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Website usability - some guidelines for good navigation

by Chris Sutton | January 27, 2012

In my last blog we looked at the increasing Google focus on website usability in their algorithm. In this blog we’ll start to look at some of the principles of good usability design, and as it is such an involved subject we’ll split the blog over a few posts.

Top of the list when planning a site is navigation. If that doesn’t work then users are never going to find their way around the site and all your hard work writing content and providing fabulous images will be wasted.

So, some recommendations for when you’re planning your website navigation:

  • Your navigation system needs to tell the user - where they are right now, where they’ve come from, and where they can go. (Include breadcrumbs to show a user where they currently are on the site.)
  • Keep your navigation consistent. The navigation system should be in the same place on every page and have the same format. Don’t make your users have to search for the navigation on every page they visit.
  • Provide more than one navigation option – It never fails to amaze me how different people can have completely different methods for navigating website. So don’t assume that how you think a user might access particular pages is actually going to be the way the user wants to go.
  • Follow convention – Everybody wants their website to be special and standout from the crowd, but there is increasing evidence that users are increasingly seeing the web as a whole and so expect to be able to navigate various sites in much the same way. Making your navigation different for the sake of it just confuses your users and they’ll waste no time going elsewhere.
  • Include a home page link in the main navigation. User are highly likely to be entering your site from a Google link and that could be to any page on your site. Make it easy for them to find your home page.
  • Link your logo to the home page. This is a web convention and users will often click the logo to find the home page
  • Add site search. - site search provides your users with another way to navigate your site, and if your site is large, can save the user a lot of time. Don’t include a Search the Web function, having spent a lot of effort on getting visitors to your site, why would you want to send them off to another site?
  • Include a text site map – not as often used as site search perhaps, but for a large site it can help your users to make sense of the site as a whole as well as find specific pages quickly.

That’s it for now, remember that good usability is crucial to the success of your website.

(As I was writing this blog, I looked around for some examples of poor navigation, I found this site with some excellent examples of how not to design the navigation on your site, it was a hard choice between this site and this one! )

 
SiteSuite Website Design - Online Marketing Blog Author Chris Sutton

Co-founder and Managing Director of SiteSuite Australasia, Australian pioneers in web design and ecommerce since 1997. For more from Chris you can follow him on Google+ or Twitter, and for further professional musings and thoughts on his other passions in life, www.chrissutton.com

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