One of the most important aspects of your website is the navigational structure and main menu because it’s the ‘map & directions’  that tell your potential customers how to find what you are offering. The important thing to keep in mind is getting outside of your own head and thinking like a customer who has landed on your page to solve whatever problem they have and giving them the solution they came there for within seconds.

Studies have been done that show if a potential customer lands on your home page and they cannot figure out what to do next within 3 seconds, you have already lost them.  Here are some of the top navigation mistakes we see below.

Using unfamiliar words that people don’t relate to

There is a really good reason why most websites us the words ‘contact us’ instead of ‘hit us up’.  The ‘Get in Touch’ or ‘Find Us’  and ‘Shout out’ will only serve to frustrate your visitors and lessen your chances of turning visitors into customers (conversions).  We also see words like ‘MCK Products’  or ‘Industry Products’ that perhaps have become a buzz word around your office, but first time visitors to your website have no idea why they would click that link- and in most cases, they don’t have the time or patience to ‘find out what’s behind door #3’ and try their luck.

The best way to name your website navigation would be to ask those that are closest to your customers (whomever answers your business phone usually) on how they think and what words THEY use to find your product or service.  Keep your clever text and copy in the content areas where they can engage your audience and you have more room to circle back to giving the reader a full understanding of what you mean.

Trying to be different…   just to be different

Everyone loves a fresh, completely unique design to stand out from the crowd but the website menu and navigation is not where you want to innovate.  There is a great reason why even in the most beautiful automotive design, the gas pedal is on the right and the brake is on the left.  As a design company, we constantly get requests from clients wanting more than anything to not look like ‘everyone else’. But website navigation is a utility, like the gas pedal, that visitors need to count on being where they normally are and where they can easily find them.  A common request we receive in the interest of being ‘different and unique’ is horizontal navigational elements like flyout menus (you scroll down, then items fly out right).  It’s frustrating and difficult to keep your mouse in the area then move very carefully to the right without the menu disappearing and web visitors would rather browse a more ‘common’ site that works more easily.   When it comes to site architecture and navigation, use established patterns that people can easily relate to and follow and keep innovation and creative, fresh ideas in other areas of the site instead.

Your menu has too many choices (too long)

This is a problem especially in websites that have many products or services in completely different categories.  If you have more than 4 products or services, it is probably better to have a landing page for each of those products or services with the sub-products or services in that landing page area using a side navigation menu.  If you have 4 or under, you can most likely fit all 4 on the main menu and use a small top right side of page utilities menu for contact and account login or checkout options.

There are many articles out there saying that using drop downs are bad for SEO or that people do not like them.  However, these are out of date because using CSS nowadays leaves all links as text and easily read by search bots like Google and Bing.  With the new mega menus out there, you can now hover over a single word like ‘products’ and it can show a wide, very well organized menu showing categories and sections with images and lots of space so that it’s easy to find what you are looking for.  And it’s all SEO friendly and mobile friendly as well.  We suggest keeping a horizontal menu to no more than 6-8 items wide at most for top level menu items.  So make sure if you have more than 5 or 6 items in a dropdown, that you utilize a mega menu that is well designed for ease of use.

No consistent organization of content

When a website is designed, it is designed from the inside out.  This means that instead of starting with a home page, then going inside.  It’s all about the content that will be inside the site that will be brought OUT to the home page (like a magazine for example).  This means that the content rich inner pages are very likely to show up in search engine results and bring visitors in from pages deep inside the site, instead of to your home page.  This makes consistent organization of your content necessary so that if someone lands on a blog post page, the top header and bottom footer of the site still have your entire navigation menu that is consistently the same (as if it was the home page).  Using breadcrumb navigation on all pages also helps to keep your visitors from getting lost and ‘bouncing’ back to view your competitors that showed up in the search results page.

No matter what page a person is viewing on your website, your entire navigation menu, logo, utility links (if applicable) should be in the exact same place for ease of use.  This will make your site not only turning visitors into customers but make your website a relaxing, easy to use experience.

More Information on web navigation practices

Four dangerous navigation approaches that can increase cognitive strain

On the web, habits are expensive to change