Your website navigation plays a key role in your site’s success. It affects search engine rankings, traffic and bounce rates. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most overlooked aspects of a website’s design.

Let’s take a look at 5 navigation mistakes you should avoid.

1. Non-standard style

Being educated from years of surfing the web, users expect to find navigation in the same spots: horizontally across the top, or vertically down the left side. Putting your navigation in the standard places makes it a lot easier for people to quickly find what they’re looking for instead of having to spend some time re-familiarizing themselves with your design. Those extra seconds they have to spend could translate to higher bounce rates, and poor conversions. Don’t be creative with where you put your navigation, put it where people expect to find it.

2. Using Generic Labels

Now this is where you can get creative and differentiate yourself. You want the labels on your navigation to be descriptive; not generic. Labels like “Who We Are” doesn’t necessarily communicate to the user what information they’ll find if they visit that page. It also doesn’t communicate your relevance to search engines. People don’t search “Who We Are,” and therefore navigation with that label won’t rank well with search engines.

website navigation tips
Don’t be generic.

Know what people are searching for and use those keywords in your labels. Use Google Keyword Tools to help you in your keyword research.

3. Drop Down Menus

Drop down menus can be difficult for search engines to crawl and you want search engines to completely index your site.

From a usability standpoint – drop down menus are annoying. Here’s why: visitors move their eyes much faster than they move their mouse. When they move their mouse to a menu item, they’ve already decided to click…and then more options are presented. It’s a step-back in the mind of the visitor. More importantly, drop downs encourage visitors to skip important pages. If you’re using drop downs, you can easily see this problem in your Analytics: low visits to high pages.

4. Too Many Items in Your Navigation

Some websites have hundreds of links in the navigation bar on their home page. This is terrible from a usability standpoint because your short term memory only stores seven items. People scan a website and if you have too many links, you increase the likelihood of a user scanning past important items. The more items you remove, the higher the prominence of what remains increases. Challenge yourself to trim your items down to five!

From a search engine’s standpoint, having too many links dilutes the authority of your pages. The more outside websites link to a page, the more authority that page has with search engines. This authority, called “Link Juice” by SEOs, flows like a liquid from your home page and trickles down to deeper pages through your navigation. If you have too many links on your home page navigation, less authority and trust is passed down to interior pages. The more authority a page has, the better it will rank. 

Use the Link Juice Calculator to count the total number of clickable items on your home page. Here’s an interesting fact for you: Amazon has around 100. Is your site bigger than Amazon’s?

simple website navigation
Fry’s has since redesigned and simplified their navigation.

5. Putting Items in The Wrong Order

Studies show that, attention and retention are highest for things that appear at the beginning and at the end. This principle also applies to website navigation.

Put your most important items in the beginning of the navigation and least important items in the middle. Contact should be put in the standard location: the last item and on the far right of the horizontal top-level navigation.

Bonus Tips:

  1. Always use links instead of buttons. Buttons that are images are invisible to search engines and load more slowly than links.
  2. Use the “Visitors Flow” report in Google Analytics to see what pages most visitors navigate to. Use this information to streamline your navigation.

website navigation optimization

Conclusion

Navigation is one of the most important aspects of your website’s design. Place your navigation where people expect to find it. Limit the number of items to seven. Put the important stuff at the beginning and avoid drop down menus. You’ll improve traffic, reduce bounce rates and make more conversions.

Now it’s your turn, tell us what navigation mistakes frustrate you the most.