At first blush, it’s easy to look at our own websites and “get” where we’re supposed to go and what we’re supposed to do next. But what about that person who’s landing on your site for the first time? What will his or her experience be like?
Here are six ways to tell if your website navigation is working the way it should be.
1. Educate yourself on website navigation best practices and mistakes to avoid. How can you successfully evaluate your own website’s navigation if you don’t have a firm grasp of what makes the navigation effective? The short answer is you can’t. Here are three easy-to-digest articles that will teach you what you need to know.
- The Key Components of a User-Friendly Website Navigation By HubSpot
- Are You Making These Common Website Navigation Mistakes? By Kiss Metrics
- How to Fix Your Website’s Navigation (It’s Really Easy) By Social Triggers
2. Understand the goals for your site’s navigation. Here’s the thing: yes, all sites will have certain navigation items in common (like “Contact” or something to that effect), but what you want to keep in mind is your ideal customer, what her needs are, and how you would want to lead her through the site.
For example, if you’re in a business that’s highly visual—such as photography, graphic design, landscaping, design/build—people who come to your site will be looking for the “eye candy” (i.e. photos of your work). You might include the most important portfolios in the main navigation (e.g. wedding photography, family portraits, and babies) or you might decide to have “portfolio” as the main menu item with a drop-down of a half dozen different image galleries.
The better you understand your customers and prospects and what they’re looking for when they come to your site, the better you can deliver a menu structure that meets their needs.
How do you know what site visitors are looking for? Keep reading…
3. Conduct user testing. You need to understand how real people interact with your site (as opposed to employees, friends, and family who are all a bit “tainted” since they understand your business). User testing will provide the objective feedback you need. This doesn’t need to be a huge monetary investment, either. Sites like UserTesting.com offer cost-effective packages for small businesses.
And yes, you should conduct user testing on desktops AND mobile devices. More and more people are going to visit your site using their smartphones and tablets, so it’s critical that your website navigation works on these devices (read more about why small businesses need to think about responsive design).
4. Be mindful of your most popular pages. Going back to our portfolio example above, you might learn—after reviewing your site’s analytics—that your “wedding engagement” photo gallery is one of your most visited sections of the site, even though it’s not part of the main navigation structure. Given that, you might want to make it more prevalent and easier for people to find by making it a main navigation item.
Likewise, you should remove unnecessary items from your navigation. For example, you certainly want to make it easy for people to find your contact info, like your phone number. But you might not need to waste valuable real estate in the main navigation with “Contact Us.” Many websites include what’s known as “courtesy links,” which usually appear in the upper right-hand corner and include important basics: home, contact, about. You could also include your phone number graphically as part of the main website banner. And, of course, there’s the footer area. In other words, there are plenty of places to link to your contact info without cluttering the main navigation.
5. Review the “Visitors Flow” report in Google Analytics. As Google states, this report will help you “compare volumes of traffic from different sources, examine traffic patterns through your site, and troubleshoot the efficacy of your site.”
We’re embedding a short tutorial below on how to read and understand this important report.
6. Consult an expert. You can choose from several types of experts: web developers, marketing people, and SEO consultants. Ideally, you’d like to talk to someone who has a strong understanding of all three areas—web development, marketing, and SEO. Ask the person to conduct a basic web audit and see what they say about your navigation and menu structure (and any fixes they recommend).
What other things can you think of that are important when it comes to evaluating a website’s navigation? Share in the comments.