Nothing frustrates an internet user more than visiting a website and not being able to find his way around. This is usually because of weak usability. If he’s looking for something specific but doesn’t know how to get to it he’ll quickly leave and look somewhere else. To prevent this from happening, a website should be easily navigable, and the system should tell a user where he is, where he came from, and where he can go. This is even more important in the modern web world, as most users enter a website through a search engine after searching for a keyword, rather than starting from the home page. When he lands on a page within the website, he may want to look for something else, or go to the home page. The following navigation tips will ensure a smooth experience and hopefully keep him coming back.
Include navigation on every page.
Including your website’s hierarchical navigation on every page means that the user can go anywhere from the current page. He won’t have to use the back button to go back to the home page, but instead use the accessible links of the navigation system. This also helps search engines crawl and index every page in the website.
Give users multiple navigation options
In addition to the primary navigation system, which is usually a hierarchical list, you should link to different pages using contextual links. For large and complex websites, add a breadcrumb trail to every page. This way the user can go to a higher level page within the same path in one click. Include a search box, as many users have a specific think they’re looking for and it’s fastest for them to just use the site’s search feature.
Navigation placement should be consistent
Web users like knowing how and where to find standard page elements without searching for them all over the page. If you place the primary navigation system on the top left of the home page, then make sure to place it in the same place on every page. Most users instantly look towards the top and left of a page when they first visit it, so that is probably the best place for it. This lets users know that they’ll probably be able to find what they’re looking for. The best place to put a breadcrumb trail is at the top, usually just above the title of the page. A search box usually goes at the top right corner of the page.
Use text links with appropriate text inside the link
While images may look good, they’re not suitable for the use of links. An image doesn’t clearly tell the user where the link will take him and some users may disable graphics on their browsers. A text link is clean and simple and using descriptive text inside the link that matches the destination page’s title will the user know what to expect. If a button is used to navigate, then its text should do the same.
Use visual clues to emphasize the user’s location
Make sure that all links are a different color from normal text, while links that are hovered over are highlighted, and links to pages that have already been visited are another color. The link of the current page within the navigational system should be non-clickable. If you want the user to follow a certain path of navigation, then highlight the link or element you want him to click next. For example, on a user registration form, you would normally have a “Cancel” button and a “Next” button below all the entry fields. Once the user has entered all his details, you want him to continue to the next page and not cancel. To help him on his way, you could make the “Next” button a little bigger that the “Cancel” button.
Include a home page link and logo on every page
If a user enters your site through a search engine and doesn’t find what he’s looking for on the current page, then give him the opportunity to go to the home page. Place the home page link at the top and bottom of the page. Include the website’s logo as a home page link too, as most users expect to be taken to the home page if they click it.
These are the basic steps that every webmaster should take to enhance website navigational usability. Following these consistently will leave the user with a favorable impression and hopefully lead to a sale or at least a sales query.