There are a lot of things to consider when you are making a website – but navigation is one that tends to get overlooked.
Realistically though, the decision to make website navigation easy should be a no-brainer.
Effective site navigation makes it easy for people to find the content that they are looking for. This dramatically improves user experience and it can even improve your search engine rankings.
So, how do you do it?
1. Be Minimalistic
It’s tempting to put as many navigation pieces as possible on your header and your sidebar.
People often think that giving people more options is best – but it really isn’t.
If you give people too many options, then they tend to avoid the decision at all.
In general, you should aim for seven or fewer menu items. Why seven? Because this is how many items people can hold in their short term memory. So, if you have more than seven, people may forget the first item before they get to the last one.
This really influences their ability to make a decision.
Additionally, the fewer menu items you have, the more significant each becomes.
Think about each menu item carefully.
What advantage does it offer? Does it really help with navigation? If the menu item doesn’t, maybe it’s time to cut it or present it in a different way.
Sites that have managed to cut down their number of menu items to five or so present a very clean and easy to navigate system, and this is something to aim for.
However, the perfect number varies depending on your site and how many different components it has.
For example, a wide reaching authority site is going to need more menu items than a niche site that only considers one or two main topics.
2. Be Careful with Dropdowns
Dropdown menus can be a fantastic way of showcasing specific posts or categories, but they are also risky.
One issue is that they are inherently annoying.
The reader can’t see what is in a dropdown menu until they hover over it. The menu will also close if they move the mouse away. Additionally, some themes have overly sensitive menus that seem to close when people are trying to read them.
Even if your menu works perfectly, people don’t see it until they are part way through the decision making process
You can still use dropdown menus, just be careful about what you put in them if you want to be effective.
In particular, simple dropdowns with relatively few items often work well.
For example, this is a dropdown menu from the site Eat at Home:
All of the entries are easy to read and understand, letting people glance over them quickly.
For this type of site, having a dropdown menu actually works very well, as recipes naturally fall into a range of different categories and the site hosts a large number of different recipes.
When it comes to dropdown menus like this, what you are linking to is important.
Many people use dropdown menus to link to individual posts. This is especially common when people first start working on their sites, because it seems the natural approach. In fact, some themes make this all too easy.
Having individual posts on dropdown menus is a really bad idea.
To start off with – you can’t keep this going long-term.
It might look great when you only have 15 or 20 posts across your entire site, but what about when you have 200? Clearly having too many posts in your dropdown menu is going to look absurd and not be helpful.
The alternative is just to highlight specific posts.
You can do that, yes. However, by highlighting some posts, you make people much less likely to go to others.
You also make navigation harder overall and the whole point should be to make website navigation easy.
Taking this approach might work for your site, but it’s important to weigh up the pros and the cons, before rushing into any decision.
The other thing is that individual posts tend to have long titles.
These fit very poorly in dropdown menus. In fact, long titles are a really bad idea for any menu. All they do is confuse people.
3. Pick Your Order Carefully
Order matters. It really does.
When you’re structuring your site, place menu items in the order that your visitors are going to be interested in.
In any list (or on any website) attention is highest at the beginning or at the end of a list. If you structure your content around this, then you can make it easier for people to navigate through your website.
When you pick your order, it’s best to choose it for your reader, not for you.
It’s tempting to try and direct readers to specific parts of your site over others, but that almost always backfires.
I’ve seen sites where the authors intentionally make some parts more difficult than others.
It’s like they have those parts up because they feel that they should, but they don’t really want people reading them.
All that really does is make the readers on the website annoyed and many will leave.
4. Check Across Platforms
People go online in many different ways.
They use smartphones, tablets, computers and laptops – all with different screen sizes and sometimes using different types of browsers.
This means that everyone has a different online experience. Some websites work very well on every device, but others don’t.
In particular, people going online from small devices often have trouble with website navigation, and some sites just aren’t set up for smaller devices.
Regardless of how you go online, it’s important to make sure your site is designed to work well for every type of browser and device. Many themes are now designed to be mobile responsive and make website navigation easy even on the smallest devices.
There are also a number of websites that you can visit that will let you emulate your site on a smaller device to test that it works like it is supposed to.
5. Plan Ahead
The most important thing about making navigation easy is to play.
Most sites have logical navigation when they first get started, but as the site gets bigger and the amount of content increases, this becomes harder to do.
If you plan ahead, you can develop a navigation structure that will continue to work regardless of how big your site gets or how much content you develop. A big part of this is simply working out what your different navigation components and categories are going to be.
Having a navigation structure planned out can actually help with content development, because it helps you to see what areas you need to work on and where your gaps are.
Talking to others about their navigation and how they plan their site in general can also help you to develop something that works really well.
A good place to do this is Wealthy Affiliate. The site has a large community of people from all walks of life and focused on empowering and training people in internet marketing. It can be a great place to get advice and the community there is the best that I’ve ever seen. Plus, you can even get started on the site for free.