Many people think of their navigation menu as a way to showcase the content of their website. If that’s how you think of navigation, consider a different perspective. Consider that your navigation isn’t for you, but for your visitors and should, therefore, be constructed only with them in mind.
Your website’s navigation is the only map your visitors have to find what they’re looking for. When you do it right, they should be able to find what they’re looking for within seconds.
Here are 4 ways to convert your navigation menu into a user-friendly experience:
1. Use a fixed header bar that features your menu
Fixed header bars are popular for good reason. They’re the menus that stick to the top of the page while you keep scrolling. Keeping your brand visible is important, but using a fixed header bar keeps your navigation visible, too.
Visitors can be lazy. They’re not always going to scroll back to the top of your page to click on another link that interests them, especially on a mobile device. With a fixed header bar, you don’t have to wonder if your visitors will bounce after reaching the end of a page with long content. Your menu will always be available.
2. Use anchors on your pages
Using anchors within a webpage is a highly under-utilized navigational technique. When a webpage contains a large amount of information, it’s important to break it up into clickable sections according to what visitors consider important.
For instance, this content-rich page dedicated to helping tourists find things to do in Rome uses anchors beautifully. Visitors can browse the 121 activities by category of interest like restaurants, tours, churches, parks, and shopping. Some people might scroll through the whole list, but if they’re looking for something specific, they can find it right away.
The only thing the page doesn’t do is provide an anchor link to go back to the categories. Keep this example in mind for your pages with considerable content. Contemplate what categories will be most important to your visitors and create a menu using anchors.
3. Don’t use sub-sub-menus
A complex menu hierarchy will prevent your visitors from finding your content. Navigation with multiple sub-menus can frustrate visitors, and make them bounce. Depending on how they’re built, some menus are impossible to click on from a mobile device.
Aside from usability issues, putting sub-sub menus on your main navigation is a sign that you haven’t organized your menu for your visitors’ benefit. Most sub-sub menus are created over time as more pages are added to the website. It makes sense at the moment, but it’s not a good long-term strategy.
If you started out simple and ended up with sub-sub menus, consider restructuring the way you present your links:
- Get a notebook and assign each webpage to a main category. Think like a visitor and see if you really need sub-categories. If you do, no problem. Otherwise, simplify your hierarchy in any way you can.
- Draw out several potential menu layouts and look at it to see which one would make the most sense to your visitors.
- Ask yourself if you absolutely need to have first level sub-menus or if you can link only main categories in your menu.
- If you only have a few menu items, sub-categories are probably fine. If you have ten main categories, having sub-menus might be difficult to navigate.
- Keep sub menus to one level if you can’t eliminate them completely.
As Devin Sears writes in Navigation, The Secret Weapon to Web Design, “Navigation doesn’t have to be, and shouldn’t be complicated.” He also explains the basic categories every website needs, with practical advice for handling promotions and sales. It’s a worthwhile read if you’re aiming to improve your menu.
4. Avoid using mega menus
A mega menu usually has multiple sections spanning the width of the website that categorizes a ton of website’s links. Some mega menus are complex with thumbnails and videos that play inside the menu. In theory, a mega menu sounds efficient. In reality, it’s chaos for visitors.
There’s a misconception that says when your website has a large number of pages, a mega menu is the perfect solution. That’s a great marketing message, but it’s not the truth. The truth is, few websites actually benefit from a mega menu. Unless your website is a popular news magazine or a research repository, ditch the mega menu and opt for simplicity.