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20 Ways to NAVIGATE to Higher Conversions

total usability seriesThis is part of the Total Usability Series that was originally published in 2007. A decade later, usability is more important than ever, so we are revisiting this series and updating all of the articles. This post was updated 8/18/2017.

A site’s navigation structure is critical to providing a rich, user-friendly experience. Navigation that is well designed and implemented helps visitors identify sections and pages of the website that interest them the most, keeping them engaged with your site.

If you’re able to implement a solidly developed navigation system on your site, you’ll also be providing strong visual cues to the depth of content you have available. This alone can be an immediate first-impression indicator of trust.

When a site’s navigation is intelligent, focused, and intuitive, visitors have to think less and are able to more immediately find what they are looking for with minimal guesswork or backtracking. This, in turn, will most often translate into better overall conversion rates.

20 Features of Usable Navigation

The single most important aspect of the navigation is that it is usable to the visitors. If it’s convoluted, confusing, or broken in various ways, your users will simply abandon your site before they find what they came for.

Site-wide navigation, including top, bottom, and side navigation, should be as user-friendly as possible, ensuring that what is “expected” is what is experienced. The navigational elements used should reflect a logical flow of topics, subtopics, and subject matter within the site and enhance the users’ ability to find key areas.

Here are specific things that your navigation should have to ensure it is as usable as possible:

  1. Site indicators: Provide an immediate indication as to what site the visitor is on (yours!). Typically, company logos are placed in the top left-hand corner of every page and link back to the home page. Users routinely click the logo to navigate to the site’s starting page.Site indicator
  2. Nav bar location: Location of main navigation should be near the top and/or left side of the page. Avoid using right-side-only or bottom-only navigation.nav bar location
  3. Home page link: Each page must contain an obvious (different from the logo) link back to the home page. Keep this in a consistent location.
  4. Contact information: Access to a “contact us” page and/or specific contact information should be available in an obvious location on every page throughout the site.contact us link
  5. Link to other key information: There should be links to other pages that are critical to the decision-making process, such as the About Us page and your blog.
  6. Ease of use: Navigation must maintain simplicity of use. Avoid using hard to navigate drop-down or fly-out menus. If used, never allow navigation to go more than two sub-menus deep.
  7. Page indication: Visitors should know what page they are on and where they are in relation to the rest of the site. Breadcrumbs and navigation highlights can provide these visual indicators.breadcrumbs
  8. Visited page indication: Let visitors know which pages they have visited recently. While this is more difficult to achieve with main site navigation blocks, you can easily accomplish this by using an alternate color on visited text links.
  9. Site access: Navigation must provide intuitive and obvious links to other main sections and areas of the website.
  10. Site search function: For deep sites, search functions can assist with finding relevant information quickly. If used, the search box is best located top right of all site pages or in another consistent location.internal site search
  11. Search results: Make sure that the search feature adequately compensates for misspellings, similar products, and related items. Never leave a search result as “no products found.”
  12. Login access: Sites with shopping carts, accounts, or member-only access must provide a login link and/or page. This should be available on every page.
  13. Logout access: Once logged in, the user must be able to log out at any point. Maintain a logout link or button in an obvious location on every page one user has been logged in.
  14. Consistent navigation: Keep your navigation consistent, both in form and in placement. This will decrease visitor confusion and increase their ability to find relevant information more quickly.
  15. Categorical divisions: Navigation must present clear navigational categories for important areas of the website. Main site sections should be separated visually from other areas/pages of the site.
  16. Clickable links: All elements in navigation must be active clickable links. When using drop-down menus, the main category heading must also be linked.
  17. Obvious links: Make sure that items that are links are visually different from other items so users know what is and isn’t clickable without having to mouse over it.obvious links
  18. Navigation accuracy: Visitors should have a general idea of what they will find before clicking any navigational link. Link text must accurately describe the corresponding page linked to.
  19. Image alt text: Every navigational image link should contain accurate alt text. Text links verbiage must accurately describe corresponding page.
  20. Clear navigation labels. Make sure the words used in the navigation correspond tightly to the topic of the page being linked to so that, when they click, they are taken to a page that meets their expectations. Use keyword research to determine how visitors refer to what you offer and use those keywords as navigation labels.

Navigational Testing

A good way to test the effectiveness of your site’s navigation is simply to test it. Testing can be as simple as taking the time to look at your navigation from a different perspective.

Go to a competitor’s site and browse around. Take notes on what you like and don’t like. Jot down any problems you run across as well as anything that stands out as being exceptional. Once you’ve done this, go back to your site and perform the same navigation and note-taking process. Then compare notes between your site and your competitors’. I’m sure you’ll find areas where your navigation is better than your competitors, but most certainly you’ll have uncovered areas where your navigation is inferior.

Don’t rely solely on your own experience. Find some family, friends, or co-workers who are both familiar and unfamiliar with your industry and have them go through the same process above. If you need to save time, have them just navigate your site and take notes on that alone. Undoubtedly, your users will find issues that you hadn’t even thought of. These notes will probably be a better indicator of your site’s navigation success than your own, as they will better reflect your site’s users.

Stoney G deGeyter

Stoney deGeyter is the author of The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!. He is the founder and CEO of Pole Position Marketing, a web presence optimization firm whose pit crew has been velocitizing websites since 1998. In his free time Stoney gets involved in community services and ministries with his “bride enjoy” and his children. Read Stoney’s full bio.

7 Responses to 20 Ways to NAVIGATE to Higher Conversions

  1. Paul Hancox says:

    Hi Stoney

    Thanks for the heads-up on navigation. Ken Evoy says navigation is part of the “pre-sell” process. After all, if we can’t give our visitors a nice time navigationally, then they won’t stay long enough to buy anything off us.

    By the way, I found your article from Sphinn.com, so nice to see you have a fair few Sphinns already.

    Best,

    Paul Hancox
    http://www.InternetInfluenceMagic.com

  2. Chris Bartow says:

    “Home Page link: Each page must contain an obvious (different from the logo) link back to the home page. Keep this in a consistent location. ”

    Why? The logo link back to the home page is pretty much standard at this point. I realize newer Internet users may not know this, but eventually it’s something that should click.

    I would also point out, your site doesn’t have this. 😉

  3. While I do agree with 90% of this I think it also helps to make the Internet an unrecognizable mess.

    When too many people start to follow the same rules then there’s no individuality.

    Yes, certain aspects of consistency must present themselves. But it’s up to a good designer to present the information in an exciting fashion while still being recognizable.

  4. Stoney G deGeyter

    Drew, usability is all about meeting visitor needs and expectations. Not sure how that makes it an “unrecognizable mess”. That’s like suggesting that if everybody obeys the laws of the government then we’ll all be societal drones. Nothing could be further for the truth. While individuality IS important, if you’re so far out in the left field of individuality you’re just going to piss a lot of people off that otherwise would be good customers/clients, etc.

    Thanks for you comments. First everything I write is basically from a business standpoint so some things don’t necessarily (need to) apply to blogs or other sites that are not concerned about making money in the traditional sense. Though sites that do follow basic usability rules are better off when it comes to gaining followers.

    Chris, most people don’t want to have to wait for people to “get it” in order to sell them something. When dealing with online businesses you want to sell to as many as possible, not just those who are savvy enough to figure out how to work your site. It’s all about making people think as little as possible. They more they are forced to figure things out the more likely they are to bolt.

    “your site doesn’t have this.”

    Good point. It probably should, but this being a blog, separate from our business site (which does!) I think we’ve let many things slip somewhat. We have plans for a re-design in the (near?) future!

  5. Luis Ibarra says:

    It’s all about strategic conventions (patterns). About how to design a navigation system for a specific type of website and let visitors find what they are looking for.

    You can use a navigation pattern (drop down, breadcrumb, etc.) and still make it unique, individual, with your artistic touch.

    Conventions are what helps people when they move from scenario to scenario.

  6. Internet baccarat game strategy says:

    The single most important aspect of the navigation is that it is usable to the visitors. If it’s convoluted, confusing or broken in various ways, your users will simply abandon your site having not been able to find what they came for. The functionality of your website navigation can make or break a site’s overall performance. Fully and properly functioning navigation makes it easy for visitors to quickly find what areas of the site they came for while broken navigation quickly sends visitors scurrying for the exit.

  7. sitegrinder says:

    Thank for sharing this information. Also you must ensure that potential customers are able to find the information they are looking for without too many clicks. Here a quick rule of thumb. it is important that visitors to your site should be able to visit all your pages by using, at most, 3 clicks. It is also important if you are doing SEO. This is because search engines will only index pages that are 3 clicks deep into your site.
    If you are interested on making striking web designs with just a simple clicks, visit us at sitegrinder design tips and be able to get the stunning web design that you always wanted.