You wouldn’t ask someone to read a book from back to front so why ask a web user to navigate your website in unusual ways?
Internet users are creatures of habit. For example, most people read web site content by scanning the page in an F-pattern. Plus, the average web user only ever reads 28 percent of the text on a page. This need for routine applies to the way web users like to navigate a website, too. Here are some common mistakes you can avoid to keep your readers happy…
According to the personal analytics company KISSmetrics, users expect to see navigation areas in the same places on different pages of your website. If you start out with a top navigation on the home page, keep it that way on the rest of your site. Suddenly positioning your navigation area lower on the page in other areas of the site will confuse the user. Keep it as simple and as clear as possible.
Too Much Choice
According to news site Search Engine Watch, too many navigation options can paralyze a user and lead to higher bounce rates. With so many websites competing for your users’ attention, simplicity is required. If you have hundreds of products in your product line don’t show all of them on the home page. Pick your top-sellers and focus your buyers’ attention on those before gently leading them into deeper pages.
Don’t be Generic
Consider using site navigation labels that are more specific than words such as “products” or “solutions”. One good suggestion is to use the Google Keyword Tool to isolate popular key phrases that may be suited for your navigation. This will make your site more relevant towards both users and search engines.
The Curse of Drop Down Menus
There’s not a Webmaster on the planet who has not felt compelled at one time or another to use drop downs to quickly solve a site navigation challenge and surface deeper content on the page. In many cases, clients will push their web designers to use drop downs to create shortcuts for hot new products. However, most usability studies suggest that dropdowns slow down user eye movements and their ability to click quickly to the desired product or service on the web page. They may even encourage users to skip important top-level pages. While there are some exceptions to the rule, generally avoid using drop downs.
The Wrong Order
Studies suggest users will click items more if they are towards the beginning or end of a list. This is known as the “serial position effect.” The obvious solution to this dilemma is to put your least important items at in the middle of the site navigation.
While there are many other additional points to consider including arguments over whether to use “buttons” or “links” when designing your website, the five areas above are a good place to start. Also keep tabs on new Google products in your Google Webmaster Tools, including Labs, which offers further suggestions on how you may improve your site navigation.