Navigation – Where Are You?

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Clear and unambiguous navigation links are vitally important to help your visitors find their way around your site. Internal links within a site are also good from a search engine optimization (SEO) perspective too.

But does your navigation system confirm to users where they actually are now?  On complex sites it is especially easy for users to lose a sense of their location.

Here are some ideas that can help your site visitors.

Page titles & headings

Page titles and headings give visitors an immediate impression of what the page is about.

It is vital that the text of navigation links corresponds with the headings of the page they point to. Your visitors will then be reassured they are in the place they expected to be.

Some sites include parts of the site structure in the page title – eg ‘My Bank – Lending – Mortgages’, however perhaps because of SEO considerations this seems less common now.

Breadcrumb trail

A breadcrumb trail, positioned at or near the top of the content, is a useful way of indicating the page’s position within the site structure – especially on a larger site. Using the above banking example you might have the following line:

You are here: My Bank Home Lending > Mortgages

Note that the first two hierarchical elements are links. Your visitors can use these links as additional navigation mechanisms. There is no point in having the current page element as a link however – it could lead to unneccessary clicks and confused users.

Navigation links

Whether you use a horizontal tab strip or a vertical column for your navigation, it’s good idea to include some indication of the current page within the links. Many sites do this by making the background colour of the item in the navigation list match the background colour of the main content. Alternatively, or additionally, an arrow or some other indicator can be placed adjacent to the relevant navigation item.

As with the breadcrumb trail it is best to avoid having a link to the current page within your navigation.

We use a combination of these techniques on the main Coolfields Consulting site. Our site is fairly small so we did decide against having a visible breadcrumb, but it’s there for screen reader users. (See our post on Text for Screen Readers Only to see how we did that.)

Remember, visitors are more likely to stay at your site if it’s easy to use and find their way around.

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