In my last post I was talking about design mistakes that might cause a website to lose traffic. The first mistake on my list had to do with site navigation. Not only does poor navigation make your site look unprofessional, it leads to frustrated customers, or worse yet, lost customers.  If visitors to your website get confused and can’t find their way around then they will hit the back button and exit your site. This is lost revenue that can be avoided if your site is carefully designed with an eye for usable navigation.

There are countless ways to do navigation wrong, so instead of pointing out mistakes I wanted to make a list of things that help contribute to good navigation. Think of your website as you read this list and consider whether your site could benefit from some of these tips.

1. Organize your content
Obviously you can’t contain links to all 50+ pages of your site within the navigation bar. As your website grows beyond 20 pages it becomes very important to have strong organizational structure. Grouping content into smart categories is the best way to keep your site manageable as more and more pages are added. Good organization guides people deeper into your site quickly and without confusion.

2. Be Consistent
Your site should use the same navigation on every page. If the navigation is at the top on one page, it should be there on every page. It can be very frustrating for a user to go to the top of your page expecting to see the navigation only to find it has moved somewhere else. Consistent navigation produces a sense of trust which gives users confidence that you aren’t going surprise them with unexpected hassles later on.

3. Give your visitors “breadcrumbs”
The majority of your traffic typically comes from a search engine and they often land on a page deep within your site rather than your homepage. These users find it very helpful to see a path showing where within the site they currently are. For example, if someone came to your site from a search for “SEO in Fort Collins” it helps them to be able to see that the page exists at services/strategy/seo. With this information they could quickly back out to learn about other strategies or other services.

4. Use Flash with care
It is possible to create great navigation with Flash, but you should be very careful about using fancy animation in the navigation of your site. If your navigation can’t be understood at a glance you run the risk of confusing your visitors.

5. Don’t reinvent the wheel
Studies show that website visitors almost always look at the upper left corner of your site first. They scan to the right and then down the left sidebar. Take advantage of this natural eye movement by putting your navigation at the top of the page or the left sidebar. Some sites successfully break this rule, but you need to be very careful when putting your navigation in non-traditional locations.

I hope you found these tips helpful as you evaluate the navigation of your own website. As a leading web design company in Northern Colorado, Red Rocket Media Group works very hard to design websites with strong navigation. We would love to help you with your website design, so give us a call if you have a website project that we can help you with.

Next on my list of website design mistakes is the topic of load time. I will be talking about the importance of websites that load quickly and give some tips about how to optimize your site for speed.

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