Website Navigation Best Practices
Little things can make a big difference. What you name the links in your navigation is a great example. The structure of your navigation can have a huge impact on results. Here’s why:
- Navigation affects traffic: how high you’ll rank, how much traffic you’ll get from search
- Navigation affects conversions: how easy the site is to use, what percentage of visitors convert into leads and customers
Here are the website navigation best practices. Hopefully, you can use your content management system to fix any big navigation problems in minutes.
Note: Keep in mind that there are exceptions to every rule! Not sure if you should make a change? Ask an expert.
1. Be Descriptive.
“What we do” doesn’t really say what you do. Neither does “Products” or “Services.” Descriptive navigation that uses keyphrases is better for two reasons.
- Good for search engines
The navigation is one of the most important places to indicate relevance to search engines. No one is searching for “products” or “services,” so navigation with these labels isn’t helping you rank.
- Good for visitors
A button that says “what we do” doesn’t say what you do. Although it clearly tells a visitor where to learn more, it doesn’t communicate instantly. If your navigation lists your main products or services, it will be obvious, at a glance, what your company does. You can save them the click (and possibly reduce your bounce rate) if your navigation says it all up front.
Use your main navigation as a place to start telling people and search engines about what you do. Use labels that use top-of-mind phrases for visitors and popular keyphrases according to the Google Keyword Planner.
2. Limit the Number of Menu Items to Seven.
Some websites have literally hundreds of links on the home page. That’s bad. Limiting the number of links in your main navigation is good for two reasons:
- Good for search engines: Your home page typically has the most “authority” with search engines, because there are more links to it from other sites than to your interior pages. This authority is often called “link juice” and it flows down to deeper pages through the navigation.If your home page has tons of links, this dilutesthe authority and trust passed down to the interior pages. The more concise your navigation, the more link juice will flow to these pages and the more likely they are to rank.Tip! Check the number of links and buttons on your home page with a Link Juice Calculator You might be surprised at how many there are!
- Good for visitors: Short term memory famously holds only seven items. Visually, eight is a LOT more than seven. Fewer items means that visitors are more likely to see and remember them all. If you have too many, visitors’ eyes may scan past important items.Tip! Each time you remove a menu item (or anything else) from a page, everything left becomes more prominent and is more likely to be seen and considered.
It takes discipline to make the tough decisions. You can do it. Challenge yourself to trim it down to five!
3. Avoid Drop Down Menus
Popular, yes. But not really a good idea. Avoiding drop down menus is good for two reasons:
- Good for search engines: Drop down menus can be difficult for search engines to crawl. Depending on how they’re programed, they may lead to problems.
- Good for visitors: Usability studies show that drop down menus are annoying. Here’s why: visitors move their eyes much faster than they move their mouse. When they move their mouse to a menu item, they’ve likely already decided to click…and then you gave them more options. It’s a hiccup in the mind of the visitor.More importantly, drop downs encourage visitors to skip important pages. If you’re using drop downs, you can easily see this problem in your Analytics.
Note: mega drop down menus with lots of options test well in usability studies. If you have a big site with lots of pages, they may be a really good idea!
This may not be as easy to fix using your content management system. If not, plan to avoid these next time you redesign your site.
Bonus Tip: Order Matters
It’s a core principal of web design: first give visitors what they want, then they might give you what you want. (Wow, I should tweet that!). We should always seek to put the things that are most important to visitors in prominent places.
In website navigation, just like any list, items at the beginning and the end are most effective, because this is where attention and retention are highest. It’s called “serial position effect,” and it’s because of two principals: primacy and recency. Chefs use this trick when writing their restaurant menus.
So put the most popular items at the beginning of the navigation. Not sure what those are? Just look at your Analytics.
Ideally, navigation is easy to change. A good site is flexible, letting you move things around if necessary. Make sure the labels and order of navigation items are set up to work for human visitors and search engine robots. Your Analytics will thank you for it!
Need more help? Read How to make a sitemap.