Designing a professional website navigation system
Website navigation and your target audienceWe've discussed who you have decided your target audience will be. Now, ask yourself what kind of information will they will be looking for and what questions will they will be asking. In order to develop a strong website navigation scheme you will need to know the answer to these two questions.
Two-Click website navigationOnce our visitors interests are understood we need to help them find the information and the answers, that they are seeking, by the shortest route possible. This means organizing your website navigation in such a way that this information is only two clicks away. See diagram below.
Two step navigation model
Your header, navbar and footer should be directly linked to your website main sections. (i.e. one click) From there the main sections or main content areas of your website should link directly to the information that your visitor is seeking. (i.e. second click) The idea is to have a clean, simple website structure and navigation scheme that is as clear and obvious as possible. You should always make it apparent to your visitors how they can get between topics easily. Also, always provide a means for them to go back from where they started.
Make an outline of your website and go from there when designing your website navigation. Remember, your content and webpage design should compliment each other and provide clear navigation paths for your visitors. Also, it is important to have a clear idea of your website's navigational system before you organize your website. Help your visitors find the information they need with the least number of clicks by developing a clean and simple website navigation plan.
Note: you don't want to put a direct link to everything on your website on any single page. Your website navigation links should progress through several levels branching out as they go. Too many links to choose from and your visitors often won't know what to click on.
Use your sitemap for a secondary navigation sourceYour sitemap is an excellent tool for website navigation. The good thing about a sitemap is that it provides your visitor with direct access to anything on the website. But, in order for your sitemap to function as a website navigational tool it is necessary for your visitors to be able to access it easily. Provide a link to your sitemap on every page of your website. But, your sitemap should provide a secondary means of navigation, not the primary one.
Locating your website navigation bar (navbar)There are no certain rules about how and where to put your website navigation bar. Most webmasters put it along the left side of their webpages. Some put it on the top. Occasionally a website will put it on the right side. Whatever works best for your website and its contents should be your approach to placing your navigation bar in your webpage design.
When deciding on the placement of your website navigation bars you should consider the effect it will have on the space you will have available for your content. Navigation bars can take up a lot of space that could otherwise be used for content. This is why it is advisable to use links, in your website navigation, only to your main topics and branch out from them on the following pages.
Design your navigation links around a theme
Every website should have a website theme - a way of giving your site an identifying look. This can be through the use of a unique logo, a particular color combination or a recognizable idea such as gardening or pets. Incorporating a theme into your website navigation will help clarify your link paths for your visitors.
Blend your navigation components into the layout of your webpagesYour theme should always be considered when designing your website navigation scheme. For a professional look it is imperative that you blend your navigation components into the design of your webpages for a balanced webpage layout. Develop a theme and work it into the way that you display your website navigation links. (i.e. icons, bullets, colors, etc.)
It's also important to note that you should always include a text-only copy of your website navigation links, as some people surf with images turned off or even with text-only browsers. Page headers and footers are a good place to include your text-only links for your website navigation. We can now move on to the basic forms of website navigation models beginning with linear navigation.