Once a visitor gets to your website, you want to make sure they can find what they are looking for quickly and easily, otherwise they will just go elsewhere. If a website is easy to use and understand, visitors will come back time and time again.
The use of intuitive navigation techniques will greatly improve the usability of your website, and therefore user satisfaction and return rates. By intuitive navigation, I mean some sort of menu, map or list that is instantly understandable to most visitors on your website.
One of the first points to making a site easy to navigate is to have a consistent menu that is on every page. By having a menu that is on every page of your site, users can move from one section to any other section, without having to go back to a homepage or main menu page.
Keeping the menu in the same location, and in the same style throughout your site ensures that visitors quickly recognize how to navigate your site. If you have a different style menu on every page, users may get confused and find it harder to comprehend how to navigate your site. Yahoo.com is an example that has a consistent menu with the same style, at the same location on each page.
Another useful tool that a Webmaster can include for visitors is a site map. A site map is a page containing an organized list of all the pages or sections of the site. Instead of moving through the site’s menu system and down through categories by clicking on links on different pages, a visitor has the option of going to the site map and clicking directly to the page they are seeking.
Though there are many fancy buttons, graphics and rollovers that can be used for your navigation menu, sometimes simple text links are the best bet. For one, text link navigation menus are fast loading. Many web surfers are on slow connections and do not want to wait for a complex navigation system to download. Text navigation menus can also add relevant text to search engine results, whereas image navigation bars cannot. Text navigation also helps ensure your users understand what the links mean.
However, if you do opt to use graphic navigation menus, you may wish to consider adding a redundant text navigation menu at the bottom of the page to ensure viewability and search engine spidering.
Many new Webmasters are tempted to use frames to create a navigation menu that will appear on all the site’s pages. The benefit is that the navigation will stay in sight even when the rest of the page is scrolled. But because frames piece pages together from other pages a Webmaster cannot be sure that a web page using frames will be viewed correctly. If a visitor comes to a page through a search engine that was designed to have a navigation menu added with a frame, the user will see not see the menu. Because of this, it is important to add a link to your homepage on every page, so viewers can see your site as it was intended.
Even if you are not using frames, it would be helpful to have a link to the homepage of your website on every page, to ensure users can find the “beginning” of your site.
Keeping the navigation menu near the top of the web pages ensures that surfers will be able to see the menu as soon as the page loads. If a user has to scroll to navigate to other pages of your site, they will be less inclined to do so.
In closing, it is important to keep in mind that when it comes to site navigation, simplicity is key. If a user does not immediately see what they need, they will not spend much time trying to find it, but will rather move on to the next site.