When it comes to building and managing a successful website there are a number of factors involved in defining that success. Things like the topic of your website, level of engagement, value provided, etc. are some of those elements of a website that you need to focus on if you want to own a successful website.
Another extremely important element of your website that you need to make sure is perfect is your website navigation. Intuitive navigation is an absolutely critical website element that you need to nail if you want to have a successful website.
Intuitive navigation means that your website is designed in such a way that website traffic flows from web page to web page. Traffic simply knows where to go to find anything that they are looking for, and quite frankly, they know where to go if they cannot find what they are looking for. There are a number of tactics that website developers and website designers can employ to ensure website traffic can intuitively navigate their websites. In this article we are going to define intuitive navigation, explain some of the tactics that you can employ to ensure navigation is intuitive on your website, discuss internal linking, explain how to use Google Analytics to track how visitors are navigating your website, and go through the benefits of perfecting your website navigation.
Intuitive Navigation for Websites
Intuitive navigation is defined simply as someone knowing where to go to find the information they want. Intuitive website navigation is the process of website traffic being able to navigate through your website seamlessly from web page to web page consuming the information they want and bypassing the information they do not want. There is a lot that goes into designing a website that can be navigated easily by the majority of people who visit your website. If you can figure out a way to make your website easy to navigate you have a much better chance of people returning to your website, and eventually making it their go to resource for the topic that your website covers. If you want your website to be easily navigated it starts with navigation planning and design. Far too often website designers and website developers jump into the overall design of the website and drop the navigation elements in without much thought. That’s the wrong approach. Let’s go through the right approach.
Designing Intuitive Website Navigation
Designing a website that many consider easy to navigate is an absolute must if you want to have a successful website. Some of the things I write about here at InstantShift.com are relatively easy to implement once you know how. That said, designing intuitive website navigation can absolutely be done by pretty much anyone, it is something that is a little more difficult and will take time to fully grasp if you’re a website designer or website developer who builds and managers websites for clients. That said, once you master it you will be able to provide website owners with a much better product. As mentioned above, far too often people jump into designing a website without giving much thought to navigation. Navigation is something that they fit in. I like to go about it in reverse. I like to come up with my website navigation plan first, which will then allow the overall website design to kind of come to life as I’m going through my website navigation planning process. Once I’m finished with my website navigation plan then I move on to the overall website design, which becomes a much quicker process since I already have a good idea of what I want to do based on my website navigation plan.
Website Navigation Plan
I know that there isn’t always time for this, but I like to approach all of the websites that my company builds for clients by creating what I call the Website Planning Spec before we build anything. The Website Navigation Plan is one piece of the overall Website Planning Spec. That said, for the purpose of this article we will stick to discussing just the website navigation plan portion of the Website Planning Spec. Here are the key elements of a solid Website Navigation Plan:
- Main Navigation Bar – This is the main website navigation and is usually located horizontally across the top of the website OR along the left side of the website. Personally, I prefer horizontally across the top, but it really should correspond to your goals for the website and what you think provides the best user experience.
- Call-to-Action – What’s the end game? What is the overall goal for your website? If you could pick one web page on your website that everyone who visits your site would read, what page would it be? Once you know your goals for the website and where you want to drive people, you can design a navigation system that funnels all traffic to that page as quickly as possible.
- Sidebars – Will your website contain sidebars? One or two? Will you have banners within your sidebars that link to landing pages? Will these sidebars appear on all web pages throughout your website on only some of them? These are the sorts of questions you need to ask yourself regarding utilizing sidebars for your website. Then start flushing this out for each web page within your Website Navigation Plan.
- Internal Linking – We will cover Internal Linking in more detail later in this article, but this is where you can use the copy from your website to link website visitors to other pages within your website. Internal linking is a great way to funnel your website traffic via a call-to-action to the most important pages within your website.
- Landing Pages – Will your website leverage landing pages? How will you drive traffic to those landing pages? Where do you want traffic to go from those landing pages or what action should they take once they get there? Landing pages can be extremely beneficial in achieving your goals. When then are used properly they can help convert website traffic into paying customers, subscribers, or simply more informed consumers of your websites’ information.
Thinking through each of these elements of website navigation will help you formulate a “flow” for your website. It will help you understand how you want to leverage different components of your website to get website traffic from point A to point B as quickly and efficiently as possible. By doing this you’re much more likely to achieve your goals, which ultimately leads to you being able to classify our website as a success.
Internal Linking As Part of Intuitive Website Navigation
An effective Internal linking strategy is a huge component of intuitive website navigation. Internal linking is the process of using the copy of your website to link to other web pages within your site. When it comes to funneling traffic from one page to the next the best way to do it is through the website copy. Obviously if you’re talking about a specific subject and you want to move visitors from one aspect of your website topic to the next the best way to do that is through the website copy. You can use a call-to-action within the website copy to get readers to click-through to the next page of your website. Remember, your ultimate goal is to get readers to that one main page within your website that will help you achieve your goals. For an e-Commerce website it’s getting website traffic from every other page on their website to their online store. For some websites it might be to get people to a sign-up form, a donation form, get people to contact you, or maybe it’s simply to get people to read one very important piece of copy. Whatever your goal is, internal linking is a great way to achieve it.
The best way to approach this is once you have defined your goals and your have an idea of all of the different pages that make up your website. You should pick that one page or two pages that you want to drive visitors to. Then start writing the copy for each web page. As you write the copy think of ways that make sense for taking people from the subject that you’re writing about on that page to the page you want them to go. Sometimes it will take you having to take people to one or two other pages first. That’s OK. You want to find the most efficient way to get them to your main web page, but you also want to ensure it makes sense from a user experience perspective and from a copy perspective.
Use Google Analytics to Track Website Navigation
A great tool for tracking how your website navigation is performing is Google Analytics. Google Anaytics will actually show you where traffic originated (ie. search terms, direct, or referrals), which pages that traffic landed on, and then the pages that they navigated to from there. If you have followed all of the steps above, you’ve set goals, you’ve designed your website navigation plan, and you’ve used internal linking with calls-to-action to get website visitors from point A to point B as quickly as possible then you can use Google Analytics to see if your plan is working. You might find out that people are taking a short cut to get where you want them to go. You might find out that people are bypassing your main web page for something that is more interesting to them. Heck you might even find out that people are getting to your landing pages and then dropping off. Whatever the case is, Google Analytics is your tool for finding out how your hypothesis is matching up to real world practice by website traffic. Armed with this knowledge you can then go back to your website, make some tweaks, and then come back to see how effective those changes were. You can continue to do this and over time you will create a very intuitive website navigation system.
Benefits of Designing Intuitive Website Navigation
By designing a website that is easy to navigate, and as long as your content is rock solid, you are sure to have success. People come back to websites where they get great information without having to exert too much energy in finding that information. Here are some of the many benefits you will reap if you take the time to consider website navigation before building your next website:
- Increased website traffic
- Increased repeat website traffic
- Increased subscribers for things like your blog or email newsletter
- Increased sales if you run an e-Commerce website
- Increased social media connections
- More engagement in regards to things like blog comments
- Higher search rankings for the pages of your website
These are just a few of the many benefits that await you after taking the time to design an easy to use navigation system for your website.