Map compass, symbolizing website navigation

As online business owners, we spend a lot of time working on our websites, don’t we? I don’t know about you, but I constantly obsess over how to improve the Level343 website. In fact, we’ve mentioned a lot of tools on this website through the years that help you do just that, and we’ve tried them all. I know I’m not alone in this.

With all the time, effort and money we put out, though, there’s one very important, in-your-face piece of website that you’ve probably passed over time and again. It’s so prominent, in fact, that people use it every time they surf your site.

What is it?

It’s your website navigation, and it’s important that a poorly designed one can cost you time, ranking and money.

How a Bad Navigation Can Cost You So Much

Trying to find something on a site with bad navigation is like trying to get somewhere you’ve never been with bad directions. Frustrating, irritating, impossible.

While poor website navigation can be a nuisance, it’s easy to ignore it on your own site, isn’t it? When’s the last time you tried to find something on your site like a new visitor would? It’s easy to look at it as a something small and unimportant.

Losing Time

If you’ve invested any amount of time into your website – and what site owner hasn’t – a bad navigation can turn time into waste. You may have a beautifully built website with tons of useful information, but if you haven’t provided a way to find that information, you might as well have been shoveling dirt from one hole to another.

The Money Pit

I came across a website with this very problem a few days ago. After several attempts to find the information I was looking for, I closed the site down and went back to Google. Had this been an ecommerce site where products were being sold, they’d have lost themselves an interested buyer. Not just interested, but prequalified. I REALLY wanted that information.

Loss in Ranking

Okay, so time and money, yes, but what’s this about losing ranking? Search engines don’t care about navigation… do they? Yes, and here’s why.

  1. Search engine crawlers use links to find pages on your site. A well-built navigation will act as a “tour guide,” if you will, around the site to the important pages. Yes, there are sitemaps, but you’d be amazed at how many site owners don’t tell the search engines where their sitemaps are.
  2. Search engines are all about user experience. They’ve learned that if a website isn’t easily navigated, user friendly or of bad quality, users won’t stay, won’t talk about it, won’t link to it (unless in a negative way). Again, you may have an excellent website, but if people can’t find their way around it, you’ll lose out on potential ranking.

 

5 Ways Your Navigation May Be Losing Visitors

map, symbolizing website navigation

There are so very many ways a website’s navigation can go wrong. That’s why it’s important to at least invest in a short time of user testing – to make sure that your navigation is… well, able to be navigated.

User testing isn’t possible right now? No problem. Below are five common ways website navigations go wrong. If your site has these problems, it’s time to get them fixed.

1. Navigation built on JavaScript

Your website navigation should always be built using HTML and CSS for maximum usability. While JavaScript and JQuery provide some pretty awesome looking effects, they can also cause the navigation to break for some people

It’s true most browsers can properly parse these languages, but there are users who block JavaScript. In addition, those pretty effects may not work well on mobile phones or smaller screens, depending on what the effect is. Last but not least, if there is some conflict or error in the script, it can render the navigation useless.

I’ve personally seen numerous websites with fancy, broken, navigations. While most just lost the dropdown capability (and the ability for visitors to look at categories), others have lost the ability to use the navigation all together.

2. Navigation built with images

This goes with number one and always building with HTML and CSS. There are several reasons why images aren’t a good choice for navigation:

  1. Images break – a broken image, if the ALT text hasn’t been used, is just a box with an x. There’s no indication of where the visitor may be going, or where the link leads to.
  2. Images are not readable by search engines – text links are always better for any form of navigation. Text helps search engines understand what the page being linked to is about.
  3. Images may not render correctly in responsive websites – an improperly built responsive website can blow an image up or shrink it to where it’s illegible. For that matter, even a properly built website can be turned into a mess with an unfriendly browser.

This isn’t the same as saying “no images at all,” however. Apple’s website is a great example of how a website can integrate images and text (text is still involved, which is important) into a visually pleasing, easy to use navigation.

3. Unusual style or placement

There are certain places a navigation is expected to be. For example, you might expect to see a navigation at the top, like we have on our site. On the other hand, you might see one on the right or left side of a website. As well, navigations are generally built out of text in a horizontal line or stacked vertically.

Websites with unusual navigation, either in design or placement, can reduce your website’s usability. In short, this is not a place to be unique. There are plenty of other areas to stand out in the crowd, such as with your content, product images and products themselves.

4. Using drop down menus

Usability experts caution against using drop down menus unless a) they’re very short or b) they’re mega menus. The Nielsen Norman Group has an excellent article about mega menu design that’s well worth reading.

So, why are most drop downs a no-no?

Usability testing has shown that dropdowns are considered annoying by many of us veteran surfers. One of the reasons is, if you move your mouse to a link, you’ve already decided to click on it. If that link turns into a dropdown, you’re being presented with more choices, and being forced to consider (again) what you want to click on. This extra step has interrupted the user flow, and caused a hiccup – it’s no longer a smooth experience.

5. Too big of a menu

While mega menus perform well, there’s a caveat. It’s important that they’re designed well. An overly large menu can be distracting. Think of a website you’ve seen where the entire left side is a menu with a link to every potential category page. It’s not only overwhelming, but it’s too many choices for the visitor.

By shortening the amount of pages you offer, you bring out your most prominent pages. You also lessen the chance that your visitors will scan over those important pages.

Final Thoughts

So what do you think? Is your navigation up to par, or could it be improved?

It’s hard to believe, but a well-built navigation can increase rankings as well as conversions. Rankings, because your website full of awesome content is easier to navigation, and conversions because your products are easier to find.

You may be tempted to ignore this oh-so-vital piece of website real estate, but don’t. There is no company that is doing so well that it couldn’t afford to do better.