7 Reasons Why Website Navigation Is Important

Website navigation does more than tell people what content you have and where to find information. Search engines use your navigation to determine your site’s ranking, which turns into site traffic and conversions. How you structure your menu and how you label the items both have a significant impact on usability and how your site performs in search engines. Here are seven things to consider when creating or updating your navigation.

1. Being Descriptive Helps Visitors and Search Engines Find Information

If visitors can’t find information quickly and easily, they’re not likely to stick around on your site for too long. Having a label that simply says “Services” doesn’t tell a visitor anything about the services you offer, and most people don’t want to dig into the sub-navigation to figure out which services you provide.  A prominent navigation label such as “Ceramic Coating” or “Plastic Injection Molding,” however, tells visitors exactly what you do. Then you can utilize sub-navigation to break down that specific category into specialized service areas.

Using descriptive labels doesn’t just help site visitors, it’s also important for helping search engines like Google rank your site based on relevance.  If someone is searching for vise accessories and the navigation for your vise website only says “Accessories,” it’s less likely the search engine will find your website. People search for something specific, so if you want your site to pop up in search results you need to have a detailed navigation that is broken out into specific categories instead of lumping everything together under a general category.

Use concise, but descriptive navigation labels to tell visitors and search engines exactly what you do. Find out what keywords people typically use when searching for products and services in your industry, then incorporate those words into your navigation.

2. Stay Away from Format-Based Navigation

A format-based navigation is one that tell visitors the format of the content, such as “Our Videos” or “Case Studies.” Again, this doesn’t give your site visitors or search engines any information. What type of videos do you have? Are they “How-to” videos, a tour of your production facility, or a mixture of both? What topics do your case studies cover?

Remember, people are usually looking for something specific. Instead of using basic labels and lumping all media or whitepapers together, incorporate these items into the individual product or service categories. That way, site visitors can easily find the information they’re looking for without having to browse through videos, whitepapers or case studies for unrelated topics.

3. Dropdown Menus Can Be More Harmful Than Helpful

Most websites utilize dropdown menus, but the way your menu is formatted can do more harm than good. First, they can be difficult for search engines to crawl, depending on how they’re programmed. Dropdowns can also annoy site visitors because their eyes are moving faster than their mouse.

A solution to this issue is to use what is referred to as a mega drop menu. This type of menu uses a dropdown format but instead of a general list, it gives users several categorized options. Remember to use clear and concise labels to properly identify your categories. If you have a smaller site with fewer pages, try to avoid dropdown menus altogether.  If you have a larger site outlining several products or services, utilize the mega dropdown menu format.

4. Limit the Number of Menu Items in Your Home Page Navigation

Having too many links in your navigation can lead to issues that harm your ranking and make your site less user-friendly. If you have too many links, visitors will become overwhelmed, and less likely to have interest in the pages that are deeper in your navigation. An abundance of links on the homepage will also result in your site having less “authority” with search engines and could harm the ranking of your interior pages.

It’s recommended that you have around seven menu items in your main navigation, and there’s actually some science behind that number. In 1956, George A. Miller of Harvard University published a famous paper about memory where he said that our short-term memory can only hold around seven items. More recent research shows that we use a method called “chunking” to improve recall in short-term memory and that the number can vary depending in the category (letters vs. numbers) but either way, the message is that you need to keep things concise and visually appealing. If you have more than seven categories, try to find a way to group them together, and remember to use those descriptive labels!

5. Keep Things in Order

Order is another important factor when organizing your site’s navigation. Items at the beginning and end of a list are more prominent and tend to be what we remember. This serial position effect combines two cognitive biases known as the Primacy effect (beginning of a list) and the Recency effect (end of a list).

Look at your analytics to determine which categories on your website are the most popular or important, then place them at the beginning of your navigation so they stand out to your visitors.

6. Optimize Your Website’s Navigation Using Analytics

Once you’ve created or updated your navigation, wait a few weeks or longer to look at your site’s analytics and evaluate how everything is performing. Once you’re in Analytics, use the “navigation summary” and “in-page” views in the Behavior Report to see which navigation links are most frequently used by site visitors. The “navigation summary” report gives a more accurate depiction than the “in-page” report, so you might want to start there first.

Look at what is (and more importantly, isn’t) being clicked on and use that information to help optimize your navigation. If something isn’t getting any clicks, it’s probably safe to remove it. For important items that are only getting a few clicks, try relabeling them and then run the report again in a few weeks to see if anything has changed. The most frequently clicked items should be moved to the beginning of the navigation, if they aren’t there already.

7. Be Mobile-Friendly

You’ve likely heard a lot of people talk about being mobile friendly and that’s because more and more people are doing he majority of their browsing on mobile devices. This makes it incredibly important to have a site design and navigation that are responsive. The “hamburger” or “sandwich” icon, which consists of three short, horizontal lines, is what mobile-friendly sites are using for their navigation. When users click on this icon, it reveals the collapsed or “hidden” navigation menu. Adding the word “Menu” next to the icon can also make it easier for visitors to locate, especially if they are not accustomed to using mobile sites.

Creating an effective navigation doesn’t have to be hard. With a bit of time and research, you can create something that will not only appeal to site visitors but help increase your visibility in search engines. Need help getting started? Learn more about how our industrial web design experts can help with navigation, site design, mobile responsiveness, and more.

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