If you are in the process of building a new navigational structure for your site, or looking for some ideas to improve your site’s current information architecture, take a look at the best practices below to reduce the amount of thinking you make your visitors do.
You Are Here
Provide your visitors with a “You Are Here” by making it obvious where they are on your site.
Use strong page titles, header tags, and a clear global navigation structure to help visitors orient themselves. Breadcrumb navigation also does an excellent job helping a visitor to understand the organizational system of your site. Differentiate between selected and unselected navigation items by darkening a tab, changing the text color of the current category, or adding a similar graphic touch.
Once your visitors know where they are, it will be easier for them to decide where they want to go next.
Resist the temptation to be clever with your navigation labels. Using clear, precise, and common words will ensure that all of your visitors will be sure where they are going before they get there. Visitors may not understand that “clubhouse” is your term for “home” and leave your site in frustration after being unable to find their way back to your homepage.
Help your visitors to quickly recognize where common links are. Think about the common imagery used in most eCommerce stores: a little shopping cart graphic next to the words “Shopping Cart,” a lock next to a link to login, a magnifying glass to enlarge an image. Each of these illustrations works more quickly than words to make its point.
When incorporating illustrations into your navigation, be sure to keep the graphic very simple and well branded to your site. Use common imagery unless it is appropriate for your design and industry. For example, using a shopping bag instead of a shopping cart can confuse visitors and defeat the purpose of including the graphic.
In Their Shoes
As you make decisions about your navigational systems, keep your users in mind – after all, they are the ones who will be affected!
Does your typical visitor call your product by its technical name, or by a common name? Which would be most effective to use in the navigation? Do they tend to want a lot of information on a product before deciding to buy, or is it a product that, once spotted, will be added to the cart without any detail?
Ask yourself questions like these, answer them as if you were a typical customer, and base your navigation on these answers.
Make it Uniform
The primary navigation systems (perhaps the top and left navigation bars, or a floating right navigation box) should remain the same throughout the site. Non-intuitive changes to the primary navigation system can easily disorient and frustrate visitors.
Focus on Flexibility
As you design your navigational system, keep flexibility and scalability in mind. What will happen if you add categories, products, or pages? Can the horizontal navigation bar handle it or will it have to be redesigned as the site grows? Do your navigation labels have a maximum word length? What happens if they are longer?
Generally, more flexibility and scalability is better, though solutions with easily infinite flexibility can sacrifice design and usability. Ideally, a balance should be achieved that is appropriate for your industry and current site design that gives you reasonable flexibility and scalability, while still keeping the design and usability in mind.
Take time to organize your information and products in logical ‘chunks’ that make sense to your visitors. This may mean drawing out a hierarchical chart, combining, and separating information that was previously displayed differently. Overall, a well organized site will help users quickly and easily find what they are looking for.
Different navigational types and styles can be used to achieve optimal organization. We will discuss many of these in an upcoming post dealing exclusively with Styles and Types of Navigational Systems.
Three Click Rule
As a general rule, every part of your site should be accessible from the homepage within three clicks. Using the tips above will place you one step closer to having a well designed navigational system that effectively guides visitors through your site - without thinking.
Did streamlining your navigation help you increase customer conversions? What changes did you make? How did they help? Leave a comment below.