Good website navigation is a basic requirement for any website. In the 2016 study about online shopping from Big Commerce asked about what factors influence shoppers to buy online.
Not surprisingly, the first one was price (87%). After price, the other 6 factors influencing purchase decisions are related to different aspects of the service or the product/brand:
- Shipping cost (87%)
- Product variety (71%)
- Discount offers (71%)
- Trustworthy reviews (68%)
- Return policy (68%)
- Brand reputation (67%)
Once these key aspects of the service are considered, the user experience kicks in. Over 6 out of 10 (64%) shoppers mentioned “Simple site navigation” as a factor influencing their decision to buy.
If you want people to buy, you have to make it easy for them to find what they are looking for. There is nothing new about that. It doesn’t show up at the top of this list because it is a basic expectation from any website.
Website navigation should combine several elements of the interface and website functionality. The ultimate goal is to help users to find information that will allow them to take desired actions.
How do you know your website navigation is optimal? Web-analytics can give you clues that something is wrong by looking at the paths shoppers take to finalize a transaction. It can tell you where they are falling off, but sometimes it is unclear how to fix any problems you may find.
Therefore, to understand why shoppers are abandoning the transaction and find a solution for that, you need to do usability testing to observe and talk to shoppers/users as they navigate the site.
10 Usability Guidelines For Website Navigation
When checking to optimize the user experience of navigating through your website, consider these 10 guidelines, formulated as questions.
1. Menu Options
Do the menu choices guide users as quickly as possible to their expected destination? Are there too many or too few options? Are they readable?
Make sure you nail down a user-friendly information architecture before starting the design. The right menu labels are key to good user experience preventing users from getting lost in a path to nowhere. This is your starting point in user research.
2. Mental Models
Are you meeting users’ expectations about how the site should work?
They should. If not, research further to understand them better and find solutions how to meet them. Don’t try to force users to behave in a particular way. You can nudge them, but be aware where the frustration threshold is that would lead to abandonment.
3. Meaning of Icons and Labels
Are the symbols and terminology used easily understood or do they need translation?
Their interpretations should be narrow. If you require users to spend too much time and energy trying to figure how what your icons and labels mean they will make mistakes or simply leave.
4. Information Relevancy
How relevant for the transaction is the information shown? Is there any visual clutter preventing users from focusing on what’s important in the path they need to follow?
Make sure the information is what users need to advance in their goal using your site. Too much irrelevant information or too little information leads to frustration and added time and effort.
5. Cognitive Strain
How much reading, remembering, and decision making is required along the path to achieving the users’ goal?
Don’t make users think or work too hard. They will leave.
6. Menu Visibility
Is the menu for key activities hidden? Does opening a menu require motor skill effort?
Don’t hide essential links to top tasks under menu layers requiring too many clicks. Sometimes, a couple of clicks feel too like too many depending on the tasks.
7. Link Redundancy
Are there too many paths to get to a certain part of the website? Do they confuse users not knowing where to start?
Provide one or two good, self-explanatory entry points based on clear menu or button labels. Sometimes one is enough.
8. Website Navigation Steps
How many steps/pages do users have to go through to arrive at their final destination? Are there any steps preventing users to continue? Can they be eliminated?
Focus on the top tasks your users need to accomplish and prioritize short paths for them. Research users’ expectations and experiences from other websites they use. They can bring good solutions to complicated website navigation if you have a complex service on your hands.
9. Website Navigation Design Pattern
Does the navigation design (tabs, mega menus, accordions, carousels, etc.) help users to find and discover what they need?
They should. If not redesign.
10. Search Function & Filters
Should there be a search function on the site? Are users able to find what they are looking for using a search function? What filters would help users to find what they are looking for?
Even on the simplest websites, some users try to get answers quickly by doing searchers. If you can, add it, but make sure the research results are accurate. If you are dealing with complex information, a high volume of information or product catalogs, consider adding filters.
From the list above, you may have figured how website navigation can impact a website’s user experience. Do not ignore it. Strive to make it better with the help of information architecture and usability testing. The learnings and improvements you could make will pay many times over what you invest in testing.
(An earlier version of this article was published on June 22, 2016. The article was last updated and revised on November 14, 2019.)