Good Site Navigation
Navigation is the key to the success or failure of any web design. It determines how a user moves around the site which directly affects usability. The easier someone can move around and find what they need, the more successful a site will be. Make it difficult or confusing and the design fails.
The first aspect of navigation is telling a visitor where they are. This can be achieved by making it obvious using the site copy, headlines or the navigation itself. Highlighting the current page is an effective way of letting a visitor know where they are. After all, not everyone is going to access the site via the home page. With the increased use of deep linking, and every page of a site appearing in the SERPs it is more important now than ever before to be clear about what page a user is on at any given time.
Making the navigation menu or options as clear as possible will improve usability no end. Clear wording, graphical representations or other navigation aids can help avoid confusion, as can supplemental text like a secondary navigation bar. A secondary navigation bar can reinforce the primary method by offering the same options in a different way. This also gives the user the illusion of freedom as they can choose their method.
Secondary navigation is also useful if the site is a large or complex one. It can remain reasonably static and offer a quick route home, or to a different location. Larger e-commerce sites often use this method to their advantage, offering a quick and easy way to navigate between product ranges.
The other navigation option for larger sites is the breadcrumbs method. These are great for larger or more complex websites with multiple levels of navigation. They are in essence a growing navigation path with each step listed and linked from the page you’re on. For example: Home > Computers > Peripherals > Headphones. Each link in the chain is a step backwards in the route taken and offers the user the ability to hope to any of the preceding pages, or use a secondary menu to jump somewhere completely different.
Breadcrumbs are good for users to be able to compare products or pages with each other. They offer a quick way of jumping back a page to select another in order to read, compare or move somewhere else. The name comes from the idea of leaving a path behind you so you can find the way home.
Navigation is essential to the success of any website. Get it right and it won’t even be noticed. Get it wrong and you’ll never hear the last of it.