- Keep it consistent. Consistent navigation – in both how and where it appears on your site – promotes ease of use and increases your visitors’ ability to find relevant information more quickly. If your navigation is constantly changing from page to page (except where absolutely necessary), visitors lose their on-site bearings and must reorient themselves constantly.
- Divide categories clearly. If your navigation contains multiple sections, categories or sub-categories, these categories must be clearly and visually defined. In other words, category headings must be separated visually from the sub-categories, even if the categories are links themselves.
- Make all navigation elements clickable links. When using multiple categorical divisions in your navigation, all heading elements should be clickable links. This is true even with drop-down menus where clicking a sub-category link may be the natural inclination of the visitor.
- Use accurate navigation titles. Visitors should have a general idea of what they should find on a page even before clicking any navigational link. This is true whether it’s a main navigation link or an internal text link. Use accurate text to describe the linked page so visitors know what they’re going to get. Cryptic or misleading navigation text confuses and annoys visitors, possibly to the point of site abandonment. Make sure all link verbiage, whether textual or in an image, accurately portrays the corresponding pages.
- Ensure every clickable image has ALT text. This is true of every image, but even more important for images that link to other pages. Be sure to include the ALT attribute with descriptive text. This ensures that everybody knows what the link is, regardless of how they are viewing your site.
- Ensure your search feature works. When using an in-site search feature, the search results page must always produce relevant results. It must compensate for misspellings, show related items and even produce results for products you don’t have while displaying similar products you offer. Never produce a search result as “no products found.”
It Doesn’t Work Until You Prove It
An easy, effective way to test your site’s navigation is to first browse a competitor’s website. As you do, take notes on what you like and don’t like. Jot down any problems you run across, as well as anything that stands out as being exceptional. Then go back to your own site and perform the same navigation and note-taking process.
Compare notes between the sites and see if there is anything you can do to make your navigation better. I’m sure you’ll find areas where your navigation is better, but most likely you’ll also uncover areas where your navigation is inferior.