Website navigation is the way you make information on your site easy for visitors to find. It is important for several reasons: it improves customer experience, prevents users abandoning your site and helps with SEO. In this post, we’ll show you eight steps to improve navigation on your website.
The elements of website navigation
Website navigation includes the way you organise content on your website, i.e., creating categories and subcategories, and how you help users find that information, for example, through the use of different kinds of menus, internal links, sitemaps and calls to action.
When a website is well structured, a user can quickly find the information they need. This makes their experience of using your website better, keeping them on the site and increasing the chances of a conversion. At the same time, search engines can index your site more effectively and get a better understanding of it. This is because the hierarchical structure of your internal links shows the relationships between the pages on your site, indicating which are the most important.
Using our eight steps to better website navigation will help you to build a better website or improve your existing one. Here they are:
1. Create a sitemap
If you want to improve navigation on your site, you need to start by having a complete overview of everything it contains. This can seem quite a daunting task if you have a large site with quite a few categories and it can be easy to miss pages out if you just make a written list. The easy solution is to create a sitemap.
Sitemaps are a list of all your categories and subcategories and the pages, posts, product pages, etc. within them, together with a link to each one. There are two main types of site maps, HTML and XML. XML sitemaps are very useful for helping search engines navigate your site and you can upload these to Google Search Console whenever you make a change to your site. For helping you organise your site and for providing a simple map that visitors can use, you need an HTML sitemap. Both types can be created automatically.
There are lots of free online tools you can use to do this and all you need to do is type in the homepage URL and the tool will do the rest of the work for you. With an online tool, you’ll be sent a file to download which you can publish on your website. A better solution, however, is to use a sitemap generator plugin. These are better because they automatically update the sitemap whenever you change your website. These can create XML sitemaps and upload them automatically to Google Search Console and create an HTML sitemap page viewable by visitors to your site.
Once you have your sitemap created, you’ll have a complete overview of all your site’s pages and you’ll be able to see how well they are organised and what needs changing. This is the first step to making improvements.
2. Organise your site for your visitors
When creating a new site or reorganising an existing one, you need to put yourself in your visitors’ shoes. Where do they land? What information will they be looking for? How can you make that information easy to find? How can you get them through their journey funnel with the minimum number of clicks? The main pages or categories are those that should be easiest to access and at the top level of your menus and other navigational aids.
3. Don’t overpopulate a menu’s top level
Users should be able to take in a menu’s top level in a single glance and be able to instantly find and click on the topic they want to find information about. If you have lots of categories on your site, putting them all on the top menu can make it confusing. Though you can cut out less important ones, a better solution might be to create a small number of new higher-level categories that your existing categories can become subcategories of.
4. Limit top navigation menus to two levels
Some top menus are very complex and enable users to see three or four levels of subcategories. The problem is that they are often too complicated and it’s easy for users to get confused and lost with so much choice. The most effective menus have two levels: the always visible top level and a list of subcategories within them that appear when a user hovers over or clicks. Keep it simple.
5. Keep menu titles brief
Simple, tidy, easy on the eye menu titles make it easier for users to find the right link and help your site look more attractive. If they are long and the menu looks cluttered, some users won’t even bother searching, they’ll just abandon the site and go elsewhere – especially if they are using smartphones with smaller screens. Ideally, keep them to a couple of words, max.
6. Make use of footer and secondary menu conventions
Nearly every internet user knows that it is standard practice for websites to have menus or internal links in the footer of pages. They also know that these menus and links are generally reserved for specific types of information. While the top menu usually includes about us, products, services, contact us, etc., the footer is generally used for customer help. Its where users go to find blogs, forums, customer services, knowledgebases, shipping information, etc.
Another convention is to have a secondary menu in the header which contains links to the user account, shopping basket, wish lists and so forth. While the main menu is for people looking for general information, products and services, this secondary header is specifically for shoppers, existing customers and members.
7. Remember to use clickable call-to-actions
Surprisingly, some businesses miss out on quite a few sales simply because visitors don’t know how to take the next steps along the sales journey. Calls to action (CTAs) tell them what to do, e.g., buy now, call our sales team, subscribe to our newsletter, etc.
These are vital actions that you need your customer to make if you want your website to be successful. For this reason, you have to make it easy for them to navigate to that next step. Your CTA needs to be highly visible, clearly labelled and contain a link that takes the visitor directly to that next step.
8. Don’t forget mobile users
Finally, when creating menus and internal links, do remember that these have to work equally effectively on small screen mobile devices as they do on laptops. Indeed, as people now spend more time surfing on their phones than they do on other devices and are increasingly using them to make purchases, navigation needs to be centred more on mobile users than it does on those with PCs. Make sure your site’s navigation works effectively on mobiles by using the Google Mobile-Friendly Test.
Better website navigation enhances customer experience and can help your site boost conversions. It also improves SEO, helping all the pages to be indexed so that more searchers can find them. Hopefully, the eight steps mentioned here will help you improve the navigation on your website.
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