Free Marketing Strategies: More Website Navigation Basics
May 2, 2011
Free Marketing Strategies: Website Navigation & Menu Basics
(this is an update from a series of posts originally written in 2011)
The real difference between a good website and a very poor site, that attracts few visitors or traffic, isn’t about having enough budget. Money isn’t the issue in many cases. It is often about having clear information and easy to follow menu bara and other navigation. This actually costs nothing to implement. It’s as cheap as watching kittens.
So consider the basics .. get half of these right and you will already be beating most of your competition. Get them all right and you will out-compete the bigger players with very little effort or money being spent.
Website Navigation and Menu Basics
Make it clear what your website is about … As well as inserting meta tags for the search engines you need to make it clear to visitors what your site is about. So include a few words in the banner area. This is like a newspaper headline and should explain everything in a few words. Its also a good idea to add your logo in the top left corner (assuming it explains what you do!) and make sure it links back to your homepage. This is a convention that people expect. It makes website navigation more intuitive .. and intuitive navigation is good.
Going back to the headline (it’s that important a navigation feature) you also need to make sure your opening paragraph reinforces the purpose of your site very clearly. Leave visitors in no doubt about this.
In my case, my website header tells you that, Marketing Made Simple: Quick, Effective, Low-Cost Marketing, is what the site focus on and that is what you can expect here. My site features my blog posts on the home page so it could be difficult to get the first paragraph to reinforce the headline. I reinforce my headline by putting my first para at the top of the page above my blog post stream. It is actually a blog post with most of the post being accessible when the link is clicked. But the key thing is that the bit that is always visible reinforces the headline and ensures you realise that you have navigated to the right website.
Contact Details are a Website Navigation Priority
If you take the time to check your site analytics you’ll see that a lot of people hit your homepage, go to the contact page and disappear. They only came for your contact details and making them click on the Contact button in the website menu seems a bit petty when you can provide this information without them clicking. For me, this is just good menu bar courtesy. In my case, I add the phone number in the top right-hand corner of my site. It is then visible on all pages and saves people having to navigate via the menu bar.
The menu bar itself is something I’ll go into in more detail later, but suffice to say that it is simple, clear and easy to understand. These are great website menubar and navigations basics that anyone can follow. See the second red area on the above image.
And don’t forget, including your contact details e.g. telephone number in the top right-hand corner makes your site easier to navigate and use. People hate searching for contact details .. especially if it means clicking on several buttons or scrolling down. And helping them navigate your site for contact details can increase sales.
Coloured Links as a Navigation Aid
Ensure any links in your content that go to other pages really stands out. You should only add links to relevant pages on your site or a third party site. Don’t put links just because you read somewhere that Google expects them. What Google expects is a good user experience. Poor links detract from that. Good links add value to your page.
Traditionally the convention was for the text link to be blue and be underlined. Most systems did this automatically when you added a link. Many content management systems still do this and it makes sense to keep with what is conventional. If you deviate convention it will confuse people.
One little trick I learnt about coloured links is to change the colour to lilac if you want people to think they have clicked on it before. Previously clicked links have conventionally changed colour and when people see one that is lilac they feel it is safe to click on again .. even if they never clicked on it before!
More about Menu Bar Navigation
Again it’s best to keep to the convention. There’s a saying in website design, it’s “Don’t Make Me Think”. Or to put it another way, make the site so intuitive that visitors can find their way around without thinking. It needs to be something they can do with their eyes closed! That’s the essence of intuitive website design, navigation and success.
The key here is to put the main menu bar along the top of the page or down the left-hand side of the site. .. I prefer the top personally.
The most confusing sites I have seen had the menu bar down the middle of the page and the second worse was down the right-hand margin. This was to make the site stand out as being different. It certainly did that. But neither did much online business or had people visiting more than once!
Of course you can include sub-menus along the left side or as drop downs from the top menu navigation (links) is a good idea. The image above shows a typical menu bar drop down box that has proved very effective.
Whatever you do be consistent. Ensure you use the same methodology on all pages. This makes it easier for the visitor to understand and use your site.
In part two of this article I’m going to cover hyperlinks, Flash, search boxes, sites maps and more. But before I do that I want to warn you about a very old tactic that is death to any site but still gets used occasionally.
It’s link farming. In the old days people would have a website that consisted of pages of links. You paid for a link and got that bit of extra link juice everyone said you needed. google soon sussed out what was happening and soon censored the link farms. If a site now uses a paid-for link (other than PPC links that Google and others sell as advertising) then your site will be penalised. At worse, Google will delist you and you will not appear in any Google search result .. ever!
Linking to other sites and having them link to you is fine. Of course the links need to be relevant. So, for example, I could link to this article on practical website navigation strategies by Craig Murphy. That’s legit in that it’s a good article, has good content that is related to this article and isn’t paid for.
But if anyone ever offers to link to you and payment is involved then beware Google viewing this as a paid-for spammy link. There are a few exceptions other than PPC, such as directory listings on appropriate trade membership sites. But these need to be bona fide sites where there is no doubt that the listing is the result of your membership of a professional body rather than a spammy way to get a link. Used correctly the whole practice of incoming, internal and external hyperlinks is good and Google likes them and indeed relies on them as a navigation tool. But use them wisely.
Using Links and Hyperlinks as a Navigation or Menu Aid
Earlier I mentioned the need to colour links blue (there’s an example above) and to underline them. Website links, and hyperlinks, aren’t just there to help with navigation; they are also vital to ensure the search engines find your website and, perhaps more importantly, they help your site to rise in the search engine index. The more incoming links you have the better .. provided they are not from link farms. Internal links are also important as they navigate or guide people around your site and help the search engines to understand what is on the linked pages.
If Flash is necessary, and sometimes it is, I recommend you use it on a page where there are no links. Use it at the end of a series of linked pages rather than the beginning or middle. If you use it before the last page there is a danger that anything after that point will not be indexed. To be fair I’ve seen Google get pass Flash on several occasions and it does depend on how it is set up. But there are other search engines and they aren’t all as good as Google!
Using Search Boxes as a Form of Navigation
Website Search boxes allow people to search for terms and navigate your website. Conventionally search boxes work best if you put them as near to the top right-hand top corner of the page as possible .. and it is where most people look for them .. so put them there as it makes life easier for your visitors. Google supplies a free search box that can be modified to suit your needs. Being labelled Google it also has the advantage of being trusted by people.
Site Maps Are a Navigation Necessity
Sitemaps have two functions.
Firstly they help the search engines navigate your site. And secondly, they allow visitors to scan through your site to see whats on there. Admittedly the latter is not that common but it’s still worth adding a sitemap to allow for this. So my advice is to always include a Website Site Map.
The best place to put a navigation link to the sitemap is probably in the footer. Again this is a convention that works and you’ll find it is then used by a few people to find their way around your site. By putting it in the footer you ensure you have included it on every page.
A Navigation Tradition That Should Die!
I’ve talked a lot about conventions and tradition in this article and I wanted to leave you with one tradition that has to die.
When the world was very young, and websites very new, people used to use a thing called a Splash Page. Splash pages were like the cover of a book. It was where you landed when you went to the homepage. And a bit like the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy has the word Don’t Panic on its cover, the Splash Page had the word Enter on it.
I still see a few sites that use the Word Enter before letting you open their “book”.
Don’t use a Splash Page because people hate them. This is the page that was often found on very slow loading pages years ago. The problem is that although some designers think they are cool … most people detest them. If you have a site that people have to wait for a page to load .. or worse still have to click on a link that says “Enter” they will leave in droves.
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