The Best Website Navigation System
An educated guess.
Top Nav bar Vs. Hidden Navigation Via Menu
I just searched “best practices website navigation” and I’m not finding anything that definitively says one is better than the other. That being said, I’ll provide my analysis.
If mobile is important, force yourself to keep that in mind.
Many of us marketers know mobile is important but we work on desktop or giant screens. If we work on canvases that are more idea for mobile, then not only do we keep ourselves honest but our desktop designs stay cleaner. Every client loves a “clean” looking site while simultaneously hating not finding what they’re looking for instantly. Which therefore brings me to my next point: you have to work extra hard to make it easy for your target to find what they’re looking for.
If you accept that a single page, aka the “home page” can never truly serve every target equally well, then you accept that you need to create alternate home pages for different targets. This is why Landing Pages and Microsites are becoming more prevalent. It’s also why Facebook tailors it’s feed and Google produces different search results for different people searching for the exact same thing. Context is King when Content is overly abundant.
But this is hard because we see most of our traffic to the home page. It then becomes a knee jerk reaction to focus everything on the greatest home page. What to do?
“Every site seems to say, we do this and we do that, instead of saying, what do you need”.
That came from a client one day and I never forgot that concept. What if you were to design your most trafficked page to find out who your visitor is rather than starting with who you are and the great things you’re doing. You can do that by making the home page a landing page of landing pages. Route all traffic to their respective gates. When a visitor chooses a gate, then you can really target things like events, FAQs, products, testimonials to that visitor. Think about it. Ask your visitor for one click as an identifier, and then go to town with everything you want to provide them.
And let’s not forget about social media and email campaigns as the routing tool through the gate. Consider the topic of an email or social media post as both the attention getter and landing page delineator.
As marketers we have this tendency to want huge metrics and giant growth when in reality, most of our organizations would profit hugely by converting tiny numbers of perfectly qualified visitors to exactly what they want quickly.
And that’s what so hard — weaning ourselves off of a giant, endless home page and navigation system where we plug in the flavor of the day and then feel good like we accomplished something because we got the link up where we know there’s a lot of traffic. But did anyone really convert?
This is why I choose a mobile first design which hides a top navigation system behind a hamburger and then design landing pages that are more focused to specific users. I try to use links and context within the landing pages to help visitors find what they’re looking for — and more importantly, get them to convert because the context of the content if more focused.
For good measure, I’ve been packing links into a busy but full-on footer. This seems like a reasonable escape valve for wanting to provide every possible link option and relying on the fact that good content will get your visitors to see a footer (on every page) and by that time, if they’re really interested, they’ll make the effort of searching through your footer if they’re not finding what they want.
The best navigation system is as little navigation as possible
It’s one that has few, but simple choices and it feels naturally in context with the content as I’m taking it in. It’s elegant on mobile where I’m spending more time and it’s lean on desktop so the impact of the large format is centered on the content rather than the interface.
Feel differently? Tell me what you think. Better yet, cite some articles that produce data around the most effective approach. I couldn’t find any.