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Improving Website Navigation

Better navigation for your site

Is your web site easy to navigate? Would you like to make it even easier for your web site visitors to find their way around? Here are a number of ideas to make your web site more usable:

Use obvious labels: the labels you choose for your navigation links should be simple and clear, like “Services, and “Contact Us”. It can be tempting to try to use clever or cute navigation labels, like “Send us a shout”. Unfortunately that confuses web site visitors more often than not. The web has been around long enough that Internet users have strong expectations of norms. Deviating from those expectations makes your web site harder to navigate.

Use underlines appropriately: One of the strongest conventions throughout the web is that underlined text is an active link that can be clicked. Violating this norm is a sure way to disrupt your visitors experience. Underlines should only be used for navigation links, and nothing else. Ever. Really.

Do all navigation links have to be underlined? No. There are two cases where the underline isn’t needed.

  1. When the link is clearly part of a navigation bar, like the main horizontal or vertical navigation bar for the entire site.
  2. For links outside of the main navigation bar, you could use a different color or font size for the active link text. Visit for an example of how to do this well. Apple uses a pleasant and nicely contrasting color of blue for links that are embedded in body text, side bars, and elsewhere. The key element to success is that the only place that color of blue occurs is in text links. They do not use that color of blue anywhere else on the site at all. They do not use it in heading text, or even graphics. It’s so distinct, it’s clear it’s a link. Strive for the same clarity on your site. It’s harder to do than you might think. Be aware that there are genuine accessibility issues for visitors who may be color blind or otherwise visually impaired if the only distinction for a link is its color.

Put things where visitors expect them to be:

  • Logos generally belong at the top of the page, left, centered, or right justified all work well. Many visitors now expect the logo to be clickable and to take them back to the home page.
  • Navigation is generally expected to be at the top or left side, though usability studies show no impact to the time to complete a navigation task when the nav bar is on the right. That could be a creative option.
  • Search boxes are typically found in the upper right part of a web page.
  • Login and logout links should be clearly visible. Also, put things in the same place on every page of the site. Having a login link on the right on the home page is great. Don’t go putting the logout link somewhere else on the interior pages! is a great offender with respect to this topic. Their login and logout links move around from page to page from right side below the header, to right side above the header, then all the way to the left side below the header. What a mess! Putting things in the same place applies to all significant elements of your web site, not just login/logout links.

Implementing these tips is a sure fire way to make your web site easier to navigate. If you find the topic of Usability interesting, I would highly recommend the book “Don’t Make Me Think” by Steve Krug. It is a quick and fun read, and the best book on usability out there.

Remember, keep it simple, make things obvious, and be consistent.