There’s something exceptionally frustrating about landing on a web page and not knowing what to do next. Poor navigation structure on your website WILL cost you money!
Internet surfers are generally impatient when it comes to finding the information they need. If there is poor navigation in place, and the important page links are difficult to locate, you’ll likely lose customers who will never return to your site. Effective website navigation must make sense to the average person. Even though there are countless site designs out there in cyber space, the best designed websites usually have similar navigation layouts.
If you’re a web designer, or even a DIY enthusiast, throughout the design process you need to always remember the basic intended purpose for which the site is being designed. Navigation structure and pleasing your intended audience should be your main focus and vision. Accordingly, I’d like to run through some advice on how to accomplish this.
Ensure the navigation elements are clearly defined using standard conventions such as menus, underlined text, icons or buttons, or changing colour of the page text with mouse movements.
If you are utilising non-standard links, make sure you clearly label these links for their intended destination. As an example, let’s say you have built a web page for showing maps so your visitors can pullup this information, tell the user precisely what map and destination they will land on in order for them to fetch information about that specific location.
Studies have shown that most web surfers will not click more than 3 links to retrieve the information they are searching for. In other words, make sure your visitors can locate the information they need within 3 clicks or less – commonly known in the web design industry as the Three Click Rule.
Personally, I would refrain from using splash pages containing flash movies etc. You can still build beautiful web pages without the need to over-design the pages. However, if your circumstances require a splash page, make sure you use a meta refresh tag as a means of taking your visitor directly to your home page via a clearly marked clickable link. Give the visitor the option to skip this part.
Menu bars located at the top of the pages are generally situated immediately below the site header/logo portion. Links within the top menu often fall into 1 of 3 categories. Expanding menus, drop-down menus and more commonly, single links. Each of these link types should be hyperlinked to represent each item so the visitor can click, leading to the information described.
Left Navigation Menu – The left hand side navigation area is usually displayed as a column. Similar to the top main navigation menu, links are displayed as expanding or single links.
Right Navigation Menu – The right side menu navigation area is generally used less (not displayed) than the left side. However some designers utilise the right side navigation area to display adverts and images instead of a menu link area.
Menus at the Bottom – Menus at the bottom of the page could be used as either a footer menu or a menu bar. Menu bars typically utilise text links or graphics whereas footers only use simple text links.
Other Important Elements For Site Navigation
Internal Links – Always keep in mind that each page should be within 2 – 3 clicks from the home or index page. And the most important pages should only be a single click away.
Login Boxes – Your website login box should be displayed on a prominent manner, preferably above the fold. Login boxes are often displayed at the top of the home page and other popular pages either to the left or right side of the pages or embedded into the sites header.
Shopping Carts – When you’re selling products online, you’ll want to display the buy now button in a prominent area, typically to the right side top half of your pages or directly below the site header. If you are using order buttons for niche products, use large buttons that your visitors can easily find and be sure these pages containing your niche products can be located within 1 – 2 clicks.
External Linking – The use of external links are most commonly used within the main content areas for reference points and recommendations for your readers. External links are also commonly found in side bars and footers.
Advertisements – Advertisements found on web pages are generally graphic or text based and are hyperlinked to a sales page. Ads are typically placed directly above or below the site header, or within the right or left side navigation area below the navigation links, at the bottom of the page (directly above the footer), or even embedded within the page content. Refrain from using excessive advertisements to avoid clutter, however research has shown that Internet advertisements are more effective when placed above the fold. (so the user can see the ads before scrolling down the page)
Site Map – A site map is when you display your hierarchy listings of web pages from a single location. The site map will point to all the important and main website link structures within your site using clickable hyperlinks.
Sound website navigation is likely to increase your overall page views by each visitor. As a result, will deliver you more registrations, members or signups, leading to more sales and page impressions, ultimately making your website more successful.