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The 10 Commandments of Site Navigation

by Justin Palmer - October 3rd, 2007

Good website navigation is the quintessential web usability principle. Yet so often it is neglected in favor of more glamorous site improvements. Just as a city cannot function without efficient roads and highways, your site will suffer without a logical, simple, and consistent navigation menu. Below I’ve gathered 10 Do’s and don’ts regarding website navigation.

  1. Thou Shalt Use Left-hand or Vertical Menus: Don’t get fancy and put your navigation structure on the right hand side of the site. Since visitors are accustomed to vertical or left navs, this is the equivalent to telling them to drive on the wrong side of the road.
  2. Thou Shalt use Breadcrumb Navigation Trails: There is no greater navigation tool than Breadcrumb (aka Cookie crumb) trails. It easily allows visitors to go up or down a level and re-orient themselves when they get lost. Below is an example of a Bread crumb trail:

          Home > Top Category > Middle Category > Lower Category > Page Detail

  1. Thou Shalt Not Overwhelm the Visitor with Too Many Options:  Typically, you shouldn’t include more than 7 options on your primary navigation. More than this, and you users will feel overwhelmed.
  2. Thou Shalt prioritize Each Menu Item: Make sure your menu items are listed in priority from left to right or from top to bottom. Ask yourself “what action do I want the visitor to take?” Then lead your visitors along this path.
  3. Thou Shalt Not Change the Nav on Each Page: Never change anything on your navigation from page to page. This is extremely confusing and unprofessional.
  4. Thou Shalt Show the Visitor Where they Are and Where they’ve been: I strongly recommend using some sort of indicator in your primary navigation to show users where they are. For example, if your site uses tabs in the navigation, change the color of the category that is currently being viewed. In addition, be sure to change color of visited text links so the user doesn’t accidentally visit a page he or she has already been to.
  5. Thou Shalt Not Rely Solely on Dynamic  Rollover Menus: Remember, not everyone is using the same browser technology as you. Make sure your navigation is useful in all the major browser types. Additionally, ensure that each link is crawl ablea by search engines.
  6. Thou Shalt Not Stuff SEO Keywords in Your Navigation: This is both unprofessional and useless from an SEO point of view. Keywords within the universal navigation of a website are rarely considered as a ranking factor.
  7. Thou Shalt Not Use Fancy, Unreadable Fonts: Resist the temptation to make your navigation look like a piece of art. While fancy graphics have a very important place in a website, they certainly do not belong in the navigation.
  8. Thou Shalt Make the Company Logo Link to the Home Page: This is so basic, yet I run across sites on a daily basis that do not make their company logo (usually located in the upper left corner) clickable.


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