Navigation, The Secret Weapon to Web Design

There’s no shortage of opinions and guidance on how to build an effective website. While not all this website wisdom is of equal value, it does typically all agree that an effective website is absolutely fundamental for a small business, or any business for that matter. For a website to be effective, it must be intuitive and easy for visitors to get what they need, whether that’s finding a specific piece of information, contacting customer service or purchasing a product. The key to a great website experience is effective navigation.

Much of the content to be found about website design is focused on colors, imagery, layout and other visual elements. These things are absolutely and critically important design elements, but they are secondary to navigation.

Let’s think about this in the context of an airport. Your experience, for better or worse, is driven by your ability to navigate. No matter how many nice restaurants, clean bathrooms and waiting areas there may be, if you can find your plane, or a bathroom or find your way to baggage claim you are likely to have a frustrating experience. Good navigation doesn’t guarantee a good experience, but bad navigation almost certainly guarantees a bad experience.

Navigation 101 – Navigation doesn’t have to be, and shouldn’t be complicated. There are a few basic categories every website should have:

Products/Services

Visitors may already have a product or service in mind when they arrive at your site or they may want a quick way to peruse everything you offer. Providing an easy way for people to jump right to your products is a common navigation convention every site should offer. In some categories you may play with the labels, “Solutions”, “Our Offerings”, etc. but the idea is to list all the things you have available for sale.

Segments

Some visitors may not be sure what product they want, but do align themselves with a particular market segment. Segments can be anything, just think about your business. A hardware store might feature segments for homeowners, landscapers, construction companies. A flower shop might feature segments for corporate accounts, wedding planners, churches or others. Segments are about offering a way of thinking about how a customer might see their own unique needs and creating content and easy navigation to support those needs.

Scenarios

Scenarios are situational and often promotional. A scenario might be “Back to School” or “Christmas Offers” or oriented around product solutions like a “Camping Kit” or “Backyard Barbeque Set”. Typically scenarios are not tied to a particular segment or product, but combine both into their own unique story and offering.

Basic conventions

There are some basic navigation conventions worth noting. The business logo usually takes a visitor home, but it’s never a bad idea to also provide a clear “home” link. Contact information is essential to make easy to find, either recurrent throughout the site in the header area and/or from a contact link present in the global navigation. Again, the objective is the make the basics easy, don’t make visitors work hard to contact you.

A classic web design book with additional, very pragmatic guidance is “Don’t Make Me Think” by Steve Krug. A very worthwhile investment for any small business. Bad navigation can create beautiful, but frustrating and ineffective experiences. Get your navigation right and you make everything else in your site work that much better.

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