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posted on October 10th, 2012

How to Improve Web Navigation and Make Your Site User-Friendly

Many of the people who visit your site will do so after clicking on a search engine listing or a link on another website. This means that they may enter from a page deep within your website rather than follow the neatly laid out path from your home page to other pages of your site. By creating a user-friendly website navigation menu, you can rest assured that people will be able to find what they’re looking for, no matter what page of your site they land on.

What Is Website Navigation?

Navigation is the most important element of a website. It embodies a website's hierarchy, listing its main sections and subsections. Web navigation creates a sense of place while giving users something to hold onto. If users ever lose their way, they can look at the navigation menu to determine where they are and how to arrive at their destination.

Truthfully, people won't use your website if they can't find their way around it. That's why clear, simple, and consistent web navigation is vital. Here are some guidelines for improving website navigation.

Design Multi-Level Navigation

One of the most common problems in the web design world is the failure to design good multi-level navigation. Most web designers don’t give nearly as much attention to lower-level navigation as they do to top-level navigation. This is because designing multi-level navigation is difficult considering the number of elements you have to fit into a limited amount of space on a page.

 

When building your website, work out its navigation from top to bottom and create sample pages for all potential levels of the site. This helps to ensure that no matter where users land on your site, they’ll be able to orient themselves and find what they’re looking for.

Create a persistent navigation menu that appears in the same place on every page, with the exception of your home page and pages where it could distract users, such as sign-up pages. A persistent navigation menu should include a link to your home page, links to the main sections and subsections of your site, and links to important “utility” pages, such as Contact Us or FAQs.

 

Give Every Page a Name

Every page of your site should have a name. Ideally, the page name will be placed in a prominent location, frame content that is unique to the page, and match the link the user clicked on to get to that page. If the page name isn't obvious, users might get confused.

 

Use "You Are Here" Indicators

Prevent users from getting lost by highlighting their current location on the navigation menu. For example, you can use bold text or a different color to make the indicator stand out.

Leave a Trail of Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs, which are typically separated with "greater than" symbols (>), show users the path from your home page to the current page. The last item in a breadcrumb trail should be the current page and it should be in bold. Don't use breadcrumbs in place of a proper navigation menu, however, because they don't reveal enough information, particularly for larger websites. Breadcrumbs are designed to complement your site's main navigation menu.

Use Tabs

Tabs are great for navigation menus because they're visually distinctive and clearly divide your site into sections. Even the computer illiterate recognize tabs because they're similar in appearance to tabs in a binder or tabs on folders in a file drawer.

A tab should already be selected when people enter your site. An active tab is typically of a different color or contrasting shade, so it looks like it's in front of the other tabs.

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