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Website navigation is the centerpiece of each website, responsible for great user experiences. This is why its design shouldn’t be taken lightly. Bad website navigation can render all the content on your site useless for a visitor. This can lead to devastating bounce rates directly affecting your website traffic and how search engines rank it.
Since the website navigation topic is always a hot one, due to the developments in website design and the importance of a responsive design, we have decided to provide you with examples of good, bad, and the best website navigation practices.
Bad website navigation is amongst the top factors that cause visitor frustration. Here are some examples you should definitely avoid.
Navigation with way too many options. When a website visitor is faced with a navigation bar with many options, you are basically forcing him or her to read all of them in search for their content of interest. This decision making process is frustrating, as it takes valuable time and puts pressure on the visitor. On top of all this, large navigation menus can clutter the main website interface – and this leads to poor user experiences (UX).
Unimportant links in the primary navigation menu. This is another common mistake in website navigation design – leaving irrelevant links in subsections with no regards to what your target audience needs.
Website Navigation designed for large screens only. With this design, the navigation bar becomes useless when the website is accessed via any mobile device – tablet or smartphone. With just one navigation scheme, the functionality of the website becomes very restricted.
Too many flyout submenus. On a small screen, too many hover fly-out submenus with several options become unusable. This means that some pages of your website will be inaccessible by mobile visitors.
Links don’t differentiate from the rest of the text. The links placed on the website aren’t underlined, bolded, and in a different color – basically, they are the same as the text that surrounds them.
Different primary Navigation Bar for each webpage. This inconsistency can confuse website visitors and make them feel uncomfortable while browsing your website.
Text labels that are way too long. By putting long texts in navigation bar labels, you will increase the time needed to process the information which leads to prolonged decision making. Users want to spend more time on the content of their interest and not on navigating to it. The tone of this text should also reflect the tone of your website and business.
In order to be good, website navigation has to be able to meet the needs of a modern online consumer:
1. It has to be easily accessible
In order to make the navigation easily accessible, it has to be sticky. Sticky navigation is the kind that stays in the same place on every page of the website. Even when the page is scrollable, it stays locked in place. This provides a great UX because people don’t have to scroll back up in order to use the bar again.
2. As informative as possible
Every hypertext on the website has to be clearly visible to a visitor. The good old underlining and color change should not be experimented with. These have been with us since the beginning of the Internet. Clearly visible elements in the text help users to easily navigate to valuable sources of information. When clicked, the hypertext should change color so the user knows that he or she has already visited the link.
3. Ease of use
On a website loaded with content distrusted in dozens of categories, Mega menus are a viable option. Mega menus are those drop-down panels you have probably seen on some websites. They are good because they eliminate the need for scrolling and can contain tooltips for more information.
4. Fast loading time
The loading time of a website is a very important search engine optimization (SEO) metric. And navigation bar design plays an important part when you want to speed up your website.
There is no magic solution that will make any website navigation the best one there is. The best possible navigation for a website is determined by the sitemap (created with respect towards content importance and hierarchy), user experience research, the visitor’s persona, and the website’s goals.
Besides this, maintaining good communication with the team of developers and designers responsible for your website is also important.
After reading countless materials from experts in the field of website development, I came to a conclusion that these are the best practices to follow for building good website navigation:
- Descriptive labels in navigation help Google determine if your website is consistent with the chosen topics.
- Using format-based navigation labels is contra productive. Labels should provide helpful information to website visitors, and generic category names are not helpful in any way.
- Replace drop-down menus with mega drop-down menus.
- The number of items found in the navigation bar shouldn’t exceed seven.
- Navigation should be optimized for mobile devices – the famous “Hamburger menu.”
The most important thing regarding website navigation is to stay current with the emerging trends dictated by the research results of big players in the field, while at the same time respecting the needs of your target audience. Keep in mind that, when redesigning and optimizing your website navigation, the key lies in gradual updates and changes so that you can slowly transition regular visitors into the new experience.