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  • 28 August 2014
  • Dr Billy M.

Website Navigation: Design Best Practices

A website navigation system is the gateway and road map to the content of your website. Having intuitive website navigation functions allows users to seamlessly traverse your site without having to use browser buttons.

Best practices

Aim to efficiently present your website's information architecture during the design process. Develop your navigation bar based on how the information is organically accessed by a user. Properly organize your information, use correct labels and ensure all navigation elements are clickable links. To further enhance a visitor's browsing experience, observe the following essential elements when styling your navigation.

Develop your navigation bar based on how the information is organically accessed by a user.

1. Navigation toolbars
Making website navigation as simple as possible is critical to retaining users. Clear navigation should reflect the way users think, not necessarily the way the site is organized internally.

  • The navigation toolbar is commonly placed across the top of the page. Include a drop-down menu to allow users to easily jump from task to task as desired.
  • If you include a side column navigation bar, ensure it is prominently visible and not lost amongst a sea of content.
  • Use a level of detail and design that will display across platforms. Oftentimes, navigation toolbars that are suitable for desktops do not display well on smartphones.

2. Leave breadcrumbs
In addition to your navigation toolbars, help your visitors with "breadcrumb links," which place each page contextually within a visual hierarchy, allowing your audience to navigate their way back up to the home page. Breadcrumbs also allow search engines to see the interrelationship of content on your pages, which can boost your SEO ranking.

3. Provide local search help
Include a search tool to help your users with website navigation. Google offers a search tool you can incorporate in your web design that can be customized to search locally. However, if you have a large site or one with several pages, many different products or a combination of items, you will need a well-designed search tool to offer navigation assistance. Where applicable, it will include specific features such as a drop-down list where users can search based on common keywords. The search widget should let users adjust their search criteria in order to sort, narrow or expand results.

4. Error handling
Design your website so that it is robust and free from bugs when it comes to handling errors. This should be done at a coding level to ensure the website displays the right error message to improve overall usability. Include a custom 404 page that redirects users to content that is actually available in the event that they encounter a missing page.

5. Mobile device compatibility
More people use their smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices to access the Internet than ever before. You should design a mobile optimized business website in case the existing one does not display correctly. Observe the following when creating your mobile version:

  • Reduce the number of menu buttons. Unlike desktops, mobile users see your website in portrait rather than in landscape. If possible, limit buttons to five or less to avoid overlap. Use nested menus if necessary.
  • Keep the number of taps, or actions to be performed, to a minimum. Mobile devices can test one's patience, and the fewer the taps required to find what the user is looking for, the better for your business; a frustrated user rarely makes for a good customer. Include an easily identifiable back button to get users back on track.
Other Considerations

Make sure your website is accessible to all users, including the blind, disabled or the elderly who typically utilize screen-readers when accessing the Internet. Refer to Section 508 of the government's website accessibility guidelines on how to properly design your site for the benefit of on-screen readers.

Additionally, fast load times for your site will prevent the loss of potential customers. Typical websites load within four to six seconds. Load speed is influenced by third-party plugins and widgets such as website tracking and social media, so only include them if absolutely vital.Take advantage of free professional website design and copywriting with

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