11 Tips for an Intuitive Website Navigation Menu

11 Tips for an Intuitive Website Navigation Menu

15min read  

2 Apr 2020

People don’t spend much time on a single website. They bounce from one to another very quickly, especially if the site takes too long to load or doesn’t give visitors the information they are looking for. This is a problem that could be fixed with well-designed website navigation. 

To put it simply, good website navigation allows visitors to easily browse a website with no discomfort or confusion. Think of it as aisles in a grocery store. Their job is to point visitors in the right direction helping them find the desired item much quicker. The same applies to website navigation.

You have to make sure your navigation menu is simple, yet informative. Users come first; your job is to ensure their good experience, otherwise, they won’t return to your website. That’s how navigation can have a direct impact on your traffic and conversion rate. Not to mention, search engines always reward user-friendly websites helping them rank higher in search results

With that being said, let’s jump right into the best website navigation practices that we recommend.

 

  1.  Limit Your Menu Items

The number of your menu items matters more than you might think. The rule of thumb is to keep it around 7, as people can memorize only 7 items at a time. This number is not set in stone. It hugely depends on your website content and products. But keep in mind that having around 5-7 items tends to work best. 

As a bonus tip, keep your menu options concise and to the point. Try to use descriptive words that are short and easy to understand.

adidas navigation menu

Source: Adidas

To demonstrate this point, let’s have a look at the Adidas website. Their navigation menu is short and sweet, consisting only of 6 items. Instead of showcasing their entire product line, they separated it into a few big categories. It’s also not a coincidence that they chose very short and descriptive words as their menu items, such as ‘Men’, ‘Women’, ‘Kids’, etc.

 

  1.  Keep Distractions to a Minimum

Don’t make your website visually overwhelming with too many visuals, effects, and colors. This will look repelling and is a sure way to get your visitors lost. A few unique details and cool designs can be a nice addition to your website, but be sure to strike the right balance.  At the end of the day, your content should be clearly visible and readable. 

If you use too many colors and buttons, then your navigation menu will not be clearly visible. You don’t want your user to get lost among distractions. This will give them a negative user experience ensuring they never return to your website in the future. Don’t sacrifice the usability of your website for the sake of design.

nixon navigation menu

Source: Nixon

As the picture above shows, the Nixon website is quite simple and minimalistic. They chose to stay away from any distracting designs or overwhelming colors to make sure the user can easily see their navigation menu.

 

  1.  Plan Your Website Beforehand

Plan the structure of your navigation menu as well as your entire website. Your pages and menu items should be put in a logical sequence. This will show your users the next step in the buyer’s journey. 

When planning your navigation menu, take into account that the beginning and the end of the menu are much better remembered than the middle parts. Prioritize your navigation items accordingly. 

The planning principle applies to the overall website structure as well. Especially for larger websites, it’s important to have a content hierarchy, which means categorizing and sub-categorizing your content.

 Source: search engine journal

Sitemaps are a useful tool for large websites. A sitemap tells Google which pages and files are important in your site. This makes your website more easily discoverable and helps its ranking. You can submit your sitemap on Google Search Console.

 

  1.  Stay Consistent

Stay consistent throughout your entire website. Changing up navigation tools, symbols, and icons too much can make your website confusing and hard to follow. It will slow down web surfers making them lose interest. 

Try to use similar font styles and icons, keep the spacing between elements consistent, and show navigation menus in the same place throughout your website. As you can see in the picture below, the same colors and font styles are used in both the main navigation bar and the dropdown menu. This provides consistency and a more pleasant experience. 

columbia navigation menu

Source: Columbia Sportswear

Being consistent doesn’t mean that your website has to be plain and boring. Instead, consistent web design will make navigating through your website much more cohesive and effective.

  1.  Use Sticky Navigation

Use a sticky menu, which remains in place when users scroll down your page. This will assist them in finding their way around your website and will encourage them to explore more of your site when they reach the end of the page.

sticky navigation menu example

Source: Stack Overflow

A sticky scroll-to-top button is another helpful tool to have. This will make it easy for your visitors to get back to the starting point in one click. You can create a logo if you don’t already have one and use it as your scroll-to-top button. Most people expect to be taken to the homepage when they click on your logo.

 

  1.  Add a Search Bar

It goes without saying that a search bar will make navigating through your website significantly faster, especially if your content is heavy. You can have a sticky search bar. Make sure it’s placed right and functions properly.  

Most people expect the search bar to be in a website's header, so place yours around there. Don’t make your users search for the search bar.

bestbuy's search bar

Source: Best Buy

 

  1.  Don’t Overdo Dropdown Menus 

Mind dropdown menus. Avoid long lists, as they can be visually intense and uninviting. Too many options make it hard for people to make a choice. Unless you have a very big site, it’s best to avoid dropdown menus altogether. 

But if your content is too large or you have a lot of products to showcase, you should break them up into separate groups or categories. This is what’s known as a mega menu. It organizes related items into categories making your menu much more appealing and easy to work with.

eBay dropdown menu

Source: eBay

Let’s take a quick look at eBay. For a website as huge as theirs, mega menus are extremely effective. eBay has efficiently organized millions of products into a handful of categories. By clicking on one of them, we are presented with another list of categories to choose from. No doubt, this makes their massive website a lot more manageable.

 

  1.  Make It Mobile-Friendly

The importance of making your navigation menu mobile-friendly can’t be overlooked. Mobile searches have long surpassed desktop searches, hence Google’s mobile-first approach. It’s crucial that your website is fully compatible with mobiles, considering since July 2019, Google has been using the mobile version for indexing and ranking.

The hamburger or three-line menu is widely used on mobile devices. It looks simple and doesn’t take up much space, which makes it perfect for mobiles. Make your text and buttons big enough so people can read and click with ease on their mobile devices.

hamburger menu example

Source: UX Collective

  1.  Indicate User’s Location in Your Website

Cue visitors where they are on your website to prevent getting them lost. This makes navigating back and forth between pages a lot smoother. A good way of doing this is to highlight the part of the menu they clicked on.

 

Another option is to use breadcrumbs. They usually appear as horizontal text links and show your user how they got to a specific page. Breadcrumb navigation improves the findability of your landing pages.

bestbuy breadcrumbs

Source: Best Buy

  1.  Consider Using Sidebars

You can make good use of sidebars to display additional information that might not otherwise fit on a page. You can include an email opt-in, related posts, and other links. Plus, links help search engines to understand the content of your page and improve your ranking. 

It’s up to you whether to use both left and right sidebars or pick just one. For example, Macy’s have utilized both sidebars featuring a small menu on the left and deals on the right. Feel free to use sidebars, as long as they don’t take away from your main content.

macy's sidebar menu

Source: Macy’s

Don’t go overboard with sidebar suggestions or you’ll run the risk of distracting your audience from the main content. Only include what’s relevant and could aid your visitors in finding what they’re searching for.

 

  1.  Build a Footer

Big footers are gaining more and more popularity. They are designed to invite web surfers to engage with a site longer. Your footer can contain links to your most important pages. 

Have your social networks and email sign up shown as well. Lastly, leave some contact info, like your address or phone number. Don’t forget to keep the footer consistent with the header and the rest of your website.

Nike website footer

Source: Nike

Conclusion

The main takeaway from this article is that website navigation matters. It is crucial not only for user experience but also for search engines. When designing the navigation menu, keep your user in mind. Make sure you meet their needs and provide an enjoyable user experience. 

Design your navigation menu with intention. Keep it concise and intuitive. Reduce distractions and add a few tools and shortcuts to make navigating through your website as seamless as possible.

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