One of the things that make a website good is its navigation. Navigation should never be neglected and should serve as an important and defining part of your website design. Your website’s navigation depends on several design schemes within such as the architecture, informational flow, visual design and even front end development. Developers can make navigation easy behind the scenes but visually they lag behind in getting seamless navigation which is important for users. In terms of navigation here are some things to remember:
For navigation to be great, the building block is your design strategy. You need to have a thorough plan about your content and the flow of pages. You should clearly define the hierarchy of different pages and identify the most important ones. If you have the resources, collect information on user experience as it can help you come with a design that is most compatible with your users.
Limited top level navigation
In order to keep navigation simple, the top level navigation should be limited to 4-7 items. These will be the most important and parent pages that lead to other pages.
The main navigation menu on top should have a leveled dropdown i.e. all dropdowns should have equal number of items and not more than 7 items. The users should not have to scroll down to see the entire dropdown; it should fit within the window pane. The top navigation does not necessarily have to have all the pages. For websites with dozens of pages, you can design submenus on child pages.
The size and height of your headers should not be very big because you do not want the first look of the website to the user to be all about the header and menu. The content you display below this bar is very important and should get all the attention.
Only Keep Simple Fixed Headers
Consolidate Login or Sign up Options
You should consolidate admin bars and login fields if logging in is not the primary function on the page. Only display these fields when the user clicks or hovers over the button or link. If you keep these fields when they are not really required, it will take unnecessary space and distract the user.
A good website always has breadcrumbs so that the user knows where he or she is and where they got there from. Breadcrumbs can make navigation very easy and the user does not have to click back button of the browser.
Dropdowns with hints
It is recommended that you keep a visual cue with the dropdown option so the user knows that this is a dropdown. An arrow facing south is good enough. On many sites what people do is that they show dropdown items on hovering over but this gets annoying when the user did not intend to see the dropdown but had to because they hovered over it. To solve this problem, a cue is a much better and simpler alternative.
Use Simple Dropdowns instead of Mega Menu
Websites with fewer pages and limited content should stick to simple dropdowns only. Mega menu may look great but you do not need it because it works better for websites with 50 or above pages. Websites that publish dynamic and new content can use mega menu as it really helps get everything on the first page.
Use mobile menu
The world has gone mobile and more people will likely open your website on a mobile phone. Mobile menus are pretty common now and use the simple hamburger icon which is indicative of a menu bar. This menu should still be simple and house only the most important pages. Your responsive website should focus more on the content of the page and show the menu only when the user wants to see it.
Minimal mobile headers
For mobile, the screen size gets even compact so you really do not need a big sized header eating up all the space. It can include your logo, the menu logo and may be search option.
Site Maps for Website Navigation
Sitemaps can serve very useful for both users and the web crawlers. Websites with complicated pages and forms that only advance when they are filled can be mapped thoroughly for crawler programs. These can also be used by users to get to a specific page in a website with a big and complicated network of pages. It also serves an important SEO tool so all your pages get indexed even when you add new pages. Including sitemaps is crucial for sites with 50 or above pages.
Navigation can increase or decrease your website’s click through rate and directly affect usability. Online users have gotten sophisticated over the years and can detect poor navigation rather easily. It can hinder the user from continuing or coming back to your website. Focus a lot on your headers and menus and keep them simple and minimal.
At the end of the day, the design is specific to your website’s purpose and business model. As a general rule, any navigation that is simple and straightforward is good. Keep in mind the audiences that are not too familiar with the web. Include cues and textual labels for them with different kinds of options like menus, buttons and dropdowns.