4 Tips for Planning Website Navigation
The most important aspect of a website is reader navigation. Visitors rarely stick around if they can't find their way around. Readers come in three flavors: your audience, search engine crawlers, and you.
When planning website navigation, keep in mind which material is for which reader. You want to keep material that is designed for your personal use in its own section, out of the way of your audience. This may include links to favorite websites and blogs or resources you use frequently. Material, such as blog posts, that is aimed at your audience should be easy to page through and readily accessible from the most relevant page. Search engines crawlers need to be able to start at any page and follow a link trail through your entire website.
Once you know who needs to find which pages, you can use these tips to create the perfect layout for all of your readers.
1. Keep It Simple
A busy home page can quickly turn readers off from your site and draw their attention away from whichever details you would like them to most focus on. Be selective with what makes it onto the home page and consider what your audience is expecting to easily locate.
Start with the header menu. Keep your header to only one line with as few links as possible. Use submenus to keep things neat and tidy.
Your menu should probably include:
- About page
- Journal/Blog link
- Section pages
Sidebars are the first place most readers look to find navigation help, but it is often the worst offender in terms of busyness and complexity. Try to minimize your sidebar content to only the most relevant material.
Your sidebar should have:
- A clean, neat appearance
- Links to your social networks
- RSS or subscription widget
- A search widget
- Archives or Categories
- One or two calls to action
Your call to action will generally be a product image or a Kickstarter project widget or something similar. One or two draws interest. More than that turns off your reader. If you must include several images, use a slideshow widget or a .gif so that they occupy only one space.
2. Develop in Sections
Sections are important when you have a complex site or offer more than one type of content. If a reader interested in one may not be interested in another, provide section or category pages to help them easily navigate to the content they want.
A website is more than a simple blog, and your navigation should reflect that. Imagine your website more like a tree with different branches. A quick exercise that can help you see the big picture is to jot down each page and blog category, then arrange these in the groups that make the most sense. These become your sections.
Treat each section page like a home page. Include links to:
- Sub-categories, pages, or tags
- Related outside links or resources
3. Use Custom Sidebars
While a general map is useful for main pages, contextual sidebars and menus are a handy trick for maintaining simple navigation on a complex or sectioned website.
You can design a custom sidebar for each section by taking into account the things you want to share with your visitor but that would clutter up the home page. Some example include:
- Your blogroll
- A calendar
- Most popular or recent posts
- Embedded social network data
- Context-specific calls to action
4. Leverage Tags and Categories
Categories are perfectly designed to help you organize the big structure of your website and are an excellent way to implement sections. Tags, however, are important to help your reader quickly narrow in on the information they are searching for.
Your tags should be:
- Clear and intuitive to a new reader
- Easy to remember for an established reader
- Natural keywords for search engines
Again, keep it simple. Use a single category to hold a topic and use only one tag per subtopic. Try to keep your tags to fewer than two hundred, and only create a new tag if no other tag will do.
With some common sense and considerate implementation, you can develop a website navigation system that is easy to use and will keep your reader moving from one page to the next.