With almost two billion websites currently online, we’re spoiled for choice when it comes to finding online content. However, the sheer volume of material at our fingertips has made us very picky about which sites we choose to spend time on. And while a slow-loading homepage might be abandoned before it’s displayed, another major cause of site abandonment centers around unintuitive website navigation.
Being able to find our way around is just as important online as it is in shopping malls or town centers. Burying the link to an About Us page in a bottom menu bar is the virtual equivalent of not signposting escalators, or forgetting to install POS signage at checkouts. Online customers and visitors want to move around at their own pace, along their own routes, and without having to ask for directions. And while it’s impossible to apply definitive rules to something as variable and platform-dependent as website navigation, these ten guidelines should be kept in mind when designing and launching a new site…
1. Give pages obvious titles.
Using oblique page titles might differentiate your site from others, but confusing website navigation will alienate first-time visitors. Eliminate any ambiguity about where specific content is located by adopting user-friendly page headings.
2. Stick to standard fonts like Arial.
Effective website navigation involves making it obvious where people are, and what’s going on. That’s harder with italic or serif fonts that may not display properly in certain browsers, especially at point sizes below 14.
3. Keep navigation bars in the same place.
This sounds obvious, but some sites move menu bars around to suit the contents of specific pages. If people can’t find the Home or Contact pages quickly, they may abandon the site, damaging SEO performance.
4. Don’t use randomly generated URLs.
A web page at site.com/aboutus paints a clearer picture of its contents than site.com/a41huqr. Replace automated page IDs with ones containing key search terms – it’s also a quick way to improve a page’s SEO score.
5. Add internal links.
Another easy SEO win involves adding multiple links from each page of your website to the others. Not only does this reinforce the perception of valuable content among search engines, but it also helps people navigate along logical paths.
6. Avoid hamburger menus if possible.
Debate rages about the merits of compressed drop-down menus, typically signified by three black lines. However, some users may miss them entirely, potentially stopping them from progressing past the homepage.
7. Ensure clickable buttons and links are well-sized.
All links and buttons across the size must be big enough for a mobile user to correctly finger-tap. It’s a good idea to leave space between buttons, or ensure they’re generously sized.
8. Position social buttons carefully.
It’s great to offer links to the major social platforms, so customers can share content (or recent purchases) with their connections. Don’t put sharing buttons at the top of a page, though, as this increases site abandonment.
9. Avoid opening additional browser windows.
Following a linear path through a website makes it easy to retrace your footsteps. Multiple windows are the antithesis of this (especially on mobile screens), while page loading speeds will suffer as well.
10. Keep the homepage prominent.
Always allow people to go back to the homepage if they want, even mid-checkout. Locking customers into an ecommerce transaction forces them to close the browser window to escape, even if they wanted to add more items.