Website navigation is something that is highly unregulated, allowing website designers to make navigation as simple or as complex as they so desire.
This is especially true when websites are designed in a more complex fashion and have several different tiers that are built into them. Some websites even display one page for users who have signed into an account and display something completely different for people who are simply visiting the site.
Unfortunately, designing a website that is easy to use is often more difficult than it sounds. There are several factors that can negatively impact the ease of use for a given website and many times websites that are designed to be easy to use, yet catch the user’s attention with stunning graphics, can become a nightmare very quickly.
It can be difficult for even the most experienced website designers to work out a plan that makes the website as easy to use as it was intended to be, as there are several different problems that are associated with website usability that can sometimes make navigation so difficult that the website is rendered virtually unusable.
For example, designing a navigation bar that is easy to use and functions well for the entire website can sometimes be a challenge. It is important to consider how the navigation bar appears from a user’s perspective, as well as its overall ease of use.
Steps towards making a usable and good looking navigation
Make sure that the website is consistent, keeping navigation toolbars in the same place on every page. In most cases these bars are traditionally placed in the upper left hand corner of the page. Doing so allows users to quickly find the navigation tools in order to work their way through the site.
It is important to remember that users typically do not like surprises. People are visiting the website in order to find out information about a topic, or to investigate purchasing goods or services. Therefore, they do not want to have to spend valuable time searching for navigation toolbars. Making the navigation equal throughout the entire website enables users to work through the site quickly and with a minimum amount of frustration.
Furthermore, it is important to keep everything highly visible so that users can navigate easily without having to look for navigation buttons on the page. In addition, keep it visible, preferably at the top of the page, so that users do not have to scroll to the bottom in order to navigate to the next page. Understand that people who visit websites are typically looking to get information quickly and therefore, they will look to other websites if they cannot find the information they are looking for right away.
Use text based navigation
Do not get caught up in the thought process that a website must be filled with images at every turn in order to gain the attention of the user. More often than not, a simple one or two word explanation of what the next page is all about will be enough to entice users to continue searching.
Instead of placing ambiguous images on a website for navigation purposes, keep things simple and to the point by placing navigation hyperlinks that explain exactly what the next page is about or where clicking a certain button will take the user. Do so in one or two descriptive words and let it go with that.
Nothing is more frustrating than when users are clicking on one button after another in order to find the information they are looking for, only to be misled by descriptive terms that are too general in nature. Keep things specific and use descriptive terms such as “contact” or “about us.” Tailor the descriptive terms to fit exactly what the user needs to know.
If icons must be used for navigation purposes, make sure that it is because they truly need to be present in order for the user to have a better experience. In many cases the icons themselves become a source of contention with users because simple descriptive terms in one or two words will work better.
Try to make it as simple as possible
Be careful about including too many navigation buttons. Keep choices limited and make sure the website is informative yet concise. Providing too many buttons for users to click on largely frustrates them and often leads to them exiting the site prematurely.
Many websites include several choices for people who have signed up or created an account, and this can sometimes be a problem. Having separate navigation as well as a separate look for people who have an account versus those who do not have one can sometimes be frustrating because users may find it difficult to find the button to get into the account or to find other information such as terms and agreements or a button to contact the company.
Keep it simple and limit choices as much as possible. In addition, keep the website the same for both account holders and non-account holders alike if at all possible.
Choose a navigation bar that makes operation for the user as simple as possible. Avoid using more than one navigation bar, as it complicates the entire website and makes its difficult from a user’s perspective.
Contrasting color scheme
Use a contrasting color for your navigation bar so that it gets the attention of the user right away. This makes it easy to find and minimizes the chances that users will lose interest before they find it.
What to avoid
Drop down menus
Drop down menus are often a bad idea, primarily because they are difficult to operate with some search engines. However, that is not the only reason.
In addition, drop down menus are often a bad idea because the user has already decided where he or she wants to click in order to get to the next page, only to be met with even more options with the drop down menu.
Moreover, drop down menus typically provide too many choices for users, often resulting in their getting lost in pages that are more specialized as they skip pages that are far more important.
There is one exception which should be noted. For very large websites that use mega drop down menus, the menu actually becomes an object to assist the user instead of something that hinders them. This is because very large websites that offer a wealth of information are often difficult to navigate unless the user can see all of their options simultaneously. Using a drop down menu in this fashion allows them to do exactly that.
For anyone who is considering using such a drop down menu, the best way to find out if it works is to develop one and then test it for a period of time to see if users find it helpful or annoying. An increase in sales is a good indication that users enjoy navigating the site in this fashion.
Bad placement of buttons inside the navigation
People have a tendency to remember the first thing and the last thing that they see or read better than all of the information that is in the middle. Therefore, make the most important goals either first or last on the website so that users clearly remember the first thing and the last thing that they see on the website.
Moreover, by putting the most important thing about the website first, the user not only remembers it better but also gets to that particular matter before anything else. All of the other information can be put somewhere in between that subject matter and an option to contact the company directly.
Creating a website that is easy to navigate can definitely be challenging, but it is by no means impossible. By keeping the needs of the user in mind and developing a website that is truly easy to navigate the chances that the website will be popular are dramatically increased.
This in turn often means an increase in sales. Therefore, take the time to learn the techniques or to work with someone who is an expert at these techniques to design a website that can accurately promote needed content in such a fashion that users want to read it.
By keeping the needs of the user as the primary consideration it is much more likely that they will continue to peruse the site until they find what they are looking for. Creating navigation that is complex and difficult to work through often means that they will choose to get their information from another website, perhaps from that of a competitor.