Putting Navigation First: 4 Site Design Tips

When designing a website, how you organize the page is almost as important as what you put on it. In fact, if you don’t organize your content well and provide useful navigation tools, what you put on it won’t matter at all because no one will be able to find it.

Great organization has the ability to improve your SEO ranking and make your site a powerful determinant in your field, so it’s time to spend more time considering how users move through your site. By focusing on these four factors, you’ll provide the guideposts readers need to really appreciate your content.

Try Tabs

One of the most common ways that designers organize their websites is by using homepage tabs keyed into different categories to help users find the content they’re looking for. Generally, these tabs include an About page that gives context and contact information for the site, a tab for each of the main topics the site covers, and potentially one for frequently asked questions. You’ll also see the same types of categories used in compressed hamburger menus.

Go Broad

When deciding how to classify your website, keep in mind that for these purposes, it’s better to have broad categories with a few subcategories than narrow categories with a lot of highly specific ones. This is true for several reasons. First, depending on your topic, readers may not be able to find what they’re looking for if they don’t know the highly specific language in use, and second, having too many narrow categories can be overwhelming and cluttered.

The most important reason to use broad, shallow categories, however, is that you want to expose your readers to a large amount of your content and encourage them to explore your site. If you narrowly filter them towards a highly specified subgrouping, they’ll never see the full range of your content.

Link Internally

Sometimes the most important navigation doesn’t apply to your whole page, but allows users to navigate a single long post. This is often the case when you create a product guide or a directory – there’s simply too much content to ask readers to scroll through it until they find what they want.

What does it look like to link within an article in practice? It’s exactly what Wikipedia does under the article introduction – they give you a blurb and then they link to each subsection so you can find the content of interest. This mattress directory does the same thing and uses a series of subcategories to further differentiate their intra-article links.

Provide Alternatives

One of the problems with creating a general navigation scheme for your site is that it won’t work for everyone. That’s why when you use an online shopping site, you can typically change the way products are arranged – not everyone will like the chosen organization (or lack thereof).

If you run a blog, of course, you may be wondering what other kinds of organization you can offer, and the key is to think about what service you provide and what might help your readers. Great alternative forms of organization include options to view the most read posts, most recent posts, or even to see content relevant to specific geographic regions. You’ll often see these types of categories emerge when you’re choosing your main organization scheme and it’s up to you, as a designer, to determine the best way to weave them into your site design.

With so many sites ready at their fingertips, users will quickly leave your site if they feel they aren’t finding the content they’re looking for quickly enough, which makes your navigation and organization choices vital. Put your navigation tools front and center, use tags to supplement, and be open to feedback. Navigation is an evolving process and you’ll need to adapt as your site grows.