Site navigation is one of the most important elements of any website, and can greatly impact user experience. Poor navigation can result in shorter site visits and higher bounce rate. The good news: unlike some other UX elements, navigation can be improved relatively quickly. You can address a lot of preliminary issues by following well-accepted usability heuristics. Then go deeper with a thorough analysis of your business goals and user needs to create a site nav that is truly intuitive.
Site navigation provides waypoints for customers to access information and functionality they need. It’s the main access point for users to get to your content. No matter how well-written your content is, if your navigation doesn’t work, no one will find it.
Do you see signs that your site’s navigation and information architecture is hurting the user experience? Connect with our UX Design team!
Tip 1: Follow established patterns
Site navigation is affected by a lot of factors, such as the type of content, the target audience, and the business goals you want to achieve with the website. It can be overwhelming to consider all of this and design the perfect navigation. Luckily there’s a ton of research on navigation design and well-accepted usability heuristics.
The positive impact on user experience is clear to see. Our customers at d&b audio report that the site is more intuitive, and that’s because key features and information are no more than three clicks away and easier to filter according to what we learned with them.
You definitely want your website to stick out from the competition, but the navigation is not the right place to do so. In web design, there are patterns that have been learned over the last decades of internet usage. Users are used to navigation being on the top of a website or maybe on the left side as vertical navigation. Don’t place it at the bottom just because “everyone else has their navigation at the top.”
The placement and behavior of your navigation should be simple to understand. It’s a well-known pattern to have a logo on the left side that links back to the homepage. If your corporate design calls for the logo always being in the top right corner, this might be the time to consider changing that for web applications.
Language is important too. Users need to know what they can expect from a navigation item, they don’t want to guess. The wording in your navigation should be straightforward and specific. Make it as obvious as possible while still using words that are known to people that are not familiar with your business.
Of course, these are only guidelines. You might find websites that work great with navigation at the bottom or the logo on the right side. That’s because navigation depends on so much more than just well-accepted heuristics. We can help you have a closer look at your specific needs in order to find the perfect solution for you.
Tip 2: Just the right amount of information
The more content you have on your website, the more important navigation becomes. In the spirit of simplicity, you don’t want to flood users with too much information at once. Consider what really has to be in the main navigation and don't make it too difficult for your users to decide where to click. Overly complex menus or groupings that only make sense to insiders can cause confusion.
When too many choices are overwhelming your users, don’t be tempted to embrace minimalism and hide most of your content behind high-level navigation. That won’t solve your problem either. The aim is to provide straightforward and obvious access to your content, finding that sweet spot between too much and too little.
It can be hard to decide what’s really most important when you are deep inside your business and have a lot of great content to offer–we give you an outside perspective on that! This is the kind of insight we gather when we conduct target audience analysis.
Tip 3: Consider not only the what, but also the how
Once you have decided on what to include in your navigation and on the wording, it’s time to think about the behavior. Navigation is a highly interactive element, not just static content to read.
There are a few things to consider when designing navigation:
- Accessibility. Make sure the contrast is high enough, the font size big enough and the click target large enough. We like the checklist from The A11Y Project.
- Hover states and the behavior of possible flyout menus on mobile and desktop devices.
- Active states. These indicate where the user currently is. Depending on the depth of your information hierarchies, a breadcrumb can also be a very useful indicator.
Tip 4: Don't neglect other navigation
There’s more ways to navigate content than just the main navigation at the top of your website.
Secondary meta navigation is useful for content that isn’t as important for your business goals or the users' needs, but that still has to be visible somewhere (for example, the "About Us" company page on a product-focused website).
Add depth to your information hierarchy with vertical navigation on subpages, or use jump links to navigate through content.
And last but definitely not least there is the footer at the bottom of your website. This might seem counterintuitive because you have to scroll all the way down to find it, but users know by now that most websites have a footer. It is very common to place things like an address or contact possibilities as well as the data privacy, cookie settings and other mandatory sites down there. Because the footer is the very last element on a website you don’t have to worry about other content being pushed down, so it’s also a good place to display more subpages.
There isn’t one right answer
We’d love to tell you that there’s a simple fix for navigation problems, but there really isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. The ideal navigation depends on several factors, like your target audience, business goals and the amount of information. Following the general guidelines that have been proven in research is always a good starting point but if you really want to get to the bottom of the UX problems your navigation might be causing, you need to dig deeper.
With proper target audience analysis we can find out how your users really think and what structure makes sense for them. We can then compare this to your strategic business goals and find the sweet spot where user needs and business goals overlap then build your navigation accordingly.
We can help you get on top of your navigation
We help you to guide your users exactly where they want to go. Contact us for a UX audit so we can help improve your user’s experience.