The Importance of Easy Website NavigationHaving easy navigation on your website can be the difference between a sale and a frustrated visitor that ends up leaving to find a better website. It can be the difference between having a bounce rate of 10% and 80%. Sadly, ease of navigation is a fundamental component of web design that often gets overlooked.
We've all seen them before - websites with so much going on that the user has no idea how to find what they're looking for. I like to call these websites "navigational nightmares". Having easy navigation on your website can be the difference between a sale and a frustrated visitor that ends up leaving to find a better website. It can be the difference between having a bounce rate of 10% and 80%. Sadly, ease of navigation is a fundamental component of web design that often gets overlooked.
Let's go over some of the core elements of website navigation that every website should have.
Should your website have a sidebar to aid in navigation or just the main menu at the top? Many websites out there have sidebars, but don't really need them at all. Many of the navigational elements on the sidebar are a rehash of the main menu. If the website doesn't have enough subcategories or sections to warrant a sidebar, it would be better to not use one. The problem with sidebars is that it detracts attention from the content itself, which is ultimately what your visitor is looking for. Visitors need to be able to identify this content right away and not be distracted by links and pictures sprinkled everywhere on the site.
With that said, there is a time and a place for sidebars. Websites with a lot going on, such as forums or featured sales and products could benefit from having these links constantly displayed on the side. You don't want potential buyers not noticing that special deal that you have going on. Sidebars take up a lot of real-estate on your site, so it is best to only use them if they really enhance the visitor's experience.
Another common problem with navigation is having too many links in your menu. Too many links can not only look messy, but it can also be too much for visitors. Putting the most important items first and last in your menu is also beneficial to both you and your visitors because people tend to glance over things in the middle.
The best way to approach website navigation when you have many separate categories is to use a pyramid approach using a second tier and/or third tier drop down menu. For example, if you have a pet care website and have pages about both freshwater and saltwater fish, it may not be necessary to have both "freshwater" and "saltwater" in your main menu. Instead, consider having one main menu category, "fish", and have freshwater and saltwater categories in the second tier drop down menu. This will help to avoid cluttering up your navigation.
To sum it all up, navigation should be clear, concise, and consistent. The three C's of navigation if you will. The menu items should be easily differentiable and always in the same place throughout the site.
Not sure if your website's navigation is up to scratch? Have a couple of your friends or colleagues look it over for you and give you suggestions. Often, the best way to make something easier and better is by having input from others. Good luck with your navigational endeavours, and remember - keep it simple!