The navigation structure of a website is pretty easy to overlook. After all, most people are going to be able to get from one page to another pretty quickly, right?
Maybe. But, the way your pages are put together – both visually and in terms of the file structure – matters more than you might think. For that reason, I’d like to share four simple do’s and don’ts of navigation for better business websites:
1. DO make things simple
Occasionally, web designers can get a bit too creative with page layouts. This is particularly true with things like menus and navbars. Because, when you stray too far from accepted conventions, it can be difficult for visitors to find the information they are looking for.
Think about it this way: drivers who are used to one side of the road can get in trouble fast when they try the switch to the other. Now, imagine what happens when stoplights are a different colour and the signs are in a foreign language. Your customers can probably figure things out, but why make them go through such effort?
2. DON’T use deep menus if you can avoid them
When you have a lot of content, it can be tempting to arrange pages at deeper levels. That’s not a bad organizational strategy, but try to avoid going more than two or three levels down, especially for important information. There are actually two reasons for the caution. The first is that reaching deeper pages often takes more effort than visitors have the patience for. And secondly, search engines tend to de-prioritize content buried deep within a site, assuming that if you are burying it, it can’t really be all that important. In other words, you aren’t getting full value from it.
Instead of deep menus, consider contextual navigation. You know, links on the side of a page that go to related content only. A smart strategy as well for guiding your visitors to the content you want them to discover.
3. DO adopt a canonical structure
This simply means that your pages (and especially blog posts) are being named by title or keyword, rather than numbers or dates (pretty common if you’re using WordPress). With a canonical file structure, content is easier to search and locate (for Google and humans alike) since it uses real words. When you arrange pages by dates or random numbers, on the other hand, it’s incredibly easy to lose track.
4. DON’T change page names on a whim
Even though a canonical file structure works best for most business websites, that doesn’t mean you should rush into your settings right now and change your file naming system. That could result in content being lost to search (along with their link juice), which could have the added effect of crashing your pages at the bottom of the search. Even worse, if you have external links pointing at your site, those will stop working and you could very likely see a loss of both inbound traffic and search engine positioning as a result.
If you want to make the switch, have your design team back up your entire site beforehand and then let them manage a careful migration.
For more on why web navigation structures are important – and how to put together a web presence that actually helps you reach your bottom-line goals, rather than simply being online – check out a copy of my latest book: Building a Better Business Website, available on Amazon now.