Web Site Navigation Tips

Great Web usability depends on easy-to-use site navigation. It doesn't matter how great your content or products are, if users can't find what they are looking for, because they will soon get frustrated and try another site.

Consider these tips on how to provide easy-to-use navigation for your users.

Global (Persistent) Navigation

Global navigation (also known as 'persistent navigation') are the set of navigational components that are consistent on virtually every page of a Web site.

The consistency lets the user know that they are still on the same site by providing essential answers to questions such as:

  • What is this page about?;
  • What is the name of this site?;
  • What are the main departments or categories of this site?;
  • Where is the link for the home page?;
  • Where am I in relation to the home page?; and
  • How can I search?

Page Title

The three rules of page titles are that:

  • Every Page Should Have a Title: With few exceptions, such as the home page, every Web page should have a page title;
  • Page Title Matches Link Leading to the Page: The page title should match as closely as possible the name of the link that leads to it. For example, a "Contact Us" link should lead to a page titled, "Contact Us." You can get away with "Email Us." I have clicked on "Contact Us" links only to jump to the "Company Info" page, which has the company's telephone, fax and address, but no online contact form; and
  • Page Title Should Be Prominent: The page title should be displayed prominently, above the main content, near the top of the page. Typically, the text uses a larger font face. You could also change the font color and typeface for greater prominence.

Site Identity or Logo

You should have your site name, in text, or graphics logo on every page of your site.

Typically this is displayed in the top left, or top center, of each page. Web users often click on the site logo expecting a link back to the home page, so you should provide a link back to your site' home page.

The site identifier is an important landmark on your site, as it reassures users that they are still on the same site.

Local Navigation

Local navigation text or graphic links are typically displayed down the left side of each Web page. These links should lead to the content contained within a particular department, category, or sub-category of your site.

You may wonder why I haven't followed this convention on this site. The reason is simply because on category and sub-category pages, most of the link titles would use up too many lines, which is both difficult to read and somewhat unattractive.

Primary Navigation

Primary navigation text or graphic links are typically displayed at the top left, or top center, of every single page.

These links should lead to all the main departments or sections of your site. Links to utility pages, such as search, site map, feedback, help, index, and table of contents may be displayed at the top, and/or bottom, of every page.

Tab divider navigation bars are one common form of primary navigation. Instead of text links, or simple graphic icons, tab divider bars use buttons to create an illusion that a site is divided into different sections. Visit the link below for more information.

Home Page Link

Get me out of this maze! The home page link is probably the most important and used link on a Web site.

It's standard convention to just use "Home", instead of the "Home page." Virtually everybody understands that the "Home" link leads back to the home page.

Although not essential, it is also a good idea to include the home link at the bottom of each page.

When users get lost, the home page link gives them reassurance that they can jump to the home page and start over again. Users are familiar with the home page, since the majority of them would have entered a site via the home page.

Breadcrumb Trail

A breadcrumb trail shows us where we are in relation to the home page. We can jump up a level or two, or all the way back to the home page.

On this page, and virtually every other page on this site, the breadcrumb trail is located just below the search box near the top of the page.

It's the line that starts with, "You are here >"...

The link "Home" leads to the home page, which is the top level link.

To the immediate right of the "Home" link is the "Web Site Design" link. This is the second level link and leads to the section's home page.

Here are the four recognized rules of breadcrumb trails:

  • Breadcrumb trails work best when placed near the top of the page.

  • The best level separator is the greater than ( > ) character. Some sites use a pipe ( | ), colon ( : ) or forward slash ( / ) character to separate the levels.

  • Highlight the level the user is on in bold.

  • Include the words "You are here >" at the beginning of the breadcrumb trail

Try to incorporate as many of the rules as possible, but you don't have to use them all. For example, you may have noticed that I have not highlighted the level the user is on in bold, in this site.

Search Form

Unless your site only has a few pages, you should provide a search form at the top of every page to help users find what they are looking for.

Search forms should consist of an input box, and a button or image with the word "Search" on it. A simple "Search" is preferred to "Find", "Go", "Quick Search", or "Quick Find."

I don't recommended offering search options (usually listed in a pull-down menu) such as search by title, author, or keyword. The problem with giving users this added option is when they aren't sure whether the word(s) they are entering are in the title, author's name or description of the content they are looking for.

You may also like to add a link to an "Advanced Search" page, which would provide more advanced options for the user to refine their search.

You should also offer an advanced search option to help users refine search results when the site search engine returns too many results for the user to shift through manually.

Utilities

Utilities are like accessories to the site's main content. These include information that help us use the site, or other information about the site.

A general rule of thumb is to only display the four or five most frequently used utilities in the top navigation bar. The bottom of page navigation bar can accommodate a few more of the less popular utilities. Of course you don't have to include all the utilities listed below.

Utilities include:

  • A-Z or Alphabetical Index;
  • About Us or Company Info;
  • Add Us To Your Favorites or Bookmark Us;
  • Advertising or Advertise With Us;
  • Affiliate/Associate/Partner/Referral Program;
  • Archives;
  • Bill Of Rights;
  • Careers or Employment or Jobs;
  • Checkout;
  • Comments or Feedback;
  • Contact/Email Us;
  • Copyright/Legal Notice;
  • Customer Service;
  • Dictionary or Glossary;
  • Discussion Forum or Forum;
  • FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions);
  • First-Time/New Visitors;
  • Gift Certificates;
  • Help;
  • Investor Relations;
  • Link To Us;
  • Log-In (Login) or Sign-In;
 
  • Log-Out or Sign-Out;
  • Media Kit;
  • My ______;
  • New or What's New;
  • Order/Package Tracking;
  • Payment Options;
  • Personalize;
  • Press Releases;
  • Privacy Policy/Statement;
  • Recommend Us/This Site;
  • Register or Sign-Up;
  • Returns Policy;
  • Safe Shopping Guarantee;
  • Search or Advanced Search;
  • Shipping Rates;
  • Shopping Cart;
  • Site Map/Guide;
  • Site Tour;
  • Store Locator;
  • Terms Of Service or Conditions Of Use;
  • Wish List; and
  • Your Account.