Website Navigation: Lost and Found

August 31st, 2012 by | Print

website navigation bar

The elements of your website navigation can either create a user-friendly experience for your site’s visitors to easily find their way or create a maze of frustration that will equally make it easy for them to get lost. And most visitors that get lost, stay lost … meaning they won’t come back. The ultimate goal is to allow any visitor to access the information or take the action they seek in the fewest amount of clicks as possible, while breaking up your site’s content into proper categories.

The simplest solution would be to create a one page site to eliminate the need for clicking. While this works for long form sales pages (now being largely replaced by long form video pages), it certainly won’t work for your branding site where prospects and customers come predominately to find out more information about your business. Obviously, a one page branding site would be a long, annoyingly painful page to navigate through to find the relevant data. Plus, you would lose the SEO benefits that a proper navigation provides.

Think about your own experience winding your way through web pages. You like appreciate the following elements:

• the ability to choose from a small selection of pages,
• with clear labels so it’s intuitive where to go,
• and when you get there, it’s easy to go back if needed,
• or use a search function, if that’s how you prefer to find the data you’re looking for

Does that sound about right? These ease-of-use elements hold true for all sites so visitors can flow through to find the information they seek and take the actions that are important to them.

So how do you make that happen on your site?


The Types of Website Navigation

Website used to have pretty basic navigation systems with a one level or maybe two navigation bar that ran along the top of the page or down the left hand side. Today, websites have four primary types of navigation.

Primary (or Global) Navigation
Your primary navigation will typically appear at the top of every page and are often larger in appearance than your secondary navigation. It will contain the tabs leading to the primary content to your site. For example, you may include tabs to your products and services and the markets you serve. It can include your search feature. Plus, it’s always helpful to give your visitors the ability to go back to your Home page with one click. Your primary navigation tabs can contain a drop down menu of subpages when visitors hover their cursors over them. It’s best to keep these tabs to only a secondary or tertiary hierarchy.

Secondary (or Local) Navigation
Your secondary navigation can appear in the header or footer of your site. It isn’t hard to see, but is in a smaller format than your primary navigation. This gives your visitor quick click access to other relevant data for things like your Privacy Policy, Terms of Use, and other administrative pages without drawing their immediate attention away from your primary navigation.

Sitemap Navigation
The sitemap is a single page with a listing of all links within your site. This is very helpful for larger sites. Your visitors can look at all links in your website navigation segregated into appropriate categories making it easy to find what they’re looking for. At the same time, it gives them a quick visual of all the pages they can access that they may not see when simply looking at your primary and secondary navigations.

Contextual Navigation
While people are reading copy on your website pages or in your blog posts, you may discuss a particular topic or include a call to action that requires them to go to another page on your site. In these scenarios, you want to include links within the body of your copy that they can click on to take them there instead of having to use the other forms of navigation to find what you are directing them to. For example, if I were to discuss search engine optimization SEO services, I would include a link in “search engine optimization” or in “SEO” so if visitors were interested in learning more, they could click on the contextual link to take them to the page instead of hunting around the site.

What are the SEO benefits?
The navigation of a website impacts SEO in a couple of different ways. First, if you’re setting up your navigation properly, your URLs likely will contain some degree of your keywords. Keywords in the URLs and the title tags are prominent factors in how the search engines crawl and index your site. Second, by creating an easy of use for visitors to find the information they like helps your SEO and customer conversion, too.

If you feel lost following the best practices of website navigation, find me at by going to our Contact Us page for help.

All the Best,

Doug Dolan
The Solopreneur’s Guide


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