A site's navigation structure is extremely important in providing a rich, friendly user experience. Well designed and implemented navigation assists in the process of helping visitors identify sections and pages of the website that interest them and then in moving them in that direction. 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.
Navigation usability issues
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.
Site wide navigation, including top, bottom and side navigation, should be as user-friendly as possible, ensuring that what is "expected" is implemented just as much as much what should be obvious. 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.
Navigation functionality issues
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.
Poorly implemented navigation structures cause confusion to site visitors and are prohibitive in getting them to the information they want and taking the action you desire. Expertly implemented navigation allows both users to find your sites information without having to "hunt" to the point of frustration. Good navigation will also help search engines travel from page to page to reach your most important information quickly and effectively.
The words used in the navigation are important indicators to your site visitors and should correspond tightly to the topic of the page being linked to. When any navigation linked is clicked users must be taken to a page that fulfills their expectations. Cryptic or misleading navigation text confuses and annoys visitors, possibly to the point of site abandonment. Make sure all link verbiage, whether textual or in an image, accurately portrays the corresponding pages.
A good way to test the effectiveness of your site's navigation is to go to 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, then go back to your site and perform the same navigation and note-taking process.
Once you've completed your navigation test runs 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 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.
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Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.
If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.
Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.
Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.
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