How to Build an Effective and User-Friendly Navigation Bar

Creating a user-friendly web naviagtion architecture

A site’s navigation (nav) is the backbone of your site. A good nav can give users a quick and enriching experience within your site. In contrast, a bad nav can make sure they never come back. Therefore making sure your nav is organized, clear, and easy to use is essential. Here are a few simple steps to organize your website navigation to give your users an enriching online experience.

Make Your Nav Listings Clear

A common area that can frustrate users is the nav labels and organization. Your nav is a map to your site and a map that isn’t labeled correctly, it’s not very useful. It functions by selecting the appropriate sections for the main tabs. A general rule of thumb is to have a tab for each type of product or service that you offer. For example, if you sell equipment for outdoor recreational activities, you would probably have tabs for camping and fishing. Or if you were a financial consulting firm you might have tabs for bookkeeping and tax filing. There are some tabs sections that just about every website has such as a link back to the homepage and an About or Contact Us section. Though the homepage link is standard, many sites now choose to place their logo in the top left section of the screen and have that function as their link back to their homepage.

Now that you have your nav sections selected, you have to look at the individual nav listings themselves. Perhaps you’ve experienced searching through the nav of a poorly organized site and clicking on a nav link to discover that it is not at all what you were looking for. To avoid a similar experience on your website, be sure that all your nav links clearly and accurately let the user know what to expect when they click onto that page. Each nav listing should be a concise description of the content on that page.

Trim the Unnecessary Pages

One of the quickest ways to overcrowd your site’s navigation is to have too many links. A user-friendly nav allows users to quickly and intuitively locate what they are looking for and having too many nav links can frustrate your users by forcing them to scan through a wall of text. This is why it is important to prune your nav and get rid of any extraneous pages. So, how do you know which pages to keep and which to remove. Obviously, the pages that are vital to your site such as your homepage, inventory/products page, contact page/form, and other essential pages will stay, but what about the pages that aren’t quite necessary to your site?

One strategy for determining if a page is worth keeping on your nav is to use your analytics software to gauge how effective this page is. If the pageviews and user interaction for the page is low, users aren’t seeking the content on that page and it should probably be removed. You should ensure that the page is visibly linked from another page in case a user needs to find it. Another option to cut down on the size of your nav is to merge pages with duplicate or similar content. To do this, first figure out which page is performing better and should be kept and which page should be removed. Then add the content of the poorly performing page to the page you are keeping. Finally remove the poorly performing page from your nav and have it redirected to the page you are keeping.

Design for Convenience

A few more design choices have become standard to a well kept nav. Each of these choices further streamline the user’s experience while they explore your website.

A common mistake is double-stacking navs by inserting a dropdown list within another dropdown list. This can be an effective way to include more page links on your nav. Unfortunately, they tend to be frustrating to use because as soon as the user hovers off of the selections with their mouse, the lists will disappear and the user will have to go through all of those sublists again. Double-stacking navs should be used sparingly and never stacked more than once.

The second recommended design choice to make the nav sticky. A sticky nav means that no matter how far down the page the user goes, the navigation bar will be fixed to the top of the page. This prevents unnecessary scrolling back to the top if the user needs to navigate to another page.

Finally, make sure that your nav is mobile responsive. The standard navigation bar design unfortunately doesn’t work on mobile. It ends up taking too much space and isn’t very ergonomic to use. The use of the “hamburger menu” has become the standard design for a mobile-responsive navigation. This reorganizes the navigation bar into a vertical design that is hidden until the user selects the icon with three horizontal lines. As more and more traffic comes from mobile devices, it’s important to make sure that your site caters to their use.

If you have any questions about site architecture, web management, or digital advertising, send us a message or give us a call at (847) 297-1700.

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