Website Navigation: Definition, Importance and Tips

Updated February 3, 2023

A website represents an organization online, so it's important that it features a design that appeals to users. Website navigation is an essential part of web design because it contributes to the user experience. Understanding website navigation can help you allow users to access the information they want as quickly as possible by presenting an enjoyable, intuitive layout while increasing ease of use. 

In this article, we define website navigation and the navigation menu, explain its importance and list 10 navigation tips for improving your website.

What is website navigation?

Website navigation is the act of clicking and looking through resources on the internet, such as the various pages that make up a website. Users navigate websites using a web browser and clicking on links that transport them to other pages when clicked. There are two kinds of links you might use for website navigation:

  • Internal links: Internal links connect to pages within the same website.

  • External links: These links connect to other websites.

You can organize your internal and external links within a menu framework, with hyperlinked text or through navigational buttons intersperse throughout the website to create an effective navigation experience for the user. 

Related: How To Create a Hyperlink in 4 Steps

What is a website navigation menu? 

Websites normally feature menus, or an organized set of links, that guide users through their various pages. Menus should be intuitive to optimize ease of use. They normally appear horizontally at the top of the home page or vertically on the side. Business websites commonly feature menu links such as:

  • Home

  • About us

  • Services and products

  • Pricing

  • Testimonials

  • Blog

  • Contact us

Although there may be other links available on the page, the links in the menu are the ones that the business feels are the most important and wants users to see. Each link connects to a page that provides the information indicated by its title, and each page may include its own menu and set of internal links.

Related: 29 Ways To Drive Traffic to Your Website

Why is website navigation important?

Website navigation is important for several reasons, including:

  • Presents a clean, structured look: Because a website can be the online face of an organization, a well-structured, user-friendly site could suggest that the organization is the same.

  • Influences users' feelings: Well-designed navigation helps users find the information they need quickly and self-sufficiently. A user who encounters no obstacles in their search for data is more likely to regard the website and the organization positively.

  • Increases visit duration: When a site is easy to navigate, it can encourage users to stay on it longer, explore further and learn more about the organization. Alternatively, a site that is difficult to navigate may encourage users to "bounce," or view only one page within the website before moving on to another.

  • Improves search engine optimization: Good navigation allows search engines to crawl and index a website more effectively, which can make it easier for users to find the site with search queries. This can also lead to higher placement in search results.

  • Increases purchase rates: Good navigation means that users can easily find what they want on a site, and users who effortlessly find products or services they need are more likely to purchase them.

Related: Guide: What Is the Bounce Rate of a Website?

10 website navigation tips

You can follow these tips to improve your website navigation:

1. Use common sense menu placement

Users likely expect to find the menu on the top or the left side of the home page, as this is the standard menu placement for most websites. Meeting this expectation can help ensure users that the information they seek is only a few clicks away, while nonstandard menu placement could confuse users. As the menu is the information hub of the website, confusing placement could suggest that other information on the site is equally difficult to locate and encourage users to bounce from the site.

Related: What Is Web Designing? Definition, Elements and Uses

2. Include graphical elements

Many websites feature graphical elements that respond whenever the pointer hovers over them. Some common examples are icons that transition into animations when clicked and drop-down menus that open when a pointer hovers over it. With careful placement, graphical elements can be interesting visual flourishes to a website, but they can also be obtrusive, impeding easy navigation.

Related: What Does GUI Mean? The Elements and Benefits of Graphical User Interface

3. Ensure links are visible

The number of links visible to the user at any one time can influence their decision to stay on a site or to bounce. For example, showing 20 links in the menu may overwhelm users. Often, it's advisable to offer concise navigation on the main menu and offer additional links on interior menus that appear the further a user clicks through.

Related:29 Website Design Tips for Creating Effective Layouts

4. Order links carefully

The order in which links appear in a menu can affect how users proceed. Many users might focus most of their attention on the first and last items in a menu, with their attention steadily decreasing with movement toward the middle option. This is a psychological phenomenon called the serial position effect. Thus, presenting your menu options with the most frequently used links at the beginning and end, with secondarily important links next in the series as you move toward the middle, can increase ease of use and improve navigation.

For example, an online health store that specializes in supplements and groceries would place "Supplements" to the far left or top of the menu and "Groceries" to the far right or bottom. The least important links would go in the center of the menu.

Related:8 Essential Parts of a Great Website

5. Include a footer

There are elements of website navigation besides the menu that users expect to find in particular places. For example, they may expect to find a footer at the bottom of the page that shows minor links for such things as shipping information, frequently asked questions and career opportunities. Including these elements in their expected places in your website navigation can help satisfy users' needs and encourage continued navigation of your site.

Related:15 Website Improvement Tips

6. Use different designs for separate platforms

The desktop and mobile platforms have different requirements for navigation design. Sites for desktop can feature more space since the text appears larger to the user and is easier to click with a mouse. A mobile site, however, typically fills more space, as the essential information should fit into a more confined area. Because of this disparity, you may need to create separate menu designs for separate platforms to facilitate navigation for different types of users.

Related: What Is Mobile-Friendly? (With Tips on Providing a Mobile-Friendly Experience)

7. Avoid hidden menus

Hidden menus can present a challenge for both search engine optimization and usability. Search engines often have trouble crawling and indexing the data in these menus, so using them can lower your position in results. For users, hidden menus can be confusing or disruptive. One common type of hidden menu is a drop-down menu, which may lead users to select incorrect links by accident when the menu drops down and covers the link they really wanted to click. For many users, standard menu links that connect to separate pages may offer the best usability and ease of navigation.

One example of a hidden menu that may be preferable is a mega menu, a kind of drop-down menu that expands to show a more comprehensive display of a menu link's options. For example, an electronics retailer is likely to offer many varieties of specific products, such as computers. A mega menu for computers might show the available products grouped by brand or by computer type.

Related: What Is Website Structure? (With Tips for Improving Website Structure)

8. Use descriptive link titles

Link titles such as "About Us" and "Products" might be too general to rank on search engines or to give users an optimized navigation experience. Using menu titles that are more descriptive can instantly communicate to users what you can offer them. For example, an eco-friendly clothing retailer might replace "About Us" with "Our Green Goal" and divide products into multiple links for shirts, pants, undergarments and accessories.

Related: What Is an Anchor Link? (Plus How To Create One and Best Practices)

9. Limit main menu options

Presenting too many links in the main menu can be visually overwhelming for users. This can discourage them from thoroughly reading the menu links, resulting in them missing information that could lead them to their desired result. If possible, consider limiting your main menu options to between five and seven links and featuring additional links on internal pages. If you have more than seven links to include, you can use a mega menu or a vertical menu with the main option titles serving as headings for link groups, like in this example:

  • Footwear 

  • Accessories

Related: What Are Breadcrumbs on a Website? Definition and Benefits

10. Add icons or buttons for links

Icons and buttons can add visual appeal to link options. To implement icons clearly, use ones that are universally understood, such as a phone icon in place of "contact information." Alternatively, try placing icons to the left of the words they represent, like bullet points. This can help make the menu more interesting to look at but still provide the basic information users need to navigate effortlessly.

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