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