• Some dos and don'ts for site navigation

Time to read: 6 minutes

When it comes to building a successful site you need a good way for your visitors to navigate your pages. Not only should your navigation look nice, but it should be well organized so that your visitors can find what they're looking for quickly and easily. If there's one thing on your site that every visitor will be using, regardless of what they're looking for, it's your navigation. So getting it right is important.

Let’s take a look at some of the common mistakes found in site design when it comes to navigation as well as ways we can combat them and organize our pages better.

Odd placement

The location where your navigation resides should be expected. This isn’t an area where you want to ‘be creative’ or try something that is ‘out there.’

When it comes themes the chore of where to put your navigation on the page is handled for you. Predetermined by the designer who produced the theme you’re using. That being said you should be aware of what to look for when picking a theme for your site.

Right away when people visit your site they’re going to look one of two places for your site’s navigation — horizontally across the upper portion of the site or down the left-hand side. Horizontal navigation will generally appear above, in or just below the banner area of a site, while vertical navigation will appear on the left, next to your content.

Nowadays it is sometimes acceptable for your navigation to be hidden away, but mainly on mobile devices. This is to save valuable space for your content on a limited display size. If you’re going to have a hidden navigation though be sure you’re using recognizable, standard iconography to let your users know where your navigation resides. The triple-bar icon () is the most widely used to indicate a menu or added content.

In my opinion: Choose a theme with navigation across the upper portion of the page, whether it be in, above or just below the banner. Vertical navigation works, but can easily get out of hand as it provides a never-ending amount of space to cram unnecessary links into.

Too many items

Speaking of unnecessary… Thinking of putting hundreds of different items in your navigation so your visitors can get to everything on your site from the home page? Don’t do it. Not every page needs to be listed in the top-tier navigation. Heck not every page even needs to be in the navigation at all.

You should be aiming for no more than 6 or so navigation items in your menu, and those 6 or so items should be the most important pages on your site.

Challenge yourself to trim the unnecessary items. Each time you remove an item from the navigation you’ll make the remaining items that much more important. Too many choices in your navigation hinders your visitors, making it difficult for them to find the important stuff on your site.

This isn’t to say you can’t have lots of pages on your site. Just link to them in natural ways that make sense throughout your site’s content or use second-tier drop down navigation if you absolutely must.

In my opinion: You should have 5 or 6 top-tier items in your main navigation. Be concise. Limit yourself. You’ll end up with cleaner, easier to navigate pages that will help your visitors find their way around your site, not hinder them. A good way to accomplish this is to plan out your site on paper before you jump in and start building out pages.

Don’t be clever

When it comes to naming pages, be conventional. This isn’t to say you should be boring, but don’t waste your time coming up with a creative way to name a page, when there’s a conventional way to do it that everyone will actually understand.

In my opinion: Keep it simple. Don’t name a page “Products” or “Services.” Use the page name to describe what it is you are selling or what service you provide. Do you sell paintings? Change that “Products” page name to “Paintings.”

Be consistent

Each page of your site should have the same main navigation items. Don’t change your navigation’s content from page to page. It’s confusing. Each page should contain the same items, in the same order. If they start changing, you’re only confusing your visitors.

Likewise, if a visitor ventures down one path by choosing a menu item from your navigation they don’t expect to hit a dead-end page that has no navigation whatsoever. The browser’s ‘back’ button doesn’t count as a form of navigation. And make sure when a user clicks an item in the navigation it actually takes them somewhere.

In my opinion: It is hard to mess this one up when using a theme, but that being said you should make sure you’re not disabling navigation on any of your pages. If you do you’re just ensuring that people will close the window instead of going elsewhere within your site.

Location, location, location

It’s true when it comes to realty and its true when it comes to navigation — location is everything. And I’m not talking about where on the page your navigation is this time, but instead which navigation items come first and which come last.

Your visitors are more likely to remember the first and last item in the navigation than they are to remember those in-between, no matter how many or how few items there are.

Put the most important items at the beginning and end of your navigation so that they’re fresh in your visitor’s mind as they scan through them.

In my opinion: If you’re sticking to our earlier rule of having 5 or 6 items in your navigation then the first one or two and the last one or two are going to me the most important. Trim that down to 3 or 4 items and then your visitors will put more weight behind all of the navigational items.

What to take away from this

Keep things simple. Use descriptive names for your pages and limit yourself. Your visitors will thank you for it, even if they don’t tell you directly. With a little pre-planning you can easily organize your site so that you can have 5 or 6 menu items in your navigation and naturally link to your other pages throughout your content.

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