Rules of Effective Website Navigation

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Website navigation is key to a website's ability to attract and retain visitors. If a site's navigation is confusing, scattered or non-existent, users will never find the important content, and they will browse elsewhere.

Make Navigation Easy to Find (Very Easy)

Web users are impatient, and they're not going to hang around a site very long if they can't find their way around. Place the navigation where users expect to find it: either across the top horizontally, or on the left as a vertical sidebar. This is not the place to exercise too much creativity — make sure that your viewers see your navigational elements as soon as they arrive on your site.

Keep It Consistent

Similarly, place your site navigation in the same location on every page of a site. Maintain the same style, fonts, and colors. This enables users to get used to a site and feel comfortable browsing it. If navigation were to jump from the top to the left, disappear, or change colors from section to section, frustrated visitors will be likely to go elsewhere.

Be Specific

Avoid overly generic phrases in your site navigation like “resources” and “tools” as frustrated users will be clicking on multiple links before finding what they are seeking. Stick to specific, descriptive names such as “news” and “podcasts” to avoid confusion.

Remember that website navigation and organization is a key aspect of SEO (search engine optimization). If you want Google to find you, be specific.

Go Minimalistic

Minimize the number of navigation links, which just leave a user with too many choices. Think how frustrating it is when you have encountered a page with dozens of links beckoning you to click. Where to go first? It's enough to send your visitor fleeing.

The most commonly recommended maximum is to include at most seven menu items. Some experts cite studies that show that people's short-term memory can retain just seven items to back this recommendation. But whatever the exact number, the take-home point is that less is more.

Recently, web designers considered drop-down menus to be an alternative to too many top-level links — not so any longer. These are difficult for search engines to find, and studies have shown that web visitors find these sub-menus irritating. Even worse, visitors can end up missing primary pages if they jump to a sub-page.

Provide Clues as to a User's Location

Once a user clicks away from the home page, be sure that you provide clues as to where they are. Use a consistent method to highlight the section a visitor is in, such as a change in color or appearance. If the site has more than one page per section, be sure that the link to return to the top of the section is clearly visible. Consider using "breadcrumbs" at the top of your page to identify exactly where in the site's hierarchy your visitor is.