Friday, March 9, 2007

Top Five Web Site Navigation Considerations

Have you ever been lost on a highway late at night? It's not a fun feeling.
In the same way that it's not fun to be lost on a highway, it's not fun to be lost when visiting a web site. When you create a web site, make sure that it is easy for your visitors to find their way around.

Here are some tips:

1 - Make your pages consistent
The most important rule is to make your pages and your navigation scheme consistent. Just because you can create 58 different layouts with whiz bang colors and graphics doesn't mean that you should. Put your menu in the same place on every page. Keep consistency across your pages by using the same header or page template. This will help your visitors stay oriented within your web site.

2 - Place the menu with care

The most common location for the menu is the left side of the page with menu items running vertically down the page. This generally works best for all but the largest web sites. Many internet users expect to see web site menus in this location too.

Alternatively, you may place your menu across the top of your web site. This can be harder to maintain in the long run as you make changes to your site. Also, if you have a long menu, all of your options may not be visible to viewers due the the width of their individual computer screens.

3 - Remember the rule of "7 plus or minus 2"

Published in psychology journals as early as 1956, the rule of "7 plus or minus 2" states that people can generally process between five and nine pieces of information at a time. When you create your navigation, think about limiting the number of choices to between five and nine. It's not always possible, but it can help to have a reasonable number of choices at each level in your navigation. You'll have to carefully balance putting a limited set of choices with making too many levels and depth to your site.

For example, have a set of home page menu options of no more than nine. If you want to create subpages off of those pages, keep those pages to nine or less too. Really try to group your information together as you organize your site. If your list of subpages gets too long, make a new menu option that will adequately represent some of those items. Also consider just linking to pages that are NOT included in the menu. When a page of info is necessary, create an internal link and alleviate a menu option all together!

4 - Allow for a site search

Now we are talking helpful!!

A simple search box which allows your visitors to search throughout your site can be very helpful. It can allow visitors to get to the information they want quickly.

5 - Create a site map

Most every web site should have a site map. It's a page on your web site that lists and links to all the pages on your site. It gives your visitors an overview of all the material on you site. As a bonus, it can help search engines find and index all your pages too. (We know of a great set of tools that does this automatically!!!)

When you create a web site that follows all these navigation tips, your visitors won't feel like they are lost on a highway at night. And that is good for your web site and for your organization.

Herb and Monica Leibacher operate Web Builder Express Create a professional web site for your business or non-profit organization with Web Builder Express.