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Website Navigation – 15 Best Practices & Tips

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Website navigation is the process of navigating a network of useful resources on the internet with the help of hypertext or hypermedia. Web navigation started with the internet era in 1989 and it quickly became evident that it was going to play a significant role in the scheme of the World Wide Web. Fast-forward today, it still holds.

Websites nowadays have become a sophisticated collection of web pages stitched together indefinitely. SEO basic, such as an easily accessible and clearly defined navigation structure, helps the user navigate the sites’ complexity to reach the intended information.

Navigation can make or break a website’s overall performance when it comes to retaining visitors, keeping them engaged, and driving them through the conversion funnel. Moreover, sites compete with each other in the search results page to gain maximum traffic. In such a competition, poorly designed navigation might lead to losing traffic to a competitor.

What is a Navigation Menu? 

An organized bunch of links that guide the user to various pages on a website—usually internal pages—is called a Navigation Menu. Since websites do not actually have any form of physical structure, they must have a solid, structured menu. The most common types of website navigation are to present links horizontally across the page header, or as a list in a sidebar. A good navigation menu can help users easily reach their intended destination on the site without getting lost in an unending array of disconnected links. Browsers make use of this navigation menu bar to help users navigate the file system.  

What is Sub-navigation? 

Sub-navigation is a user interface that provides access to the lower-level categories of the site’s information architecture. Sub-navigation or local navigation refers to a list of sub-categories present under the main navigation links. Sub-navigation links in the user interface allow visitors to access other related information directly from the main page—with very few mouse clicks. These links help users access pages that are buried deep within the site’s architecture. A website should have a good sub-navigation system that forms a hierarchy and links various pages in the website.

Importance of Website Navigation

Have you ever strolled through a website only to get lost in the maze of information with nowhere to go? If yes, then you have undoubtedly experienced the horror of a poorly designed navigation. Poor navigation not only makes a user abandon the site but also leaves them unsatisfied. A simple navigation structure might help visitors quickly find the information, without breaking the chain. It can result in user satisfaction and better conversion. Moreover, the user feels good when they are in control of their seamless journey through the website.

Having a well laid-out navigation also helps search engines to discover and crawl more pages on the website. It could result in an increasing number of indexed pages. Increasing the number of indexed pages for the client is imperative for any SEO company in India.

Connection Between Website Navigation and User Experience

The structure of a website and how well it is architectured plays a key role in determining the user experience of your website. Website navigation is perhaps the most crucial element of building a website. It offers users a seamless user experience through their journey.

How easy the website is to use and how easily a user can navigate through it are two determining factors of user satisfaction. Hence, you must improve website navigation from a user’s perspective so that you can identify how the user experience can be made even more seamless. How long a customer stays on a website is a testament to its convenience and the content it offers. Therefore, while building a website, you must ensure that the user gets the maximum results for minimum effort.

Different Types of Website Navigation

Websites most commonly use one of the three types of navigation structure for maximum efficiency, which we are going to discuss below.

  • Hierarchical Navigation

Hierarchical navigation is the most favoured navigation structure, especially for big e-commerce websites. It has a top-down approach. The top consists of general pages and bottom ones are more specific pages in a hierarchy.

Hierarchical Navigation a favoured navigation structure

  • Global Site Navigation

Global site navigation is the navigation structure designed to be present on all the pages of a website such as a header and a footer navigation bar. They mostly represent the top section or essential pages on the site.

Header Link

Header Link

Footer Link

Footer Link

  • Local site navigation

Local site navigation are mostly links embedded in the content leading the visitor to discover more related pages on the site. It effortlessly drives the user to the resources for which they are visiting a particular website.

  • Hamburger Navigation 

Hamburger navigation might sound mouthwatering, but it is an intriguing type of website navigation. This type of menu is usually used on mobile Web pages. When the phone screen is large, the items on the menu are presented horizontally, and when the screen is smaller, the list collapses behind a three-lined button. This three-lined button is called the hamburger button, and it is most beneficial when implemented on a screen with space constraints. The hamburger menu is a globally accepted icon that indicates that a list of items is present behind the button.

  • Vertical Sidebar Navigation Menu

In vertical sidebar navigation, a list of menu items is presented vertically, under one another, on either side of the page. Although it is not one of the most popular types of website navigation, it still offers several advantages. Placing the menu list across the header might cause problems due to the limited real estate on a Web page. On the other hand, by stacking the links one on top of the other, we can put in a long list and can prioritize pages by putting the most important ones at the top, and using the above-the-fold area. Since the orientation of the sidebar is not confined by space, you can easily add more items to the navigation list.

Features of a good website navigation

In the real world, every business does not sell the same product or service, nor do they have the same sets of customers. Even the business goals are unique. Some might have transactions as their goal while others have signed up for a newsletter as their primary goal. One cannot have a “one size fits all” strategy for all the websites.  This could hurt the website traffic.

A rule of thumb in SEO is that no matter on which page one is, the entire website should be accessible from three clicks from the current page.

Good website navigation largely depends upon the combination of three factors. Having a thorough understanding of the elements could help formulate an optimal navigation strategy for a website. These three factors are:

  1. Users
  2. Business
  3. Goals

Understanding users and anticipating their navigation journey can help in defining clear and appropriate links on the website.  This could significantly enhance the user experience of the site leading to more conversions and sales on website.

Now that we know how good site navigation leads to a positive effect on the business, let us see how to improve website navigation.

Website Navigation Example

While many websites boast of excellent navigation capability, Mailchimp is the one that we will talk about here.

Mailchimp offers a seamless and straightforward navigation experience to users. It is an example of how you do not have to use every tip and trick in the book to get visitors to your doorstep. The Web page comes with a sticky navigation bar on the top of the page—quite useful when you are scrolling down the home page (and it’s a long way down, anyway). The subcategories of the main menu appear when you hover near the list, and they disappear as you move back – sleek! The subsections look something like a sidebar navigation menu would, making the entire look of the website quite interesting. Finally, the fat footer is, well, fat. It manages to fill up a whole page. But the content is not overwhelming. The information on the footer seems to be in sync with the look of the entire site. The whole website looks sleek and, at the same time, a bit quirky. The navigation is elegant, and the use of a lot of negative space makes the site attractive.

And if you have not hovered your mouse pointer on the logo of Mailchimp yet, we recommend that you do so without wasting any more time! The cute little monkey animation is undoubtedly a nice touch!

Website Navigation Best Practices

  • Links to Homepage

Each page on the website must contain a link to the homepage. It could be from the logo, other content page or footer. Users tend to return to the homepage once the information is consumed. The homepage acts as a central place, from where users can navigate to different regions on the website with ease.

  • Mobile-friendly Navigation

Mobile-friendly navigation is essential for good user experience and also for indexing of pages. Since July 2019, Google has moved to mobile-first indexing, i.e., it will rank pages based on the mobile version. If the navigation on the mobile site is complicated and confusing, it might lead to a lousy user experience, affecting the indexing of pages.

  • Keep consistency

Keeping the form and placement of links consistent on a website increases the likelihood of user engagement. Constantly changing links can frustrate and irritate the user leaving them unsatisfied and in a confused state.

  • Relevant Title

The clickable elements on the page should have a clear, self-explanatory title. Such a title communicates the type of information a user will encounter once he clicks on the link. Similar to constantly changing links, a clickable link leading to an unrelated page could also agitate the user and possibly create a lack of trust.

  • Clickable Links

Make sure all the clickable links found on the website are correctly functioning, even the links from the drop-down menu of the header section. Most of the time, users directly go to sub-category pages from the main menu. Hence these pages should be highlighted and  accessible.

  • Search Box

Placement and search box features are essential for a better user experience. The placement of the search box should be highly visible to the user. When a user searches, it should always return relevant results. Even if the product is not available, it should at least display the most closely related product. Showing no results could discourage users.

  • Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs indicate where exactly one is on the website. It adds convenience and control to navigation. It enables users to navigate back to any other page in the user journey with the help of a single click.

Breadcrumbs indicate where exactly one is on the website

  • Image links with Alt text

Using Alt text is a good practice, but more so if the image is a part of navigation. Having a descriptive Alt text helps the user to recognise which page the underlying link is going to lead. It also helps visually impaired users to navigate the website easily.

  • Footer

Footers are mostly used to link privacy and legal pages, but can also be used to link essential pages of the sites. Websites such as e-commerce sites have heavy content and have made most use of this space by linking to high-value pages on the site.

  • Use Call to Action

Using the right Call to Actions on the website can improve the click-through rate and user engagement. CTA encourages the user to take desired actions such as filling up of a form or signing up for website newsletter; thereby aiding to better conversions and sales.

  • Create Obvious Hypertext 

The design of a website must not be in the way of its usability. The user must be able to distinguish between normal text and hypertext easily. Make sure that the hypertext is formatted uniquely and is different from the other elements on the Web page. For instance, you can use a different font style or font colour, underline it, and so on. 

  • Keep the Sidebars Separate

You must ensure that the sidebar is its own entity on a Web page. Keep it separate from the rest of the content. Make it stand out by using a background colour that is different from the remaining portions of the Web page. This can help the user identify the part of the Web page that they should concentrate on. It is also important to ensure that the other elements of the page are far removed from the sidebar, so they do not blend.

  • Insert Your Navigation in the Required Place

While a creative website will be appreciated, there are certain elements of a Web page that the users expect to be at a defined, fixed place. Search bars, header navigation, sidebars, and so on need to be in the place designated to them. This is an industry practice and is true of all websites.

  • Order of Your Website Navigation is Important

While navigating a website, it is imperative to provide users with all the pages they have opened in a navigation bar in the order that they were opened. Usually, the Web pages at the beginning and the end are the most important ones. Another way to maintain the order of navigation on your website is to provide users with the most important parts of the website in the most accessible place on the website.

  • Connect the Navigation with Business Preferences

To ensure maximum conversion of the visitors to your website, it is important to highlight your business priorities. Directing visitors to the particular Web pages where they can buy your products/services while important, should be done in the right way. This can be done by creating a balance between serving the visitor’s curiosity and adding the links of the Web pages relevant to customer engagement, such as the Contact Us or About Us pages.

Measuring and Changes in the Navigation structure

Optimising websites to improve navigation is a continuous process. You have to continuously keep track of user behaviour on the site, especially user journey and heat map reports. User journey can highlight the pages from where users are dropping off, whereas heat maps reports can provide valuable insights about the user interaction on the page. These information hints at the likeability of particular features after the UI, UX changes on the website.

Website navigation plays a significant role in the success of business online. Often it is the most overlooked part of the web development process with design and multimedia taking all the credit for a successful website. Sometimes developers have a hard time understanding importance of website navigation. Optimising navigation structure for a smaller site by implementing an on-page SEO technique is simple. However, more significant sites might need to hire SEO services to resolve the problem related to poor navigation structure.

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Rorko June 5, 2020 - 11:56 am

Thank you for giving useful information.

Infidigit June 8, 2020 - 11:08 am

Thanks. Do subscribe us for more updates.


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