A well-designed website has many facets: gorgeous graphics, cool animations, drop-down menus, and of course, relevant content. Another important feature, often overlooked, is a good, solid navigation ...
A well-designed website has many facets: gorgeous graphics, cool animations, drop-down menus, and of course, relevant content. Another important feature, often overlooked, is a good, solid navigation scheme.
I review many sites every week. A confused or non-existent method of finding the content contained within the site is a clear indicator of a budget or home-grown site. A well-designed website is a great equalizer—who would know that your company has only 5 staff when your website is slick and your customers can find your products with ease? On the other hand, a site that makes finding the order page a hunt for buried treasure, will urge the visitor to leave your site and buy elsewhere. Minimally, it sends a strong signal that your company is unprofessional, and purchasing from you could be risky.
When considering the best navigation plan for your website, first make a list of the most important, or highest-level, divisions of your site's content. For example, if your site promotes your services, plus sells a product, has helpful information and articles, and provides a demo of a product or service, you may want to arrange your menu with these main headings:
Home Order Products Consulting Services Articles Product Demos Company Contact Us
Some of the headings listed above may be further subdivided, such as a list of articles, or a list of available product demos. There are many examples of menu systems that drop-down, or cascade, to reveal more selections within a category.
Additionally, your site may have some nice feature that should be highlighted and easy to find. Using the example from above, your site may have a "Search" function that is useful for visitors to find specific products or information. In this case, put the Search field and button at the top of the page, perhaps embedded in the banner area. Make it visible! Don't bury it two thirds down the page, where your visitor will see it after they've already spent 10 minutes looking for what they are trying to find.
In a nutshell, your website's navigation should consider the following: from any page on the site, can a new visitor to the site easily and intuitively find their way around the site? Will that visitor feel comfortable moving around on your site? Can they find the Home page again? Is your contact information readily accessible from the pages where it is needed the most? Most importantly, can the visitor quickly and easily locate the product and/or services you are selling?
If the answer is not "Yes," your website's navigation needs some redesign. Don't despair—if you have good, relevant content this may not be a huge project. And reworking the menu and navigation may be just what your website needs to communicate the professionalism and quality for which your business should be known.
Debra Bellmaine is President of Bellmaine Associates (http://www.bellmaineassociates.com), a web design & development firm providing website solutions for small and medium-size businesses. She is a software professional with broad experience creating custom business applications. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Information Systems, as well as various certifications, including Sun Certified Developer for the Java 2 Platform.