11 Best Practices for Website Navigation Menu

11 Best Practices for Website Navigation Menu

13min read  

7 May 2021

People don’t spend much time on a single website. They quickly bounce from one to another, especially if a site takes too long to load or doesn’t give them the information they need. This is a problem that can be fixed with a well-planned and intuitive website navigation menu. 

Effective website navigation allows visitors to browse a site with no discomfort. Hence, the more intuitive a web navigation menu is, the better experience the user will have. Think of a website as a grocery store where the menu items are the aisle signs. Their job is to point visitors in the right direction, helping to find the desired product faster. 

Website navigation can have a direct impact on your traffic and conversion rate. A navigation structure that’s simple yet informative will provide a positive user experience. Not to mention, search engines always reward user-friendly websites, pushing them to rank higher in search results

In this article, you’ll find the types of website navigation, 11 website navigation best practices, and effective navigation examples to see the tips in action. Let’s go!

 

Types of Website Navigation

Essentially, a website navigation menu is a collection of links to different sections of a website. This can be done in a number of ways — hence, the various types of website menus. Here are the main types of navigation bars:

website navigation menu types

  • Header menu: This is the most widespread menu type that most people automatically think of when they hear about website navigation. It’s a horizontal bar located at the top of the page that contains a list of the most important pages or sections of a site.
  • Sidebar menu: Sidebars serve the same purpose as a header menu but are placed on either side of a website. Although rare, you’ll sometimes see sidebar menus on both sides.
  • Footer menu: Footer menus are positioned at the very bottom of a page to guide the visitor back to the website once they reach the end. Footers tend to be more extensive than header menus.
  • Hamburger menu: Mostly used on mobile, a hamburger menu is a three-stripe clickable icon that expands into a menu list when clicked.
  • Dropdown menu: A dropdown menu is a list of items, each displaying additional links when a user clicks on or hovers over them. This type is often used for content-heavy websites.

 

Renderforest website templates

 

Website Navigation Best Practices

Now that you’re familiar with the basic types of website menus, let’s get into the 11 best practices you need to know to improve your website navigation.

 

  1.  Limit Your Menu Items

The number of menu items on your website navigation bar matters more than you might think. The rule of thumb is to keep it around seven, as our brains can memorize only seven items at a time. However, 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 main menu 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. Always keep your visitor’s intent in mind. What are they looking for? What words and phrases will catch their attention and convince them they’ve landed on the right page?

Adidas navigation menu

Source: Adidas

To demonstrate this, let’s have a look at the Adidas website. One of the first things to strike the eye is the short and minimal navigation menu, consisting of just six items. Instead of listing out every product line, they separated them into a few broad categories. 

It’s also not a coincidence that Adidas chose precise and descriptive words for their menu items, such as ‘Men,’ ‘Women,’ ‘Kids,’ and so on.

 

  1.  Keep Distractions to a Minimum

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

If you use too many colors and buttons, your menu items will not be legible. You don’t want your user to get lost among distractions. It will result in a negative user experience, ensuring visitors 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 simple and free of clutter. They intentionally chose to abstain from any distracting designs or overwhelming colors, so the users are able to easily navigate the site.

 

  1.  Plan Your Website Navigation Smartly

Construct your website navigation structure thoughtfully. Your pages and menu items should be placed in a logical sequence to guide users through the buyer’s journey

When planning your main menu bar, consider that the beginning and end of the menu have a much higher chance of being remembered than the middle parts. Prioritize and structure your website navigation items accordingly. 

The critical importance of planning applies to the overall website structure as well. Especially for larger websites, it’s crucial 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 notifies Google which pages and files are important on your site. This makes your website more easily discoverable and helps its ranking. Once you have your sitemap, you can submit it on Google Search Console.

 

  1.  Consistency Wins the Game

Show consistency throughout your entire website. Changing up navigation tools, symbols, and icons too much can make your site confusing and hard to follow. It will slow down web surfers, resulting in a loss of 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. Have a look at our article to discover the best website font ideas that could handsomely adorn your site. 

As you can see in the picture below, the same colors and fonts are used in both the main navigation bar and the dropdown menu. It might seem like a small detail, but it provides consistency to the web design and a more pleasant user experience.

Columbia Sportswear navigation menu

Source: Columbia Sportswear

Being consistent doesn’t mean that your website has to be unattractive and repetitive. Instead, consistent web design will make cruising through your site a much more cohesive and productive experience.

  1.  Use Sticky Navigation

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

sticky navigation menu

Source: Stack Overflow

A sticky scroll-to-top button is another helpful tool to have. It will make it easy for your visitors to get back to the starting point in just 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 a logo.

 

  1.  Don’t Forget the Search Bar

It goes without saying that a search bar will make navigating through your site significantly faster, especially if your content is on the heavier side. You can opt for a sticky search bar to go with your sticky menu.   

Make sure it’s placed right and functions correctly. Most web surfers expect the search bar to be in a website's header, so put yours around there. Don’t make your users search for the search bar!

Best Buy's website search bar

Source: Best Buy

 

  1.  Don’t Overdo Dropdown Menus 

Mind your dropdown menus. Avoid long lists at all costs, as they tend to be visually intense and uninviting. Too many options make it that much harder for people to make a choice. Unless you have a huge site, it’s best to avoid dropdown menus altogether.

But if your content is too large or has many products to showcase, break it up into separate groups and 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 enormous and diverse as theirs, a mega menu is not an option but a must. 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. This makes their massive website not only a lot more manageable but also a prime example of effective website navigation.

 

  1.  Make it Mobile-Friendly

The importance of making your web design mobile-friendly is not overstated. Mobile searches have long surpassed those on desktop, hence Google’s mobile-first approach. It’s crucial that your site is fully compatible with mobile, considering since July 2019, Google has been using the mobile version for indexing and ranking a site.

The hamburger menu (also, three-line menu) is widely used on mobile devices. The hamburger menu 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 on 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 safe way of doing so is to highlight the part of the menu a user has clicked on. 

Our website implements the highlighting technique by using colors interchangeably, as you can see in the image below.

Renderforest highlighted menu

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.

Best Buy’s website shows a great example of breadcrumb navigation.

Best Buy website breadcrumb navigationSource: Best Buy

 

  1.  Give Sidebars a Shot

You can make good use of sidebars and 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 understand the content of your page better and improve its ranking. 

It’s up to you whether to use both left and right sidebars or pick just one. For example, Macy’s has 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

Make sure you 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 an Extensive Footer

Ample footers are gaining more and more popularity. They are designed to invite web surfers to engage with a site longer. Your footer should contain links to your most important pages such as landing pages. 

Have your social networks and email sign-up shown as well. Lastly, leave some contact info, like your business location 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

Hopefully, by now you’re convinced that website navigation matters. It is crucial not only for user experience but also for getting (and staying) on search engines’ good side. When planning your site’s navigation, keep your user in mind. Make sure you meet their needs and provide an enjoyable browsing experience. 

Design your primary navigation menu with the intention of keeping it concise and intuitive. Reduce distractions and add a few tools and shortcuts to make navigating your site as seamless as possible. Apply the navigation best practices mentioned in this blog post, and watch your website’s performance peak.

Looking for a quick way to build your website? Professionally designed website templates are the way to go! Select a design that best suits you and customize it with your content effortlessly.

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