It’s a Website, Not a Maze: Best Practices for Navigation

Sometimes it feels like when you go to a website, you are immediately blindfolded, spun around ten times, and then left to stumble around blindly looking for the information you want. That whole process is barely fun when a piñata is involved, so it is beyond frustrating when you are just looking for an answer to a simple question. If you are lucky enough to bring someone to your website, the last thing you want is for them to run away scared by the winding labyrinth of information in front of them.

Make sure you create a blueprint for website planning that integrates into your overall SEO strategy. The following is a list of 4 things to keep in mind when developing your site navigation and information architecture, because sadly, too many sites still do it wrong.
Organization is Mandatory
Sometimes when you focus only on how a website looks, the content that is actually going to populate this beautifully designed site is given little to no thought. Often, that means content is thrown in randomly and haphazardly, creating a maze with no hint of where to even start, let alone how to get to the middle or end. Don’t forget that it doesn’t matter how innovative, beautiful, or captivating your design is if your users can’t find your product, valuable information, or even who you are and what you do. Organization isn’t only for Type-A personalities. Categorizing the content on your site is a must. A handy way to do this is using notecards or sticky notes. Brainstorm every aspect of your business that you want to promote on your site and then bundle them in logical, hierarchical groups.

Keep it Flat
Remember those groups of notecards you just created? Now you have to take that hierarchy and flatten it. This exercise is different for every website and the strategy involved requires a mixture of creativity and analysis. Search engines can’t be bothered to crawl and index pages on your site that are 5, 6, or 7 layers deep, so why should your users have to?

As you categorize content, make sure you aren’t creating unnecessary layers of depth. Do you really need to split your website audience in half on your homepage before giving them access to any other info on your site? Probably not.

Also keep in mind that your link juice diminishes as it trickles down that hierarchy. Make sure you keep those pages at the bottom aptly watered so they don’t shrivel and die.

Website Architecture
Put Up Sign Posts
People generally don’t like to feel lost. Stopping to ask for directions is tedious and most people just won’t do it. Make sure to keep your navigation simple, logical, and consistent. Your user should never have to guess where they are or how to get where they want to go. You wouldn’t purchase a map that had huge holes in it, so don’t poke holes in your site navigation. Including breadcrumbs and dropdown menus is a simple to way make sure your users have landmarks to reference.

Give the people what they want!
A friend of mine has a motto about how to pick the right Karaoke song. You have to give the people what they want rather than pick your favorite song from 1997 that no one else knows. I have found that this motto applies really well to websites. If I come to your site, make sure you give me what I want, not what you want.

In order to do this, you need to know your user, who they are, and what they are looking for. Keep in mind that most people aren’t as familiar with your industry as you are, and using technical jargon in your navigation is as helpful as having no signposts at all.

Give your users easy access to the meat of your site and the information they seek. Don’t make them hunt for it because they will mostly all quit.