Navigation on a Website

by John Eberhard

A well thought out navigational structure for a website design makes it easy for visitors to find all the content. A poorly thought out navigational structure makes it hard for the visitor to find content and prevents the site from being user friendly.

Too many sites today use a navigational structure that was popular 5-8 years ago, where you have certain navigational buttons on the home page, and you go to one of the sub-pages, and on that page you have more navigational buttons that you didn’t have on the home page. Often these buttons are arranged in an additional navbar structure in the sidebar. Sometimes each of the main sub-pages will have its own additional navbar structure.

I have seen some sites where there are buttons on the home page, but you then can’t reach or find any of those buttons on any of the sub-pages. So to find any of that content you have to go back to the home page.

The problem with these navigational structures is that you have to remember which pages have those other navigational menus, and you may have to click around for a bit to find what you’re looking for. This makes it harder to find content and it takes more time.

Now think about the process you go through when you are looking for something online. Think about your patience level and how much time you have to be searching for things. If you are like most people, you want to find things fast and you don’t have much patience with a confusing or time consuming navigational system that makes you hunt around for things.

I favor and recommend a navigational structure whereby you can reach any page from any other page on the site. This strategy involves a set of navigational buttons that usually make up the general categories, with dropdown menu items below some of the main buttons.

This is a more compact system too. The main buttons, usually along the top, usually number between 6 and 12 buttons. But each one can have up to say 10 dropdown menu items below it. And each of those dropdown buttons can have further dropdown buttons below it. So you can fit quite a few buttons into this arrangement.

And it makes it easy to find things. The main thing in planning this out is to make sure you pick general categories for your top level buttons, and select buttons under each that fall into that general category. This makes for a more user friendly web design.

This strategy with a set of buttons with dropdown menu items below them has become the common strategy today and has more or less replaced the idea that you click to go to one page and that page has more menu items on it that you can’t reach unless you are on that page.

A note on WordPress. For some reason WordPress and many purchased themes make it difficult to have a menu along the side. You can do it but it is much harder. If you’re going with WordPress it is better to plan to have your navigation buttons along the top.

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