A users journey begins with your website’s navigation menu — the roadmap used to explore your entire website. A clear roadmap gives visitors a relaxing journey. An unclear roadmap gets them lost.
What is a navigation menu? First off, let’s make sure we all know the exact definition.
Navigation menu (n). A set of links to internal pages, that’s organized into a menu.
In other words it’s how the different pages on your website connect to one another.
94% of people say an easy navigation menu is the most useful feature on a website.
Simply having a menu with random pages plopped at the top of your website isn’t enough. Professional web designers use strategy and purpose for every decision. Poorly designed menus will lead to higher bounce rates and lower conversion rates.
Want to know what the golden rule of website navigation is? Don’t make users think. With this in mind, here are 7 strategies we design by:
1. Follow the 7×7 rule.
Users (aka potential clients) don’t want to look through a giant list of links to find what they’re looking for. In most cases too many choices actually drives users to choose nothing. The more pages in your menu, the more difficult it is for the user to process and remember. It may also cause visitors to only scan your menu and miss important items.
For the sake of user experience limit your menu links to no more than 7 pages, 7 across 7 down/7 pages across and 7 pages down.
TIP: Plan, plan, plan! It can be hard to determine which pages warrant a link, so only select pages that provide the most benefit for your users.
2. Condense similar content whenever possible.
The more condensed your pages are, the easier it is for visitors to click from one page to another. Condensed pages means fewer menu links and dropdown menus. Many times dropdown menus aren’t necessary. If your website has an about page, our story page, our team page, and our mission page — combine them into a single about page! Dropdown menus should be used when you have several unique pages to show, but it would look cluttered to list them side by side (e.g. products or services).
3. Use straightforward page names.
Don’t reinvent the wheel. Sure you want your website to be creative, but don’t let visitors struggle to find where they want to go. Menus are more about usability than anything else. Not only is simple language a plus for new visitors, but it can also be helpful for SEO.
4. Page order matters!
Cognitive studies show visitors tend to remember links at the end and beginning of a menu more vividly. Our rule of thumb is to put the couple most important pages at the beginning, less important pages in the middle, and have contact as the last menu link. Having contact as the last menu item is standard and many visitors expect it to be there.
5. Design a stellar menu for every screen size.
There’s no “right way” to design a menu, but consider how visitors can get the most out of your website. Color, white space, font, and location are all used to clearly separate the navigation menu from the main content. There should be no confusion of where it starts and ends.
Over 52% of all online traffic is now from mobile devices, so menus that work on a mobile device are an absolute must.
6. Design sticky header menus correctly!
A sticky menu is one that sticks to the top of the web page as the user scrolls. It’s a popular trend because the navigation menu is always within reach. Our advice is: do NOT make floating headers too tall! This is a huge pet peeve of ours! A huge sticky menu disrupts the flow of a website, takes up valuable screen space, and makes viewing pages difficult for mobile users. Now don’t get us wrong, a floating menu can be great — if it’s used correctly.
7. Take advantage of your footer navigation menu.
Many visitors scroll to the bottom of a website to find links that can’t be found in the main menu. Footer menus don’t affect your “above the fold,” so the 7×7 link rule doesn’t apply. At this point, the user is more engaged than when they first landed on your page and more information can be shared; e.g. product categories or individual services. Highlight the pages that didn’t fit into your main navigation menu.
A key part of our web design process is ensuring a smooth user experience — one that’s organized and user-friendly. Even though navigations will vary among different kinds of websites, a navigation menu done successfully will be hard to miss when a user experiences it.
Key takeaway: A great website navigation is designed with the user in mind. The menu should be clear, organized, and link to the most important pages.