Smart Navigation Tools for Your Online Business Website

By Shannon Belew, Joel Elad

A good navigation system is important for your business website. Maybe you have a vertical row of links or buttons along the left side of your page or a series of tabs along the top. Take it one step further: Determine how sophisticated your navigation bar is and whether it helps customers move around the site.

One trend in web design is to eliminate sidebar navigation. Before jumping on this trend, carefully consider the effect of removing navigation or links in your sidebar. Does it help or hinder your customer’s experience when using your site? You may find that the sidebar is a distraction to your customers and decide to do away with it.

No matter where your main navigation is, it’s important to focus on using it to help customers move to and from pages in your site in a way that helps the buying process.

When customers use the navigation bar to go to a particular section, for example, does the navigation bar tell them where they are on your site? For example when you first arrive at the Jaxon website, the tabs for navigation are the same color.

When you click the Furniture tab and then click the Sofas tab, for example, a drop-down list appears and the Sofas tab is now underlined in a different color. If you hover your cursor over a list option, it is displayed in a different color to make it stand out, as shown.

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Your navigation system should make it easy for a customer to move anywhere on your site from any page on your site.

One way that websites show a shopper’s progression is to display the current web page’s context within the entire site structure, called a bread-crumb trail.

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A user can return to a page by clicking the specific “crumb.” Displaying a trail of crumbs shows customers how you group information on your site and how you establish a hierarchy, or order, of web pages. In addition, your customers can move up and down the hierarchy much more easily.

Your site navigation system should remain intuitive while being able to directly open the pages that customers need. They shouldn’t need lots of explanation or training to navigate your site. A customer should be able to open your home page and instinctively know what to click or how to proceed.

As the owner or operator of your web business, you probably know your site by heart and can easily move around in it. What about new visitors, though? Gain a fresh perspective by having a stranger (or a friend who has never used your site) test your site.

Or hire a company to handle this usability study for you. The point of a usability review is to gather a new visitor’s impressions about what makes sense and what doesn’t so that you can update your site and navigation system accordingly.

Usability, in the area of computer applications, refers to the effectiveness and ease of use that people find when they interact with the computer. If an element has high usability, people can easily learn about it and remember how it works, and they find it visually satisfying, efficient to operate, and helpful to use when things go wrong.