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How to make your website easy for users to navigate

By
Jag Chohan
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You've got your new site up and running, and it looks great. However, people are finding that it's hard to find stuff on your site. How can you fix this problem?

Here are 9 tips for making sure that your users can easily navigate your website:

1. Content Navigation

Many websites make the mistake of creating navigation based only on links - sometimes even hundreds of them! If you've ever been really busy in a store or restaurant with lots of employees, you know how important employee signs are to help customers figure out where they're going.

You need to work just as hard at guiding visitors around on your website. For example, adding breadcrumbs is a great way to keep visitors from getting lost.

2. Add Friendly URLs

Another user-friendly strategy is to add friendly URLs with keywords that describe the content on your page. For example, instead of using an URL like http://www.mybusinessname.com/about-us , you could use something more descriptive like http://www.mybusinessname.com/about_us .

You also have the option of using keyword-rich categories instead of sub pages (e.g., /events/vegas2013 ). This not only helps users get where they want to go, it also enables them to search for keywords in your URL such as "vegas" and find any content associated with those keywords within your site.

3. Menu

If your navigation is complex, you might want to consider adding a menu so that users have a fast way of getting to the most important sections of your website.

You can either add this to the header or footer, but make sure it's easy to find and not too "flashy" so that people don't overlook it.

4. Use Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs are an essential part of any website these days because they help guide site visitors toward where they're going on your site.

Breadcrumbs show the hierarchy (e.g., parent-child relationships) between web pages in sequence of how they were visited, which makes them extremely useful for seeing how you got from page A to page B. When a user clicks on a breadcrumb, they will be taken back to the preceding hierarchical level.

5. Internal Search Engine

While it's true that some sites exist without content indexes because Google is good at indexing them, for most sites it's a good idea to add some type of internal search engine.

The more people who use your site, the more often you should think about updating your search engine (e.g., once every couple of months). You can add a search engine to the header, footer or sidebar - wherever is most convenient for site visitors.

6. Avoid Drop-Downs

In general, drop-down menus are not very user friendly because they require users to hover over an item first before being able to take action on it (i.e., click on it), and this process breaks the "natural flow" of navigation between pages.

After all, we don't walk around in real life by placing our hand in front of us and "hovering" it over objects that we want to interact with. Most users will find that drop-down menus are not very convenient if they need to click on an option first before being able to navigate through the links in it (e.g., http://www.mybusinessname.com/?page_id=7 ).

There are some instances where they can be useful, though, such as when you have too many items in a list to make it look good without using a drop down menu.

But even then, you should try hard to avoid them because people would rather see everything at once than having to scroll down through lots of options just to get what they're looking for.

7. Add Site Speed Optimisation

On the other hand, you do need to make sure your code is fast. For example, having a lot of graphics on a site can really slow things down because each graphic has to be loaded separately from the server.

You should also try to minimise how much data you are pulling from your database because this will help reduce page load times as well.

If you have especially large chunks of data that would take up lots of space in your code, consider breaking it up into multiple pages or using tabs and accordions instead so that visitors don't have to wait for all of it to download before being able to interact with certain sections of content on your website (e.g., http://www.digitaltrends.com/ ).

8. Add Social Media Icons

No matter what type of site you have, you should consider adding social media icons to your website so that visitors can share information about specific pages and sections with their friends.

You can place them in the sidebar or footer , but if it's a large site, this is probably not going to be very effective because your visitors may get overwhelmed with too many links right away (e.g., http://www.quattroimaging.com/ ).

9. Breadcrumbs for Navigation

Breadcrumbs are an important part of any website these days because they help guide users through your site when there are multiple layers between each page (e.g., drop-down menus).

They show the hierarchy (e.g., parent-child relationships) between web pages in sequence of how they were visited, which makes them extremely useful for seeing how you got from page A to page B. When a user clicks on a breadcrumb, they will be taken back to the preceding hierarchical level.

Conclusion and Final Thoughts

Even though your entire website may look good and be structured the way you want it, none of that will do any good if people don't like using it.

It may sound silly to say that a website needs to be easy to use, but it's true - there is no point in having a complicated interface just because you know how to navigate through all of its content yourself.



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