Digital Marketing Insights

Let’s face it. If you happen to purchase a product or benefit from a service and you’re really happy, then chances are you will tell a couple of friends about it. On the flip-side if you’ve been a victim of a crappy product or service then you’re likely to shout about that bad experience from the rooftops, until everyone within your network has been told.

Think about it. When was the last time you told someone about a truly great experience with a company’s product or service? I for one, can’t remember. However, I remember grumpily informing a friend of mine about a certain employee’s attitude during a recent journey I took. I’m sure there were other incidences along the way that were good, but as soon as you’re disgruntled by something or someone, then all the good is forgotten about. You only focus on the bad. And unfortunately this tends to be a common issue within our web design industry, especially in regards to bad website navigation.

In our linear world we like things that move up and down, and right to left, because that’s what we’re geared towards. Sure there are some neat designs out there that aren’t what we call linear, but when you start throwing complications in there and making it just difficult to use, then you’re just asking for people to start bad-mouthing you and your website.

Not only this, but with our limited attention spans these days if a user can’t figure out where they are going in a matter of seconds then they’re out of there. Therefore you’ve lost a potential customer and more importantly a potential sale. So with this in mind, I’d like to present a list of 5 horrible website navigation mistakes I’ve been witness to over the past couple of years and to provide you with some tips on how to improve it.

Mistake #1 – Making a user search for your main menu.

You may laugh, but the amount of times I’ve come across a website where you think to yourself – where’s the menu? – is more than 10. Yes design trends change all the time, but one aspect that should remain a constant in your website navigation is where the main menu is placed. And that is just below the header on the homepage.

Example of website navigation main menu

You can see from Sun West School Division’s Distance Learning Centre website, the menu is located where the majority of website users expect it to be located. Therefore, my advice to you is to make sure your website is using this industry norm.

Mistake #2 – Hiding your search bar.

A must have for many websites these days is a user-friendly and efficient internal search engine (or “search bar”) that can easily scan the website and present useful results. However, it appears some websites go out of their way to make locating the search bar a task of its own, i.e. a dark colored box on a similarly dark colored background.

Example of website navigation search bar

The whole point of a search bar is to make website navigation a little easier for your website users. If they can’t find the information they’re looking for straightaway, then they type the keywords into the “bar” and let the website do the work. Therefore, make the search bar easily visible, like STEP’s website above.

Mistake #3 – Using the wrong navigational words/images.

I don’t know about you, but I like to visit websites that use clean and simple language in their navigational menu. Such words as “Home” for the homepage, and “About” for their, well, about page gets two thumbs up in my book. Although, there are some of you out there who prefer to use images or a mixture of images and words instead. To be honest that is just fine and dandy, just along as the image is representative of the content.

Example of website navigation words and images

In this example the “Home” page menu item is represented by a house, which makes sense to the majority of users. Therefore, it’s essential you keep the needs of the “typical” website user in mind when deciding on what words and/or images to use for your website navigation menu.

Mistake #4 – Littering your website with too much inconsistency.

We’re a society that tends to love variety. Huge restaurant menus, the selection at the grocery store, variations in t-shirt styles, etc. However, the same can’t be said about website navigation. A website that is inconsistent in style and lacks basic navigational tools, such as an easy-to-use menu structure, is a complete turn-off for website users.

Example of consistent design and navigationExample of consistent navigation and design

When a user visits your website chances are they looking for information on the product and/or service you provide. Therefore, your website should be consistent by using the same menu structure, colors, styles, and fonts on every page. By doing this your users can quickly learn your navigational structure and let them move from point A to B in the least amount of steps, and with the amount of stress.

Mistake #5 – TMI.

It’s easy for a website to become cluttered with too much information. What starts off as a nice and clean website, with lots of white space, can easily spiral into a complete mess. And before you know it, your menu has somehow disappeared amongst all the chaos and your drop-down menu titles have elongated to tell a story all on their own.

Example of simple navigation sub-menu titles

As much as you don’t like trampling through mess, neither do your website users. Therefore, it’s important your website remains as clutter-free as possible to ensure the user can clearly see the information they are looking for. And if you find that your website is growing, as you have a ton of new products and/or information to educate the user on, then don’t just throw it all on the homepage. Instead create sub-menu pages (with short and simple titles) to categorize this new information in a simple and concise way.

If you feel that any of the above website navigation mistakes apply to your current website design, then make use of the advice I have presented and make the appropriate changes ASAP, i.e. invest in an updated design. I know that last statement is easier said than done. However, from a web design and user-experience perspective, I’d rather view a site with great website navigation that I tell 2 people about, instead of a site that lacks the basic essentials and who I tell 100 people about.

What’s your experience with good and bad website navigation? Are there any other tips that you think are necessary to improve it? Let me know by leaving your comments below!

Mouneeb is an experienced digital marketing strategist with a passion for helping clients achieve their goals online. With over 15 years of experience in designing, developing, and managing a team that develops top-notch web projects, he brings a wealth of information to the teams that he leads and the leaders that he follows.

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