website navigation

Choosing The Right Navigation Menu

A website where users can easily find what they need is a pleasure to use. It will lead to more positive interactions, and people will come back. One that feels like a labyrinth of twisty passages will drive users away. Some mistakes in website navigation are amazingly common, though there’s no good reason for them.

Avoid these mistakes, pay attention to best practices, and you’ll have happier visitors and better results. 

5 Common Navigation Menu Mistakes

  1. Too many options 
    People like choices. They don’t like being overwhelmed by them. Psychologists have found that the human mind can’t easily remember more than seven new things at a time. A good rule of thumb is not to have more than seven choices — seven items in the website navigation menu, seven choices under a menu item, etc. — available at a time. If there are more available options than that, consider moving them down into a separate page.

    This isn’t a hard and fast rule. If you have a font selection menu, It needs to list all the fonts. But if the choices aren’t all the same kind of thing, long lists of them are hard to deal with. 
  2. Confusing descriptions of options
     Menu labels that are too generic, like “what we do” and “who we are,” may be accurate, but they aren’t useful. People come to your website for a specific purpose, such as buying clothes or getting news on a topic. The labels should be specific enough to let them know what they’ll find.

    Labels that are potentially misleading are another problem. A button that says “Buy now” when users are exploring the available products will only make them afraid to touch it. The wording of the choices should be concise and accurate
  3. Misuse of drop-down menus 
    Drop-down menus aren’t necessarily a bad type of website navigation. They can help to organize what would otherwise be an intimidating set of choices. Done badly, though, they get in the way. Hover menus which keep appearing when the user moves the mouse around the window are seriously annoying. Multi-level drop-downs are rarely a good idea. Don’t combine tooltips with drop-downs. Keep the menus clean and readable.

    A big reason to be sparing with drop-down menus is that it’s hard or impossible to use them on mobile devices. The mobile version needs a different form of navigation.  A good site architecture is important to planning for these types of navigation concerns.
  4. Making it difficult to back up 
    Users should be able to return easily to the previous page if they’ve selected the wrong option. Having a “breadcrumb trail” that shows the previous or parent item is a handy way to do this. A user who can’t get back from the wrong choice may simply leave the site. With some types of website design, the “Back” button doesn’t work as expected. It’s especially important in these cases to provide a reliable way to return.

  5. Being “creative” rather than practical
    Fancy effects in navigation may look impressive in the demo, but they’re usually more annoying than helpful when people are trying to find information. Zooming text, flashing items, and decorations don’t help them to get to where they’re going. Fonts should be readable ones, with high contrast against their background. A simple, clean appearance provides the best website navigation.

    Fancy controls can hurt SEO. If search engines can’t see the text of a control, they can’t classify the page accurately. They can’t find text which is buried in JavaScript or visible only as an image. These controls can hurt accessibility at the same time.   

Website navigation and user experience

What it comes down to is a positive user experience. Users should be able to get where they need to, without feeling fatigued or annoyed by the effort. Navigation items should be easy to find, explain their destinations clearly, and not create confusion. Website navigation that does this helps your business to succeed. Give us a call to learn how we can help you deliver the best user experience.