What helps users not get lost in site navigation

by | Sep 3, 2020 | Websites | 0 comments

The user experience (UX) of your website navigation menu is a crucial component of guiding potential customers toward solving their challenges. Poor menu labeling and design of your navigation causes customer frustration and likely bounces from your site.

For example, one of the blunders we see time and again for site navigation is placing company information or an About Us section as the first or second menu item. As much as you want people to know more about your company, company history or the biographies of your team leaders is neither the first or second thing most people seek out when they look for solutions to their problems. They want to know about your products and services. 

When you consider the navigation menu items on your site, ask the following questions: 

  • What challenges do your prospects have? 
  • What solutions do you provide to their challenges? 

About Us should be one of the last menu items in primary site navigation. The first categories need to be user-focused. 

Be specific, not vague with menu names

We see a lot of newer sites classify their menu items with labels such as Services, Products and Industries, which are user-focused categories. But that generic language isn’t strong enough, both from a UX and search engine optimization (SEO) perspective.

In terms of SEO, your global navigation tells search engines like Google what the most important pages on your site are. Global navigation is also useful for attracting visitors to your site  based on their specific search queries.

For example, if you’re trying to sell puzzles, instead of the menu item Products, consider using Jigsaw Puzzles. (With some keyword research, you’ll have a better sense of what keywords to use in your site navigation, based on the questions and search queries potential customers use.)

Standing out from the competition has its benefits, but don’t sacrifice the usability of your site’s navigation just to be unique. Trying to reinvent the wheel and use descriptors that don’t make immediate sense to people causes confusion and frustration. Analyze your audience’s needs before they come to the site, and develop your menu item names with those needs and search queries in mind.

Don’t Over-Menu Your Site

Massive menus

Once upon a time, nearly every page was included in a website’s navigation. This caused the need for extensive dropdown menus. These are visible when you hover over a menu item, and several deeper levels of menu options are revealed. Extensive website navigation menus are like The Cheesecake Factory menu – enormous and potentially overwhelming on your first couple of visits. (Important question for you: are your website visitors hungry enough for information that they’ll spend as much time on your site looking for what they need as they do looking for the right cheesecake flavor?)

These enormous menus also create problems for users who have dexterity issues. Depending on the design and depth of your menu, some users might move their mouse slightly, causing the menu items  to disappear. (We hate when that happens. We dive deeper into over-menuing your site in this post.)

Use only your top categories for your site’s primary navigation. Try to keep your primary navigation menu items at one to two levels. There are other places to share your navigation so your menu isn’t overstuffed. If there are too many items in your navigation, it not only confuses your potential customers, but it also confuses search engines on the level of importance of menu items, which can negatively affect your site’s organic rankings.

Secondary site navigation

Don’t be afraid to use the footer or bottom of your site for additional or secondary navigation elements. It’s common to find careers (hiring) and contact information at the bottom. Many business sites include links to their social channels in the footer, too. (If your business relies heavily on social media, or if your social channels tend to have newer information than your site, you might consider having those links with icons in navigation at the top and bottom of your homepage.)

Landing pages are another opportunity for secondary navigation. Rely on in-content links to navigate users to deeper pages on the site. Calls to action (CTAs) on landing pages or blog posts are also great opportunities to guide users to pages which will further answer their questions.

Having multiple navigation options also allows you to simplify navigation at the top of your site.

Mobile site navigation

Navigation is often different for sites optimized for mobile due to a smaller screen size. Mobile users are generally savvy about using the hamburger icon – the icon with three horizontal lines that indicates this is a menu. UX designers needed a way to represent navigation in a much smaller space. They needed a recognizable icon that users would know to click to reveal a panel or drawer to access the navigation menu.

The acceptance specifically of the hamburger menu may have started with early mobile designs that included the word “menu” along with the icon. As people got used to the icon and the “pattern” became recognizable, designers could drop the textual hints.

The hamburger opens the navigation on your mobile site and also presents challenges. Menus with deep dropdowns can be harder to navigate on mobile sites because of the inability to open/close navigation items and dropdowns while hovering (as you do on desktop devices). But if you eliminate many of your dropdown pages, your users could lose easy access to important information. One option is analyzing what users seek when they visit your mobile site. This information is available in Google Analytics. Using that data, you may be able to simplify the navigation  on your mobile site.

Again, you can encourage deeper navigation through in-page links on landing pages and via CTAs on your mobile site, too.

Another best practice is using common patterns in design for your navigation on both your desktop and mobile sites. People get used to navigating in a certain way because they recognize patterns. Sometimes, patterns are made to be broken. If they weren’t, we’d still be navigating websites with all the content above the fold, a left side navigation, spinning email icons and flashing banners. When more sites adopt design patterns, users become accustomed to navigating sites with new patterns, which then become accepted practices. It’s a continual cycle.

We mention using keyword research, analyzing data and other tasks within this post, and those practices might be out of your current reach. A quick phone call with us can answer many of your questions and shine some light toward your navigation solution. 

This blog post answers the question:

  • What helps users not get lost in site navigation

What helps users not get lost in site navigation?

There are several ways to keep your users from getting lost in site navigation, such as, use common patterns in design for your navigation on both your desktop and mobile sites. You can use footers for additional navigation menu items. Keep your main navigation, typically at the top of your website, simple. Rely on calls to action and in-site links to direct users to other pages.

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