Building an effective navigation

Good navigation is a key element of a great user experience. To help users find the necessary information and achieve their goals, it’s essential to provide them with a clear path. Good quality content is equally important, but it’s wasted if it can’t be easily found.

Good navigation experiences present visitors with a complete picture of what is available on the site and, combined with the home page, provide a comprehensive “story” for the site. Navigation should answer the question, “What can I do on this site?”

Navigation elements

When we talk about navigation, we often mean the site menu. Site menus come in all shapes and sizes and allow you to achieve different goals and resolve certain challenges. To name a few common types: top bar, side bar, hamburger menu, mega navigation, sticky menu.

There is no one-fits-all solution for site menus. Depending on the purpose and size of your site, audience, device, and screen size, different types are more suitable.

The site menu is a primary navigation element but is not the only one. Good navigation is formed by an ‘ecosystem’ of elements that help users navigate your site. In addition to the site menu, it may also include:

  • breadcrumbs
  • pagination
  • filters
  • footer
  • site map
  • metadata tags
  • links to related or recommended content
  • other interactive elements (banners, carousel, pop-up windows).

All these elements assist users with navigating your site and it’s important they all work cohesively.

Qualities of an effective navigation

An effective navigation goes beyond a clean look and design. Here are the key qualities of an effective navigation that should be applied to all navigational elements.

  • Responsive

All elements should adjust to the device screen size. It should not overlap with page content or other elements. It is possible that some elements could be removed for devices with smaller screens.

  • Consistent

Navigation elements should appear consistently on all pages. It includes consistent location on the page, consistent list of menu items and consistent use of visual components (icons, colours, fonts).

  • Prominent

The navigation elements should be one of the easiest elements to find on the page. Follow established conventions to make it easier for your visitors to find elements on the page. For example, the site logo is usually located at the top left corner and will take you to the site home page.

Avoid landing pages used solely as a navigation tool. All pages within a site should be accessible through the navigation menu.

  • Simple

Navigation should be easily scannable. Use short titles that can be concisely described in one or two words.

In addition, avoid long drop-down lists, keep it short with up to 8 items per list. Regroup and make logical subgroups if required. There is no need to have a link to every bit of content on your site in the navigation – but users should be able to get a sense of the entire site by exploring the navigation options.

  • Logical

Navigation elements, especially site menus, should reflect the most important areas of the site and establish a logical hierarchy of pages. Great navigation experiences help visitors understand:

  • Where am I?
  • What can I do here?
  • Where can I go next?
  • How do I go back?

Building an effective navigation will dramatically improve user experience, assist better interaction, and ensure users happily come back to the site. Often it is not an easy or quick task to create good navigation, it requires analysis, testing and prototyping.

In addition, building site navigation is often constrained by the capabilities of the platform chosen for content management. To learn more about navigation options in SharePoint Online check out our article ‘Navigation in SharePoint Online.

Breadcrumb has helped many clients restructure their sites to improve navigation and findability of their content.