One of the most important aspects of our web design and development process is the structuring and strategy of the site. We’re talking about the sitemap, page navigation, user experience, and the desired journey you want the site to convey. Many times this is not well thought out and is a detriment to the project as a whole. While design and development help to bring an experience to life, a website’s organizational structure is what keeps it breathing.
Here are a few best practices and areas of focus when putting together your site:
100% of your website traffic is going to use your navigation or your menu. This means you need to make it easy, clear, descriptive, and logical. Stay away from vague words like “How it Works”. How what works? What do you do? Why does it matter? Being as descriptive as possible is important to allow users to easily find what they’re looking for.
Related: Website Navigation Best Practices
From an SEO perspective, Google is happy when they know more. Your descriptive labels will help alleviate any pain Google may have with your site, ultimately helping you launch up the charts on search. Labels like “Products” will never rank, get creative and find something to make it clear what you’re pushing.
Also, stay away from using formats as labels. This includes labels like “videos” or “photo gallery”. This can confuse users of what the actual substance is behind those formats.
Avoiding Drop Downs
It’s important to not go overboard with the number of items in your drop-down menu. While many sites need a drop down experience, many will try to jam in ALL of the existing pages, which is NOT ideal. It confuses users, overloads them, and can ultimately draw them away from your intimidating navigation.
Drop downs are also distracting. Users commit with their mouse, and when they roll to a menu item, they want to click, but if it expands and offers other options, it can draw them away from the desired action.
If you do opt into using a drop down, try a mega menu. This offers a substantial amount of items and then, therefore, is worth the distraction.
Every website should maintain a 7 item max in their main menu. However, this is not the end all be all for how it should be built. The order is just as important. If it doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t convert. For example, if you’re an ecommerce store, your “Support” link won’t be the first while your “Shop” link makes up the tail end.
Orbit Media reports: “items at the beginning and the end are most effective, because this is where attention and retention are highest. It’s called the serial position effect, and it combines with cognitive biases:
- Primacy effect: Items at the beginning of a list are more easily remembered.
- Recency effect: Items at the end of a list (or things that just happened) are more easily remembered.
For this reason, anything we put at the beginning or end of our navigation becomes more prominent. We should put those items that are most important to our business and our visitors in these places.”
Identify Your Goals, And Keep Them
It’s important your site architecture reflects exactly what you want your users to do. Here’s how you ensure you’re on the right track:
- Identify the “who” (stakeholders and target audience).
- Identify the “why” (your goals).
- Identify the “how” (functional website requirements).
With all of these clearly laid out, you will be ready to implement the optimized plan your users are looking for.
Always Optimize, Before And After
Once your website is launched and running, you can always use Google Analytics to ensure your site structure is working. Check for clicks on menu items, and pivot where needed.
Examples of common changes include renaming labels, cleaning up internal links and anchor text, removing items altogether, reordering menu items, and highlighting certain important pages with color changes.