Often overlooked, your website’s navigation menu plays a key role in your visitor’s experience, how well your website traffic converts into potential customers, and your site’s search engine rankings. A recent survey by Web.com notes a glaring disparity between consumers’ and small business owners’ perception of how well small businesses are executing their marketing on their websites and social media platforms. Of the small business “decision-makers” who were surveyed, 61% rated their websites positively, while only 46% of consumers shared the same view .
Enhancing the usability of your website’s navigation menu is a key step in creating the engaging relationship and the “positive online experience” consumers are expecting from local businesses. This article will give you the best practices for structuring a navigation menu that will work for your business and answer your customer’s needs.
During your website build, what was your main focus? For most business owners, the bulk of your attention is directed towards writing content for your website, checking the accuracy of the information, and the aesthetics of the site. What’s left out of the website build process is how the website is structured (reflected in the navigation menu). But why is navigation menu usability so important?
According to Usability.gov (managed by the US Department of Health & Human Services):
The data reflects the importance of spending time to create an intuitively structured navigation menu for your business’s website. The ease with which a visitor navigates around your website correlates to both how well your website converts traffic into potential customers and where your site ranks in search engines. Luckily for most small business owners, there are just a few best practices for you to follow.
Related: Local SEO Guide for Business Owners
Follow the design of most websites and place your website’s navigation menu either at the top of your website horizontally or vertically down the left hand side. Why follow convention? Most users are use to the navigation menu placed in those two areas, making your site more familiar and easier to navigate around.
The navigation menu should also be visible on every page of your site in the same location so that users can easily click around and find their place. If a page doesn’t have a navigation menu, visitors have no way of going back to other pages on your site, leading them to do extra work (clicking on the “Back” button on their web browser) or leaving your site completely.
Don’t overwhelm your visitor with a complex menu. Limit the number of web pages in the navigation menu to a maximum of 7 pages. Why seven? Short-term memory only holds seven items. If you have eight tabs in your navigation menu, visitors may overlook important information.
Sites should offer information quickly, with the fewest clicks. Concise navigation also optimizes your website for search engine rankings. Search engines give your homepage the most “authority”– but when your homepage has tons of links, the authority gets distributed and passed down to the other pages on your site. Use the Link Juice Calculator and check the number of links on your homepage.
The navigation menu should be descriptively labeled to minimize the amount of work your visitors have to do to find information most relevant to them on your website. Use keywords that your target market is using to search for businesses in your industry.
Don’t label your pages “What We Do” or “Who We Are”. Users are looking for concise and specific terms that look familiar. Think about what your users are looking for, and what words would resonate with them. Check out ThriveHive’s navigation menu. Instead of using a generic label like “Our Services” we used “Marketing Solutions”. Instead of using a generic label like “About Us”, we used “What is ThriveHive”.
People read from left to right so the informative pages should be on the left and the “Contact Us” page should be on the furthest right with the exception of the “Homepage”. The link to your “Homepage” should always be at the beginning of your navigation menu. This structure will aid visitor usability flow with the informative pages on the left of your menu and action links on the right.
Remember, people pay the most attention to the first items and the most recent items in a list so the most important webpages should appear at the beginning and at the end of your navigation menu. A typical navigation menu’s order will follow this order with variability from industry to industry:
<Home> <About Us> <Products/Services> <Contact Us>
Lastly, after you restructure your website’s navigation menu, be sure to send the link to friends or family to get feedback on ease of use. Ask them to locate specific information on your site and check how long it takes them to find the content.
Optimizing your website’s navigation menu isn’t difficult but it is vital to improving your website visitor’s user experience. It doesn’t matter how well written your content is, or how visually appealing your site is, if your visitors can’t find the information they’re seeking within a few clicks, they’ll leave your site frustrated. With so many small businesses being found online, your website is often the first touch point with a potential customer. You want your website visitors to leave your site with a good experience and a positive impression of your business. For best practices on how to structure and write for your business’s website, be sure to download our free guide: The 5 Step Guide to Creating Killer Website Content. Crowell, Drew, and Golin Harris. “Majority of Small Businesses Underestimate Consumers.” Global Newswire. Global Newswire, 10 Sep 2013. Web. 3 Dec 2013. <http://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2013/09/10/572432/10047883/en/Majority-of-Small-Businesses-Underestimate-Consumers-Desire-to-Build-Stronger-Personal-Relationships-Through-the-Web-and-Social-Media-Finds-Web-com-National-Survey.html>.
Image Credit: An1ken
Thank you for this post. I believe you are probably one of the first people in the world to talk about the importance of having a proper Navigation menu. A quick tip I would like to add is also have a look at the analytics (Top Content section) and see what are the top 5 or top 10 most visited pages once a visitor lands on your site. Designing a nav bar that is friendly for the visitor also helps greatly in increasing conversions. The idea is to give the visitor what they want basically. Cheers!
Thanks Jibran! I agree with your tip, people tend to think of their websites as a static asset when really, it’s important to keep the content up-to-date and take note of your site metrics and action on any insight you see from them.
Hi Susan, This is really a great post. The information shared are valuable and useful. Surely will take these things into consideration. Many thanks for sharing and Keep sharing.
Thanks for your feedback. Always appreciated!
Your blog provides excellent tips especially to those who are new to blogosphere! Your write ups provide brief and accurate information… Thanks for sharing this one, a must read write-up.
I’m glad you found this piece helpful, thanks for reading and sharing!
Great post! Do you really think that nowdays we still need a “Home Pgae” button on the main menu? I think people know by now that clicking on the Logo brings you to the Home page, so it’s better to use this valuable space for other important pages.
HI Yael, while it is true that use of the “Home Page” button has been declining. Maybe websites of companies have opted out of it, using only a symbol or logo as a means for navigating back. While there is no data on the percentage of people who know that the logo acts as a link to the homepage, my recommendation would be to understand your audience and adjust your navigation bar accordingly. If your target market is young, and tech-savy, then substitute your Homepage button with the logo.
I guess the friendly user test is the most important issue after finishing the redesign of the menu.
User tests are definitely the fastest and most effective way to see if the redesign of your navigation menu was effective or not. If you have Google Analytics, your bounce rate or length of time for page views can also indicate whether your nav menu redesign was effective.
Thanks for this great article. I will try to develop my menu structure as per your suggestions. Thanks Again.
Great! Please let me know if you have any questions about it and good luck!
Is an About tab/page still important if the company “bio” appears at the bottom of the home page? I am proofreading a site that has a long home page with About the Team about four screens down. I’m concerned visitors will still expect to see that About tab and will feel like they can’t get info about the company quickly enough. Thoughts?
Hi Amy –
While the most important thing is for the content to be present on the site, in terms of usability, it is more intuitive for readers to have a company or team bio on an About Us page. This is especially true if the bio is at the bottom of a long block of text. Depending on the content, a separate About Us page may be better for SEO as well. With websites, if you’re looking for something that you can’t find (About Us, Pricing, Contact Us, Call-to-Action buttons) and it’s not there, chances are someone else will be looking for it too! I would mention it to your clients – they may not have thought of it and be grateful to you!