Website Navigation

Everything on your website, from content to URLs, is connected to the navigation. Therefore, navigation plays an important role in creating a successful website. Your site’s navigation system is a map that helps users and search engines to find information contained within your website. Moreover, it helps search engines to understand how important this information is. “Although Google's search results are provided at a page level, Google also likes to have a sense of what role a page plays in the bigger picture of the site.”1  So, website navigation affects not only the search engine ranking, but traffic and conversions too.




An example of website navigation



Some recommendations for improving the website navigation:

Plan the website navigation based on your Home or “general” page.

All websites have a Home or “general” page, which is usually the most visited on the site and is the starting place of navigation for most visitors. Think how visitors will go from your “general” page to more specific content.

Create a naturally flowing hierarchy.

“Make it as easy as possible for users to go from general content to the more specific content they want on your site. Add navigation pages when it makes sense and effectively work these into your internal link structure”1

Avoid:

Be consistent throughout all website.

Visitors will learn through repetition how to use and get around your website. Using a consistent navigation scheme on your website from page to page helps your visitors to learn your navigation system.

Kept together the main navigation links.

Keeping together your main navigation links makes it easier for visitors to go to the main areas on your website.

Group navigation links into sections.

Grouping links into sections allows you to reduce clutter. If your website navigation links are grouped into sections and each section has 5-7 links, this makes it easier to read your navigation scheme.

Avoid having too many items in your navigation.

A website with hundreds of links on the Home page is terrible. Moreover, even eight links may be too many because short term memory holds a limited number of separate items. The average number is about 7 items, plus or minus 2, depending on the individual. Therefore, try to limit your navigation to five items. This works not only for the Home page, but for the rest pages on the website too.

Concise navigation is important for search engine optimization (SEO) too. When your navigation has too many links, your interior pages have less trust and authority. The more concise your navigation, the more authority your interior pages can have that makes them more likely to rank higher.

Minimize a number of clicks to get to a page the visitor wants to get to.

Minimizing the number of clicks to get to the page on your website the visitor wishes to visit leads to a better experience.

Use mostly text for navigation.

Navigation from page to page on your website through text links makes it easier for search engines to crawl and understand your site. Many users also prefer this over other approaches.

Avoid:

It can be difficult for search engines to crawl the drop-down menus depending on how they are programed. Moreover, drop-downs are annoying and encourage visitors to skip important top-level pages. An exception is a really big drop-down lists with lots of options. If you have a big website with many sections, drop-downs may improve its usability.

Google recommends using HTML not only for content, but for navigation too. If users can reach all pages on your site via normal text links, this will improve the accessibility of your site.

On your website, visitors expect to find horizontal navigation across the top of the page or vertical navigation down in the left side of the page. Putting navigation in standard places makes your website easier to use that can give you a lower bounce rate, more pages per visit and higher conversions.

Use breadcrumb lists.

“A breadcrumb is a row of internal links at the top or bottom of the page that allows visitors to quickly navigate back to a previous section or the root page.”1  

Allow for the possibility of a part of the URL being removed.

Some users instead of using the breadcrumb links on the page might drop off a part of the URL to find more general content. Your website should be prepared to show content in this situation.

Create an HTML sitemap page and an XML sitemap file.

You should prepare two sitemaps, one for users and one for search engines.

In the lower-case, prepare a sitemap for users, a simple HTML page on your site that displays the structure of your website. Usually, the sitemap contains a hierarchical listing of the pages on the site. Links to all of your pages or the most important pages (if you have hundreds or thousands) on your site can be useful; visitors may visit this page if they are having problems with finding specific content on your website.

In the upper-case, create the XML sitemap, a file where you can list your website’s pages to tell Google and other search engines about the organization of your website’s content. The XML sitemap helps search engines to discover the pages on your site; search engine web crawlers read this file to more intelligently crawl your website.

Avoid letting your HTML sitemap: 

Have a “404 Not Found” page.

Users may occasionally come to a page that doesn't exist on your website by following a broken link or typing the wrong URL. A 404 page guides users back to a working page on your site.

Your 404 page should have a link back to your Home page and provide links to popular content on your website.

On some sites you cannot see the 404 page, as they use redirects from the not found page to the Home page. This way is pleasant for users, but not good for a website as in this case, every time when a user click on the broken link or enter a wrong URL and you redirect them to your Home page, Google remember each way. As a result, website has a duplicate context.

Avoid: 

You should include your “404 Not Found” page to your robots.txt file. 

 Your “404 Not Found” page should have the same design as other pages on your website.

Remember, your website navigation system needs to be effective, and the focus should be on simplicity and ease of your website use.

References:

1. “Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide” 2010. 7 August 2015. <http://static.googleusercontent.com/media/www.google.com/en/us/webmasters/docs/search-engine-optimization-starter-guide.pdf>

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