Website Navigation that Helps Your Users: Tips and Tricks
If you have a website, you probably want it to be profitable. You might be surprised but it all starts with effective navigation. Does that seem too easy for you? However, the explanation is simple: the first step towards achieving the aforementioned goal is to retain users who have visited your web page. And to do this, you need to ensure they face no difficulties in interacting with your online resource. And it greatly depends on the website navigation, which can be compared with the house foundation.
The proof of our words is a report on web usability prepared by KoMarketing. According to the research in question, more than half of users resort to the help of the navigation bar menu when visiting a new site. Still further, almost 40% of respondents consider inconvenient navigation as a reason to leave the online platform immediately.
Our team has vast experience in developing websites, from simple online business cards to powerful web portals, and therefore we know everything about perfect navigation usability. And we'd be glad to share with you some of our secrets and discuss UX best practices.
So, let's proceed without putting it off. And we'll start, as usual, with the basics.
What is website navigation?
In fact, it’s a combination of various software and visual tools designed to help the visitor navigate an online resource. That is, a user should be able to find the information he is interested in as quickly as possible, without unnecessary clicks.
Indeed, if the visitor gets confused when searching for the page he needs, the result would be sad: he’ll leave the site, and you’ll lose a potential client.
The main purpose of website navigation
Though everything may seem obvious, we’d like to list the main tasks of navigation anyway:
Understanding your position on the site. The user must understand in which section of the site he is right now (blog, catalog of goods, the home page).
Simplified information search. As we've already said, your client shouldn't face problems when searching for the information he needs.
Good site usability. Thanks to a properly designed website navigation structure, an online resource looks logical and orderly, which results in an increase in its usability.
Help in performing the final action - say, placing an order, if we’re talking about an online store. The whole process should be accessible and intuitive to the client.
Search engine optimization. Good navigation improves SEO by helping search engines index your site content in a better way.
User Retention. All of the above leads to the fact that the user is willing to spend more time on the site to study its other sections.
What is effective navigation?
So, what is meant by perfect web navigation?
Clarity. It is essential that all the components of the website navigation bar be designed with intuitiveness and user-friendliness in mind. Do you remember the 3-click rule? The user must make no more than 3 clicks in order to achieve his goal. And clear navigation will help him with this.
Following the standards. Don't neglect the standards when building the website navigation structure: users are accustomed to a certain order of things and have no desire to spend too much time figuring out where you've placed the buttons of social networks or other similar web elements.
Accessibility on any web page. Each page should contain carefully designed navigation elements. This makes the process of working with the resource easier and more understandable.
Thoughtful web menu design. Navigation components must contrast with the background to be noticeable, but they shouldn't conflict with the overall color scheme of your resource.
Visibility of call to action buttons. From the very first minutes, the site visitor should understand how he can contact service providers, complete an order, or perform another targeted action.
Website navigation structure
In this section, we're going to discuss the types of website navigation and explain to you what elements it consists of. Also, we'll describe the main approaches to web menu design.
Types of website navigation
Types of navigation bars depend on the functions assigned to them. To be more precise, we're talking about the following:
The basic navigation. It includes links to the most important sections of the site (usually, they're placed in the main navigation bar menu);
Global navigation. Some sections of the sites should be accessible from any page (say, the home page, basket, personal account);
Language navigation, needed to help the user choose the language for working with the resource. It’s a significant aspect if your portal has a multilingual audience;
Advertising navigation, focused on additional monetization of the resource by attracting the attention of visitors to sponsorship ads;
Text navigation, intended to optimize the site using internal linking;
Indicative navigation showing the current location of the visitor.
You aren't required to use each of the listed types of navigation bars, just select what your resource needs. Your task is to provide users with all the tools to interact with your site in the most convenient way.
Different options to implement website navigation
Now let's see what options you have to implement your navigation bar menu items:
Graphically designed functional hyperlinks, which look like buttons or other images;
Drop-down lists opening when you hover over them (HTML approach);
Interactive components, which respond with a programmed effect (provided that the user clicks on them or hovers over them). They're usually based on Java & Flash technologies.
Typical navigation menu: main components
We don’t mean components of any particular navigation bar (in the end, it all depends on the specific resource), our subject is more global: we’re talking about the website navigation structure as a whole. What does it consist of?
Header navigation bar
The topmost block of a site is usually called a header. As a rule, the following elements are placed here:
Name of the site;
Main and/or secondary menu(s).
Main site area
This is the largest and most important part of the page that contains the basic information of the web resource, namely, the text, graphics, audio, and video content. Among other things, there may also be navigation elements, such as links to other web sections and so on.
Here we’re dealing with the side column of the site, which is located to the right or left of the main content area. The sidebar usually includes the following components (not all of them, though):
navigation bar menu (main or secondary);
a variety of widgets (popular posts, company news, recent comments, current weather);
A footer is a website area located at the very bottom of the page. It includes such elements as:
copyrights (certificate of authorship);
links to site developers;
duplicated main or secondary menu.
Local website navigation with the funny name "breadcrumbs", borrowed from the tale of Hansel and Gretel, is a chain of links leading from the current online page to the main one. In fact, these links reflect the architecture of the site.
As in a memorable fairytale, breadcrumbs help users to go back at any time, with any number of steps.
Buttons to return
Breadcrumbs aren't always enough to take a step or two back when using the online resource. You also need a separate button to return to the previous page.
Besides, it won't be superfluous to add one more button designed in the form of an arrow pointing up. It's needed to allow users to do without scrolling and quickly go to the header navigation bar. This is especially true if the site has a lot of content.
Of course, don't forget about the system icons either: after all, users expect to see them on your website navigation menu (the main panel or sidebar). Typically, these buttons look like recognizable graphic images, such as:
Small house (needed to go to the home page);
Magnifier (site search);
Envelope (contact information).
The URL in the address bar is also an important navigational element of your website. Ideally, it should be understandable to an average user and reflect the essence of a particular web page. For example, https://site.com/online-store/homepage/.
Our description of the components of the effective navigation structure ends with a site map, which serves as a guide to a web resource. Typically, such a map is placed on a separate page and shows the architecture of your online portal (with links to each section and subsection).
In addition to these elements, you should recall a few more important components needed to help your clients navigate through your web resource:
company logo with a link to the main page;
Basic approaches to web menu design
Horizontal navigation is the most requested option, some even consider it the best navigation menu design. And there is a reason for this belief: it's quite functional and convenient to use.
Vertical navigation is an obvious alternative to the previous navigation menu example, and it has numerous advantages. That's why some site owners choose this very option when working on a web interface.
The fixed menu gives the user constant access to its items. As you understand from the name, such a menu is statically fixed in a specific part of the page.
The hamburger menu is mainly targeted at smartphones, although PC-oriented web interfaces can also benefit from this approach. The menu really resembles a hamburger (three horizontal stripes), which is why it got its original name. As you can imagine, each “sandwich layer” hides additional navigation options.
Adaptive navigation is the most relevant and popular option. Its main benefit is that the web menu design automatically adjusts to different screen widths (including mobile platforms).
Now we should deal with a complex navigation system. It’s an extensive panel, which appears when you hover or click on a menu button. As you can see from the examples below, such a navigation bar hides a lot of sub-items and links.
Full-screen navigation differs from the above instances. The fact is that it doesn't save screen space and uses it 100%. To be precise, the user immediately sees the entire menu and must select the section he needs in order to acquaint himself with the resource.
Original designs. Of course, you can come up with unusual ways to design your website navigation structure. Let's say, the example below offers a three-dimensional menu with a 360-degree view. The user has a feeling that he is in nature and can even look around…
Best navigation menu design: tips and tricks
Now let’s see how to design the best navigation bar. In the end, it's high time to move on to specific tips!
Plan your website navigation menu properly
Start by honestly answering the questions:
Who is your target audience?
What is the main goal of your site?
What information modules must your resource include?
How should your content be grouped according to importance to the user?
After that, follow these three simple steps:
Work with content. Determine what information your resource will contain.
Take care of the website navigation structure. Create a sitemap or list with different data levels.
Decide on the specific elements of the navigation menu and develop its design.
Be smart with creativity
There is nothing wrong with wanting to add creative navigation, just be smart when doing so.
Excessive originality is inappropriate when it comes to UI. Non-standard styles and the unusual location of the menu items confuse and annoy users, which leads to an increase in the rejection rate and a decrease in conversion.
Be logical and consistent
Be logical and consistent when creating the structure of your menu. By the by, that’s why it's important to start working on the UI with thoughtful planning (as we've mentioned earlier).
The following example clearly demonstrates our point of view. On the left, you see that the user gets into the same site section when clicking on two different links. This may surprise him, which is only natural. But on the right, the menu hierarchy is worked out more correctly, and no confusion arises.
Name the bar menu buttons correctly
The names of menu items should be strictly informative. Otherwise, the user is unlikely to figure out what he needs to do, which button to press to get the desired result (place an order, get into the product catalog, etc.).
Take care of navigation usability
Your menu should be functional, user-friendly, and intuitive. All this leads to one thing, namely, thoughtful usability.
Let's take a look at the example below. The structure of the interface on the left involves unnecessary scrolling, which is highly inconvenient to use. But on the left, the entire navigation system is designed wisely. Do you agree?.
Or here is another instance of correct and incorrect navigation usability. As you see, the correct approach means the user understands at what stage of interaction with the resource he is right now.
Reduce the number of elements
Effective navigation should be as simple as possible. If there are too many menu items, users won’t pay enough attention to them.
Ideally, it is advisable to use no more than 7 elements. Alas, sometimes it’s impossible to follow this rule, and then we recommend that the menu items are divided into groups and categories.
A prime example is the Microsoft homepage. Their main navigation bar consists of only four categories, and the rest of the information is hidden in drop-down lists.
However, such an approach has its drawbacks, but we'll discuss them below.
Highlight the main elements
Surely, your site has menu items, which are more important than others. Therefore, they must be highlighted using simple techniques, such as:
Color contrast and other visual effects;
Proper hierarchy (the very first or the last menu items are best remembered).
So, place the most significant elements in the first positions in the navigation panel and highlight them graphically if you need to attract additional attention.
Take advantage of analytics
Another secret helping to design the best navigation bar is the proper use of analytic tools.
There are a lot of such tools, including the famous Google Analytics. It’ll show you which navigation elements are being most often used by site visitors.
Based on the obtained analytical data, you can make decisions to improve your website navigation bar, for example:
Getting rid of rarely clickable elements;
Renaming of little-used elements (if they cannot be removed);
Moving clickable elements to the top of your navigation bar.
Use CTA buttons
Of course, no website can do without call-to-action buttons; they’re a crucial element of website navigation.
To make these buttons work the way you want, consider 3 simple conditions:
Visible location on the web page. The user should be able to immediately notice your button;
Inspirational description. It's about a byline, a brief motivational description that will convince the user to perform the desired action;
The clear name of the button itself: in fact, the name should express your call to action (subscribe, sign-up, buy, etc.).
Get rid of multi-level navigation bars
Do you remember the example of the Microsoft homepage and its header navigation bar, most of the elements of which are hidden in the drop-down lists? Such a solution is good only if you adhere to the rule of the golden mean. Otherwise, you can achieve the opposite effect.
The problem is that the multi-level navigation bar is inconvenient for scanning by search robots. What’s more, it often annoys visitors.
The cause of the annoyance is clear: let's say the user has studied the menu bar and decided to click on one of its buttons. He hopes to go to the page he needs but instead discovers that the menu hides even more links to other web sections. Irritation is inevitable, as you understand.
Besides, with a huge number of categories and subcategories in the navigation panel, the visitor won't be able to find some of the sought-for pages.
Improve site navigation through content & web menu design
The visual component also plays a large role. Everything should be taken into account: the color palette, the design style, the relative positioning of the elements, etc.
We’ve illustrated our words with another navigation menu example (take a look below): the web interface on the left looks too messy, while the UI on the right gives the impression of clarity, consistency, and accuracy. Although the number of elements in both cases is the same.
Provide the ideal registration experience
Be sure to create the perfect registration form. Believe us, this is a significant condition for the success of your website.
You may ask: what does the registration experience have to do with the navigation system? However, sometimes the user’s journey through the resource begins with a demand to sign-up. Therefore you have to design registration and authorization forms with an understanding of the importance of the issue.
The main rules here are intuitiveness, user-friendliness, and ease of use. To be brief, no extra steps!
Check your website responsiveness
Finally, we have to discuss another extremely important issue: of course, we’re talking about the responsiveness of your site (namely, it must look equally good on any screen).
There are many tricks to achieve the desired effect. For instance, a lot of UI/UX experts, working on mobile resource interfaces, design navigation bars in the form of the hamburger menu we've already mentioned.
Website navigation best practices
It’s time we considered a few great website navigation examples.
The resource offers users the possibility to scroll down to open new topic-based sections, each of which contains links with access to other site pages. There is also a sidebar with an additional menu.
You can start exploring the site by watching the promotion video. Or you can skip the 1st step and scroll down to see a vertical variation of the hamburger menu.
There is everything you need to navigate the site without any problem: the header navigation bar, the sidebar (located atypically, on the right), and other similar options. You can also scroll down and discover more fascinating sections of the resource.
Perhaps, these ideas will inspire you, and you’d be able to add creative navigation to your own resource (just don't be too creative!).