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Perfecting your web site’s navigation

“Build it and they will come” — at least, that’s what you’ve probably heard from a lot of web design firms wanting your dollars but not caring if your web site is a success. We’ll cover how to attract visitors on another page. Once you’ve got them, however, you’ve got to keep them interested. If your navigation isn’t easy to understand and consistent across all the pages of your site, your visitors will leave.

Don't leave your visitors "out to sea"--plan your web site's navigation carefullyNavigation is crucial

The components that make up the navigational structure of a web site are known as navigational elements. The first thing to consider is your domain or company name. If your company name is well branded, potential visitors may enter it into their browser’s address bar or a search engine. So although your name isn’t normally considered a navigational element, it becomes one when used to locate your web site. If this is a possibility for your site, keep your web site name short, don’t use punctuation or unusual spelling. You should also keep your sub-folder names short or, in the case of WordPress, your category names if you are using it as part of your permalink structure.

Usability studies show that a visitor’s path through a site frequently takes him back to the home page. Some visitors will start here but many may arrive at a page deep within your site. As they browse this page, if they find what they were searching for they may click on other links on that page. If they want to check out the site as a whole, they will want to start at the “beginning” which for web sites is the home page. For this reason, it is important to have a link to your home page on every page of your web site. This conventional navigational element is usually found on multiple locations. The usual locations for these links are: (1) the upper left, usually a graphical link; (2) in a text link at the bottom of the page, usually part of a horizontal menu bar; and (3) sometimes as part of a breadcrumb trail.

Links

During the infancy of the World Wide Web, pages were displayed in 16 or less colors, using mostly text and sometimes including very simple graphical images. Users expected all links to be blue underlined text, like this. Notice that although it looks like a link, it is just blue text with an underline. Don’t confuse your users by underlining text and especially don’t add a color like blue.

There’s nothing wrong with having distinctive links for your web site as long as your visitor can easily find them! Make sure they are in a different color from standard text. If a visitor looks at your web site and can’t immediately tell where all the links are, they won’t like it and won’t stick around very long.

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