It is very important to have navigation that is as simple as possible. You want your visitors to know exactly where everything is.

    Many over complicate this process.

    Kindest,
    Nabeel

  • Onibalusi Bamidele says:

    Really great post Jeff,

    Exactly! Knowing your audience is very important when trying to build a successful website.

    Thanks a lot for the great post!

  • Ron Leyba says:

    Great checklist.

    I guess, a search form can also be effective along side with good navigation. It will really help a lot in terms of site accessibility.

    • Noor Azlin @ Bizznurse.com says:

      I agree with you Ron. A search form is vital for every website or blog. Sometime the categories or tag do not match things that we are looking for. I usually dig into people’s post using the search form-it is much easier to find the page you’re looking for.

  • Kathy says:

    Navigation is a huge deal with me on websites. One example of a bad navigation was on a blog that I found recently that I really liked.

    This person had their usual RSS feed subscription in the upper right hand corner where it is often found on some WordPress themes. However, there was no email subscription to be found.

    I personally prefer to subscribe to such things via email. I could not subscribe because I could not find a link for it.

    Low and behold, a couple visits later, I found the email subscription link elsewhere on the blog. I wonder if that same navigational weakness has cost that blogger other subscribers.

  • Sheree / Calgary Escort says:

    Better navigation system is the key element to have an effective and successful website. A visitor who enters an unfamiliar site should be guided by simple and clear navigation bars so that they will have a positive experience through out their visit and as a result they will visit the site often which will be favorable to the company. Anyway, thanks a lot for sharing this helpful tips. Keep it up!

  • Brandon Connell says:

    As a web designer I tend to see a lot of old sites from the 80′s that still need these kinds of navigation web 2.0 tips. But for the most part, I think a lot of this is obvious for anyone who is computer savvy.

  • Dennis Edell | Direct Sales Marketing says:

    What do you think of blogs with static home pages; navigation to everything clearly laid out.

  • Blog Angel a.k.a. Joella says:

    Excellent and thoughtful article on site navigation. When I did a remake of my blog I was careful to ensure the design included a highly visible, horizontal navigation menu below the header on all pages.

    I also wanted to make sure that my search box,categories dropdown list and subscribe options were well above the crease. To that end I located them just below the menu.

    I think it’s uber important to make it easy as possible for a user to get around a site or blog. It encourages them to stick around an explore and that means more site actions and lower bounce rate.

  • Sean says:

    Great tips! Navigation should be consider on building website, it should be simple and easy for the visitors.

  • sapphire / lost in stockholm says:

    Proofreading is critical. It is too easy to forget bits here and there and then forget who was responsible to implement those changes. But be vigilant and go over the site with a fine comb and a sense of OCD.

    Definitely know your audience, some may like snazzy web 2.0 elements, other may not care.

  • Sourish @ Iphone 4 Jailbreak says:

    top navbar / related posts / sidebar posts and categories must be clean for users to navigate through with low bounce rate

  • Reza Winandar says:

    Know your audience.

    That’s the most important thing, you should know your audience so you can provide the best thing for them.

  • Marisa says:

    Good article overall, however I don’t completely agree with the scrolling vs clicks argument. For me there is nothing worse than scrolling endlessly in the hopes of locating information near the bottom of the page. Of course, being made to jump through endless hoops is also frustrating. I think one needs to find a good middle ground between the two extremes.

  • Steve @Erraticblog says:

    Keeping it simple can’t be stressed enough. Clear structure, categories, and a flow of information is one of the most important things a site can have.

  • Wish Studios » Wish Studios – Advertising, Branding, Identity and Design says:

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  • Mandeep says:

    I think the ease of access of your website has a lot to do with the judgment visitors are going to make. If they find it easy to access the articles they are looking for, they are likely going to read more and stay longer.

  • Richard Lord says:

    It is always important to consider your audience with any aspect of a website or blog, but I agree that navigation is one of the most important considerations.
    I like to try to find a friend or family member who is not a web expert to try out a web site design before it goes live to see if they can easily find their way around. Even better if I can find several people to try it out so I can use their feedback to make improvements.

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