Have you ever found yourself on a website, staring blankly at the screen wondering where the rest of the pages are? Navigation is one of the most important functions of any web page whether it be a blog, product listing page, about section, or a document library. If your user doesn’t know where this content is housed, the utility of the information is lost! As a crucial element of user experience, failing to build smart navigation into your digital interface can lead to a variety of issues including secondary UX issues, accessibility problems, and increased bounce rates from frustrated users.
Let’s take a step back; what is a navigation menu, and do I still need one if I have “search”?
Navigation menus are maps of the categories or features of your content; on websites, these are known as sitemaps. These menus can appear in a variety of ways; from the traditional header locked navigation bar, to hamburger menus that pop out to link to various interior pages of a website.
While many websites have a Search function of some kind, whether it be a search bar or filter, research shows that 70% of users rely on navigating to content directly. While search features are helpful to some users, navigation menus can lead your visitors to the content they need quickly and reliably.
No matter where you are with your website, here are some quick, easy tips to help you optimize your platform for a better user experience.
1. The 3 Click Rule
Your navigation structure should be intuitive and allow users to land on any page and find what they are looking for in 3 clicks or less.
If your site has lots of content and sub-pages that relate back to a greater unifying category, take advantage of breadcrumbs. Breadcrumbs are a component of navigation menus that help users orient themselves within a sitemap. They can be embedded into the navigation bar as a dropdown, or appear in the design of the child pages on your site to guide users through the various layers of content.
2. Show Off Your Menu
Don’t try to reinvent the wheel-don’t hide your navigation menu! When a user visits your site, it’s likely one of the hundred other web properties that they have browsed in the last few days. As our digital lives have progressed, users have become accustomed to certain kinds of queues and user interface (UI) elements. Keep your navigation menu in an intuitive location, be that the left rail, top of the browser window, or a pop-out hamburger menu with an obvious icon.
3. State the Obvious
Be as clear and descriptive as possible. Avoid using vague descriptions in your navigation headings. If a user can’t tell exactly what to expect from a page in the navigation, there’s a chance they won’t make it past the landing page. Use descriptive language to identify what your pages contain, less is more with heading titles. Streamline the main menu display experience where possible and take advantage of dropdown menus for categories with multiple child pages. If you hyperlink to pages within your site from banners or in-line content, make your hyperlinks obvious!
4. Stay on Topic
Don’t let SEO impact your navigation taxonomy. While ranking well in search engines is important, packing your Headers and menu items with keywords that don’t relate to the page contents won’t do you any favors with users. Avoid this common pitfall by using the copy and metadata on your pages for SEO strategies, leave your headings and menu items clean and accurate for better UX.
5. Lead with a Mobile-First Mentality
Over 53% of all web traffic occurs on mobile devices. When designing your navigation menu, start by thinking about how users might visit the site; on both their computers and mobile devices. Take advantage of responsive designs that can adapt to a variety of browsers and devices rather than discovering post-launch that your navigation is broken.
6. Stop Guessing! Test Your Audience
If you’ve updated your navigation menu but still see disappointing numbers for bounce rate and click through on your site, test your experience. User behavior can be monitored with tests such as a Crazy Egg Heatmap, which illustrates where your users are browsing on the page.
TLDR: improving your navigation design can improve your relationship with users
Confusing or obscure navigation will lead to fewer visitors to your interior pages and can result in awful analytics reports. Clear and effective navigation can enhance visitors understanding of where your content is located, instill confidence in browsing your site, and create credibility about your product.