Building a Website Navigation That Works

Building a Website Navigation That Works

5 min read

The first place a web visitor lands is the section ‘above the fold’ on a website. This area is a goldmine of information. Getting the balance right between giving enough information and being ‘informative’ versus ‘information overload’ is a very fine balance indeed.

The navigation, in particular, is an area which needs a lot of thought and preparation to get this balance right. More often than not, it’s an overlooked area of focus and can end up looking more like an index page in the back of a reference book than an area of clear signposting.

In this article, we are going to look at user behaviour and why ‘less is more’ when it comes to the navigation. We will explore key areas to include and what to avoid. 

The Information Overload

With so much information at users fingertips these days, we have less time than ever to make the right first impression and whether a website they have landed on will be of help to them. 

There’s so much information at our fingertips these days. Maybe too much.

It’s good in one way, that we have all of this information, but on the other end of the scale, it leads to information overwhelm and exhaustion.

How can we break through the noise of information, especially the information we present on a website?

One of the biggest problems I have faced in designing and building websites is trying to educate the clients that ‘less information’ (and the right information) really is more.

Have you had conversations with clients who want to put EVERYTHING they do and offer on their websites? I’m sure you have too.

There are 3 things to consider when you are building out the navigation.


It Doesn’t Even Take a Minute 

The top section of a website is often referred to as ‘above the fold’ and definitely nothing further than 1 scroll. 

I discovered a fascinating article recently about the time and attention spent on the very first section of a homepage, it makes for very interesting reading and demonstrates why making the right first impression is so very important.

Back in 2012, eye-tracking research conducted at Missouri University of Science and Technology, which analysed how long users took to form a first impression when viewing a website, concluded that it takes about 2.6 seconds for a user’s eyes to land on an area of the website which most influences their first impression.

Only 2.6 seconds to form a first impression.

The study went on to say that on average, in the study, users spent 20 seconds on each website before moving away.

Only 20 seconds spent on the website before clicking away.

Of that time, users spent, on average, a total of 6 seconds on the navigation area.

Only 6 seconds spent on the navigation.

So, your navigation has 6 seconds of attention from a user as part of their 20 second stay to decide whether or not to stay on the website.



Building a Website Navigation That Works 

So, to give the maximum information, in the simplest and quickest form in 6 seconds, here are three things to bear in mind when designing the navigation:


1. KISS it

Keep It Simple, Stupid from the acronym used in the military which means literally what it says. Keep the navigation simple.

❌ Don’t use fancy names for your navigation titles, make them clear what they are about eg About, Services – don’t make people guess what they are about by using clever names or abstract ideas.

❌ Don’t make the user try and waste any of those precious 6 seconds trying to work out what the navigation titles mean.


2. Less is more

✅ Too much choice = inaction and overwhelm, so keep the navigation limited to between 5-7 items. 

✅ Use categories for your navigation. So put all the services or products offered and put them in category buckets such as Services, Courses, Books, Podcasts, Membership (I’ll go into more detail how to do this in future emails.)

❌ A big no-no to dropdown menus. This adds to confusion, information overwhelm, inaction PLUS it assumes the user knows exactly what they should be looking for.


3. Internal website links only

❌ Do not include external links in your navigation. This includes social media icons.

Why? The website visitor has only just landed on the website, so why would you tempt them to click away to your social channels? Keep them on the website.

A Quick Recap

Let’s have a look at the key points covered in this article. 

  • First impression 2.6 seconds
  • Time spent on navigation 6 seconds
  • Time spent on website 20 seconds
  • Keep the navigation simple
  • Use clear language
  • Don’t confuse or overwhelm with too much information
  • Make the right first impression and get the user to scroll for more and stay on the homepage

The purpose of a homepage is to create ‘an action’ of some kind and move the user a small step closer to becoming a client. 

Any decision the user makes to take this action has to be easy and require very little brain power. The less resistance and decision making, the better and more effective.

At the same time, this area needs to be clear so it attracts the right type of client for the business. Just as a website needs to move a prospect ever closer to becoming a client, it equally needs to repel anyone who is not looking for those services or or does not feel the business is a good fit for them. Both are good.

If you are struggling to get this right in your web projects or are always facing resistance from clients who want the index-page of everything they do, on the website, then take a look at how The Website Identity Framework (The WIF®) can help with this process in your web projects.

Until next time


Imogen Allen

Imogen Allen

I'm a Website Strategist and the creator of The WIF®, on a quest to help stop projects waiting on content for all web agencies once and for all. Passionate about helping others find their website identity and championing websites which speaks to humans in a language they understand.

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