What makes a good website? Compelling copy, sleek design, great images… all those are important, but the best websites are user-friendly first and foremost. And that in turn comes down to good navigation. Can your visitors find what they need? Does your website’s layout make logical sense? It’s oddly easy to get this wrong! Unfortunately, website navigation issues are among the top reasons why people abandon a site.
If you’ve ever been to a new airport or train station, you probably know the feeling of turning in frantic circles as you try to find your way. You have 20 minutes to get to your gate — which way do you go? What do the signs mean? And where is the bathroom?
Visitors to your website are a lot like those panicked travelers. Except that they won’t wait 20 minutes to figure out your navigation. If they can’t find what they need within a few seconds, they’ll likely leave. After all, there are no expensive tickets at stake!
Your website navigation deserves a lot of consideration. If it doesn’t suit your visitors’ needs, you can guarantee a high bounce rate for your site. (That’s when people land on your site and leave without exploring further.) Here’s how to optimize your website’s navigation, which encourages visitors to stay longer and ultimately make a purchase.
Make your target audience’s top interests easy-to-find
Imagine that you are shopping for a new messenger bag. You arrive at an e-commerce website for a brand that you believe sells messenger bags. But the menu is divided by their “collections” and there is no search bar. You try poking around their various category pages but can’t find a messenger bag. So, you head back to Google to find another option.
If that was your company, you just lost a sale. You (should) spend a lot of time developing your target personas and conducting market research, so why would you design your navigation in a way that only your team members understand?
Knowing what people are seeking and positioning it within reach are both crucial to good website navigation. From your menus to your header images to your pullout sections, every essential part of your site should be no more than one click away once a visitor lands on your homepage. Ideally, they don’t even need to deal with your homepage; your website is so well optimized that Google leads them directly to the appropriate page. Then, they instantly see what they want without having to scroll.
Organize your content logically
Remember that prospective customers have no idea what your company’s internal organization is like. They may not even know what they’re looking for! So when you organize your site in a way that doesn’t match their thought process, they’ll end up confused — and leaving.
This is especially a problem for service-based businesses. For example, you offer painting services for both residential and commercial properties, and internally, you divide it by room painting, furniture, and whole-building painting. But your customers are probably thinking “I need my porch re-done” or “I want my store re-painted.” If they arrive on your site and can’t find an “Exterior Painting” or “Commercial Painting” page, they’ll assume you don’t have what they need — and they’ll leave.
So, make sure that you divide your pages according to what your audience seeks, not by any arbitrary categories your company has set.
Keep it simple
Ever heard of choice overload? It’s when someone sees so many options that they become overwhelmed and end up choosing nothing. That’s why stores have limited variations of a given product. If there are too many choices, customers won’t buy as much.
The same is true for your website. A menu with a dozen or more items may show the breadth of your business, but visitors won’t see it that way. They will be confused about where to go and what to do. When you limit the number of options, you’re more likely to get results.
This principle works for internal page navigation as well. Long pages that are packed with information are overwhelming. The user won’t know which part is most important. They may lose their place or even forget what they were looking for. In short, keep your page layout simple so that users can feel confident, not confused!
Reflect the user’s journey
While no two users are completely alike, you can identify some trends in their behavior. If your website aims to register people for classes at your yoga studio, it’s safe to assume your target customers share a common journey: they’re looking to start a yoga practice, so they want to learn (a) how much it costs, (b) how much experience they need, (c) what to expect, and (d) how to sign up. If your website navigation mirrors this thought process, you’ll be golden.
However, if your yoga studio website starts with a rambling description of your company, pulls some photos from your Instagram page, then jumps to a blog you wrote about the history of yoga, you’re not going to attract new students. You’re going to come off as a random yoga page, not an opportunity for someone to start doing yoga.
So, keep the focus on your visitor at every aspect of your website: from the first headline they read to the menu options they see to the call-to-action at the bottom of the page. When people feel like a website is speaking to them, they are much more likely to take action.
Good website navigation is actually quite easy. It’s simple and user-focused — that’s it! The more layers you add and the more clicks you require from your visitors, the more you drive them away. To optimize your website navigation, you need to eliminate confusion and streamline their pathway as much as possible. Remember, it’s their journey: you’re simply guiding them on it.