The navigation scheme you set up for your web site acts as its road map so it needs to be clear, structured and intuitive. No matter how good a site looks or how much useful information it has, if it does not have sensible navigation it will confuse visitors or drive them away. If a person has to look hard to find where they need to go, then they quickly lose focus and that is fatal to your chances of keeping them on site.

Navigation (and page titling and headlines) needs to tell visitors immediately:

There are many ways of presenting navigation: down one side of the screen, along the top and bottom or in a frame. However, think of the search engines, as well as visitors as most search engines don’t like frames or java script – which they can not be understand. As search engines need to read the links to index the site properly and you want good organic listings, java script is not a good idea and anyway some visitors will have it disabled.

So here are some more ‘top tips’:

1: It is important to allow instant access to the rest of your site from anywhere within it. Ideally, you should be able to go to any page in a maximum of two clicks and one is better. Motto: the less clicks the better.

2: Use the same navigation scheme and elements on all pages. Create a common navigational look to ensure that your users can use your site navigation effectively.

3: Wherever possible, use text navigation. Think about the tradeoff between text and graphics. Text based navigation works better than image based navigation because it enables users to understand the link destinations in detail. Too many sites have beautiful and fancy images for navigation that mean nothing to visitors. (Ever been abroad and been confused by their roadside or ‘restroom’ images?) Research also shows that ‘breadcrumb trails’ positioned under the page title (at eye level and closer to other links on the page) are used more than breadcrumb trails positioned at the top of the page.

4: Keep navigation elements (elements meaning different navigation ‘lists’) in close proximity and help users to develop a mental model of your web site.

5: Use the right margin for your web site’s main index. Research shows that users are lazy and click on topics in the right margin more than topics placed on the left because they are located much closer to the scroll bar and they don’t have to move their mouse so far! This allows users to quickly move the pointer between the scroll bar and the index items. These benefits are particularly strong for laptops with those horrid fingertip based mouse controls.

6: Separate important items from housekeeping links. Housekeeping links are the things people may need to find from any page but that don’t need to be prominent. For example Privacy Policy, Site Map, FAQs and Contact Us can appear in the header or footer of the page

7: Make links easy to find. Don’t expect visitors to mouse over every word on the page to discover if it is a link or not. Links don’t have to be underlined, but do make them a different colour so that they stand out from surrounding body text and add a hover colour to links so that users can see what they are about to click. Use new windows (pop ups) sparingly.

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