Whether you are creating a building or a website for your business one of the most important things to consider is how people are going to navigate the space you are creating. There are all sorts of things you might want to make your visitors feel, but frustration is not one of them.
Website navigation is one of those topics that many people don’t even think about. That’s because if it’s designed well people won’t even notice it, they’ll be clicking from one page to another intuitively. If you want to make sure that your visitors stay on your site and come back you have to make sure that your site is easy to navigate, so people will focus on the content on your site rather than the mechanics of the site itself.
In this article we’ll look at specific tools and general principles you can use to help make sure that anyone who visits your site can find what they are looking for.
Separate Navigation Tools From Content
The best designs can be understood at a glance. If people have to spend time hunting around for the link that will take them to the next place they want to go then there’s a good chance that they will leave your page. Even if they try to use a search engine to find what they are looking for on your site it’s likely that they will end up on another site. The easiest way to point people in the right direction is making sure that navigation tools are easy to find.
The first step to take is making sure that links on your page are a different color than other text on the page. This is why by default regular text is plain black while links are blue and underlined. You don’t have to go with these standards but you should use tools like color, underlining and bold-text to make sure your links are clear.
For usability and visual appeal you also want to make sure that any navigation tools look different from the body of your website and any background you might be using. You don’t want everything to blend together that just makes things harder to find. So if you’ve got navigation bars make sure to use slightly different design options to make them look different from the body of your content.
Make Sure Your Navigation Bar is Clear and Consistent
Every site should have a navigation bar of some sort. Look at the top of just about any page and you’ll find a section that contains the logo or name of the site and links to important pages on the site. Navigation bars can also be included on the right side, left side or bottom of the page. You may just have one bar or three but whatever you choose the important things to focus on in this area are clarity and consistency.
Make sure that you don’t try and include too many things in your navigation bars. Clarity is important, having more than a handful of options on your bar will make it look cluttered and harder to navigate. If you must include more information use dropdown menus that appear when your mouse hovers over a certain option. Still, it’s important to simplify as much as possible, if you can go with a simple button rather than an additional menu then it’s generally better to go with the simpler option.
Finally you need to keep your navigation bars consistent from one page to another. One common mistake for beginners is changing the look of each page on their site. This can look appealing at first but it quickly becomes confusing, so that each page appears to be a different website rather than one part of a whole. Even small changes like subtle shifts in the spacing of links can be frustrating for people who are trying to quickly browse through what you have to offer.
Include A Search Tool
One theme that runs through just about every aspect of web design is simplicity. You want things to look and feel as simple as possible while still being usable. Well designed and organized websites will allow people to quickly get from any page to whatever they might be looking for in a relatively small number of clicks. But sometimes people will be looking for something highly specific, something that you might not have planned for. In that case a search bar is a good choice to help people out without cluttering up your site unnecessarily.
If you use search engines you know what a search bar is, it’s the field where you can type in what you’re looking for, press enter and watch as a list of matching results pops up. They can be used to navigate the entire web or just one page, and if you want to keep people on your site it’s helpful to have a search option that will keep them on your page. This is something to think about constantly, are you going to give your visitor what they need or are they going to have to leave to go find it?
Unlike the other tips we’ve looked at so far not every site needs a search bar. Some pages only have a few pages, so a search bar wouldn’t be terribly helpful. Generally speaking the more pages a site has the more helpful these tools are. Think about how many pages your site has now and how many it might have in the future. Even if you’ve just got a few now if you’re planning on adding more on a daily or weekly basis then it’s worth adding one now to save you work later down the line.
Thinking Like A User
One of the difficult things about judging your own work is that you will always approach it with different expectations than the average person. It’s been shown time and time again that we miss mistakes in the things we create because our mind can fill in the blanks that are missing in the work itself. After all, we know what we meant. The problem is that visitors who are viewing your site for the first time don’t have the sort of background information you do, they won’t know what your choices mean unless you make them clear.
This is why it’s always good to work with at least one other person as you create a website. If you hire a web designer you’re not just getting someone who has the training and experience needed to make websites, you’re also creating a team so that you can make sure that each detail of your site is double checked to ensure that it’s working properly. Beyond that you should consider inviting friends and family to use your site as you take note of how they use it, what works and what doesn’t. Running a website is about trying to constantly optimize things to improve the experience of your visitors.
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