Nowadays, it is easy for many websites to focus solely on search engine optimization, yet ensuring easy navigation on your website is more important than many people realize. To the surprise of some, website navigation and SEO optimization go hand in hand, because easily navigable sites are easier to understand by search engines. Plus, when search engines understand your site’s navigation, they are more likely to display it to the qualified end-users searching for your keywords.
Businesses that do not emphasize a website’s user experience (UX) may overlook the connection between navigation and search optimization, and as a result, miss out on potential profits. This is unfortunate since the two truly are not that different, especially since the tenants for creating great UX also overlap with the rules for optimizing SEO.
Easy navigation does not have to be complicated. By following just three rules, you can improve both the user experience and SEO.
- Navigation must be clear.
- Navigation must be consistent.
- Navigation must be simple.
Thankfully, there are many ways to ensure these three rules are met. Below are 10 do’s and don’ts for creating clear, consistent and simple navigation for any website.
Do This, Not That
1) Do Use Fixed Scrolling Bars
It is common practice for the bulk of a site’s navigation to exist within a nav bar interface. This does not lead to easy navigation. Instead, choose fixed scrolling bars. They make it easy for users to decide where they want to go from any point on a website.
Using this design element, the navigation object appears affixed to a location on the site, usually on-top horizontally or on-side vertically. It follows the user as they scroll without disappearing, making for a stress-free UX because visitors don’t have to frantically scroll to get back to the next point of interest.
2) Don’t Overdo It
With easy navigation, less really is more.
Offering too many choices can make it hard for web crawlers to decipher the content. Too many drop-down menus can create multiple silos, making subpages difficult for search engines to identify. Too many links can dilute a site’s authority on Google.
Do not fall into the trap of too many. Avoid running into these problems and creating a poor UX; limit menu and submenu options. Some experts recommend skipping the submenus entirely, when possible.
3) Do Use Mega Menus If You Have a Lot of Content
If there is a ton of content, you probably can’t avoid a hefty drop-down menu. Instead, try using a mega menu design element. These giant drop-downs are an interface that deploys upon mouseover. They usually span several columns and are a good way to streamline content and images. They also create a memorable UX in addition to easier navigation.
Mega menus assist with SEO rankings by way of grouping subpages and keywords, creating silos. Silo architecture, by definition, isolates groups of pages that are all relevant to the same keyword. It gives your site an extra layer of organization. It also helps search engines understand the website and serve the right pages to the right users.
4) Do Cross-Link in Silos
Deep sites pose unique challenges for search engine optimization, but there is a way to ensure easy navigation even on these types of site structures. If you have submenus that create silos around specific keywords, cross-linking pages within that silo to one-another strengthen the SEO of that category.
The process of linking pages together within silos offers more opportunity for individual pages to stand out in a search. It also helps businesses avoid having their subpages get lost in the silo. By tying like-pages together, users can quickly jump from one to another, drilling down to the information they seek.
5) Don’t Use Format-Based Navigation
Format-based navigation sets the expectation for users about the type of content they will find when they click a link. We see format-based navigation frequently used on corporate sites. Whenever a web page uses the word “Blog” as anchor text in a navigation element versus a description like “Auto Industry News & Media,” that is format-based navigation.
While this is a common practice, it is one that marketers should consider scrapping altogether – especially if they are thinking about the needs of the user.
People go to websites because they care about a particular topic, not to browse any old video or blog – unless it is relevant. Including descriptive navigation helps users figure out if they are in the right place and also helps create easy navigation for the user.
7) Do Use Image Carousels
If there is a lot of information to convey, you can provide easy navigation by using an image carousel. These elements are often appealing to look at, but the most significant benefit of image carousels is their ability to contain more information in one streamlined area of a website.
Characterized by its larger-than-life image interface, an image carousel draws the user’s eye by offering a pleasing graphical departure from body text. It is a great way to showcase products, a blog or any featured content that you would like to link from a home page or a landing page.
Image carousels help to create a dynamic UX that allows for easy navigation to featured pages.
8) Don’t Start Without Pre-Planning
Planning a website that prioritizes easy navigation should be at the forefront of your development process. However, you should not begin without sufficient website pre-planning tools and strategy.
Your pre-planning might include marketing plans such as detailed information about your target audience and their browsing habits. At the end of your pre-planning, you should have relevant keywords, and be ready to produce flow charts and a sitemap that helps you visualize how pages link to one another.
Pre-planning helps the designer understand the site better, which is necessary for user-friendly, easy navigation.
9) Do Get Creative
Every part of your website should reflect your brand’s identity, including its navigation. In addition to making your website easy to navigate, a little color and creativity can go a long way toward creating a branded experience. With all of the tools that designers have access to, there is no reason for navigation to be limited to a static, horizontal bar. If it does not fit your brand, take a chance on some creative approaches to navigation.
10) Don’t Ignore the User Experience
Focusing on the user experience helps build sites that users understand and interact with. It also helps ensure that designers create easy navigation and architecture that’s primed for SEO. Convoluted and confusing nav bars are among the most frustrating experiences a user can have on a website. To prevent this experience from occurring, it is essential for designers to get into the mindset of the end-user, and make sure the navigation stands up to beta-testing and other forms of scrutiny.
To create a great UX (nav bars included), designers must have a deep understanding of their audience and a willingness to explore design options that serve the end user.
Easy Navigation Starts with Great Planning
The above tips can improve the navigation of any site, but careful planning makes it easy from the beginning. For designers that want to focus on easy navigation from the start, its best to take a top-down approach. The tips below help designers and programmers stay user-focused while remaining SEO-friendly.
- Always include pre-planning in the design process.
- Decode on the navigation and layout you want to use early in the process.
- Keep the company’s brand standards in mind.
- Don’t be afraid to get creative or colorful.
- Avoid over complicated navigation by offering fewer options and using appropriate coding language.
- Learn about the end-users and tailor an experience for them.
- Test the navigation for problems and code smells.
Following these tips during the planning phase will help keep users from getting stuck or frustrated. They also can do the same for the designers during the development phase.
Easy navigation is not magic, it’s planned. Website planning service, Slickplan, makes planning any SEO-friendly site simple, while also ensuring it creates a great experience for website end-users. Whether it is flat sites or deep sites, features such as a sitemap builder, design mockup and diagram maker make focusing on easy navigation less daunting than ever before. Use Slickplan to quickly plan a site, then export your sitemap into an XML file for search engine optimization.
For more information on how Slickplan can help you plan SEO-friendly websites that boast easy navigation with sitemaps, read more here.
Written By Jenn Marie
Jenn Marie is a freelance copy writer and internet marketing strategist based out of the Seattle area. A true tech evangelist, Jenn previously helped individuals utilize the full potential of Dell, Microsoft and Amazon products. She now focuses on building authentic online presences for small businesses and entrepreneurs through her company, Jenn Marie Writing & Marketing. Find her on LinkedIn