Logical website navigation: More important than you think
With the advent of navigation devices on smartphones, it's easier than ever to find your way around. Getting lost is no longer an option. How different is this for websites, because logical website navigation is not always obvious. People find it difficult to structure a website, especially when new parts are added along the way. Where do you put those? Because the original menu has no room for all those new parts. Navigation menus can easily grow into places with too much and poorly structured information, making it difficult for the user to find what he or she is looking for.
Primary and secondary navigation
Many websites make navigation a bit easier by placing two or more menus on one website. The important things will then appear in the main menu. Usually you will find there the offer, a contact option and something about the organization. The less relevant items are then placed above them in a smaller menu, such as social media links or a translation menu.
How many items are there in the primary navigation of your website?
There are basic rules that you can have up to seven menu items in your website navigation, for example. In addition, your information should only be deep on three levels. Although this is a good starting point, it is not something you can apply by default. You always have to look at the context: which organisation is it about? Who is the target group? What content is involved? The number of menu items will ultimately depend on this.
Why is logical website navigation important?
In most cases, the information on a website must be interesting and useful for the visitor. But what if this information is not retrievable? A logical website navigation makes information easier to find. Not only for the visitors of your website, but also for search engines. So if you think search engine optimisation (SEO) is important, also look at the structure of your website.
Organizing your website navigation
When making logical website navigation, it is good to think in terms of information systems and not in terms of separate information.
A webshop that sells records and CDs has devised a navigation based on music genre:
After the webshop has been running for a couple of months, suddenly a music book has been published that they also want to sell. A menu item 'Reading' is created for this purpose. Because all other navigation items are music genres, this item is quite out of tune. This can cause confusion for the visitor. The result is that he doesn't find what he's looking for and leaves the website. When creating the menu in this case, we didn't think about information that wasn't there at the time, but could come. Thought of from the term "Reading" would be a logical navigation:
- And so on.
- And so on.
Because this is only one book, it may be a rather heavy structure and it creates an unnecessary extra click for the visitor. But as soon as more books will be sold, this will create clarity in the navigation of the website. There's more context.
Grouping of information in your navigation
Grouping information makes it easier for website visitors to navigate. In information architecture, we distinguish the following schemes for organizing information:
- By subject
- Target group-specific
Navigation menu by subject
If you have a webshop, you can set your navigation by subject. Take, for example, the website of the ANWB. The menu is arranged by subject: car, holiday, leisure.
Website navigation that incites you to action, we call task-oriented. Think of terms like "Become a member", "Donate", "Buy a ticket". The Greenpeace website has partly a task-oriented menu.
Target group-specific website navigation
The best part is, if your website has only one target group. But in practice we see that often multiple target groups are addressed. If this is an important part of your navigation, it may be useful to adapt your navigation to different target groups. The University of Amsterdam, for example, has a clear menu aimed at different target groups. The information is grouped per target group, such as student, employee, employer, supplier.
Metaphors in navigation
Finally, we also see metaphors in navigation, mostly in the form of icons. Think of a house that refers to the homepage, an envelope that refers to sending email, or a trash can where you throw things away. On websites you often see a magnifying glass as a metaphor for the search function on a website.
Hybrid information schemes
In practice, we often see a combination of the above information diagrams. This is what we call hybrid schemes. A part of the navigation menu is task-oriented, a part is target-group-oriented and a part is subject-based. With hybrid schemes you have to be extra careful for ambiguity. Then at least make sure you group by scheme within your menu.
Extra points of attention in the creation of logical website navigation
The navigation menu at the top of your website is an important way for visitors to find what they are looking for. Besides organizing the menu, the text you assign to the menu items is also important. Consider the following points:
- Do not mix verbs and nouns.
- Make sure that the label of your menu item immediately makes clear what is behind it.
- Choose a language that suits the organisation and target group.
- Be consistent and use the same navigation across the entire width of your website.
In addition to your menus, you can also ensure good navigation through your website in other places, for example by using a breadcrumb trail, incorporating clear headlines in your articles, and placing contextual links. If your website visitors do arrive at a page that does not exist, a useful 404 link will come in handy.