Websites that Work: Site Navigation – how to find your way

I recently discovered I have some distant cousins across the Pond. Third cousins, to be exact. You see, my great-great-grandfather, God bless his hairy face (we have a photo, the beard is epic), managed to have himself two wives (if you can’t hide the skeleton in the family closet, at least you can make him dance?). After ten extremely illustrious years with the Royal Navy, he left his wife and son behind on the Isle of Wight and started a new family in Simonstown. Grandpa Fred had seen the world, and plenty of action in nearly every war the Brits fought in the late 1800s. My romantic notions want me to believe he saw our lovely flat mountain as he sailed past the Cape of Storms, and he was utterly captivated, right? Or maybe it was great-great-grandma Lucy’s pretty smile. Well, SOMETHING made him kiss life on a deck goodbye.

But it made me think, as I searched the internet for pictures of the ships he served on, how these little vessels managed to cover such vast distances and find their way from Portsmouth all the way to Tianjin, halfway around the world, or Ghana, or Papua New Guinea, or Cape Town.

Good navigation gets you places, doesn’t it?

So, what’s the navigation like on your site? Are your visitors arriving safely at their destinations? To help you evaluate or assess your site navigation here are some pointers for you:

Menus or navigation bars

  • These need to be simple – I’d make the menu items bigger than the body text.   
  • Keep the menu at the top of your site, and if possible, consider making it ‘sticky’ which will eliminate the need for your user to scroll back up to look for things.
  • Always remember you want to reduce the number of clicks needed to find an item or info. Don’t make users wade through multiple menu items to find what they’re looking for. I would keep menu items under 7, with not more than two levels. If you need more than this, consider multiple menus instead.
  • Don’t hide your menu behind a button. Those three little lines that represent a menu? That’s called a hamburger menu. Only use hamburger menus to save screen space.
  • Menus must be logical and hierarchical. Plan them in point form, or using a spreadsheet, that’s sometimes helpful.

Breadcrumbs

  • Breadcrumbs show your site hierarchy, often at the top of of page. They look something like this: Home > Category > Post Name. They have many advantages. They act as the ‘You are now here’ indicator, but also point to other levels of your site.
  • They offer a useful alternative to your menu bar and help reduce the rate of visitors clicking away from your site.

Good navigation makes it easier for visitors to find what they want on your site – that’s what’s most important to them.

What would have happened if Grandpa Fred had ventured westwards instead of southwards? Well, I wouldn’t be here, of course! And you wouldn’t be here reading this, for one. Things would have turned out very differently. If you want matters to turn out well on your website, make sure you visitor knows how to get to where they want to be as quickly as possible.