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Good Web Design: The Importance of Navigation

By Debra Bellmaine
Posted Tuesday, June 22, 2004

A well-designed website has many facets: gorgeous graphics, cool
animations, drop-down menus, and of course, relevant content.
Another important feature, often overlooked, is a good, solid
navigation scheme.

I review many sites every week. A confused or non-existent
method of finding the content contained within the site is a
clear indicator of a budget or home-grown site. A well-designed
website is a great equalizer—who would know that your company
has only 5 staff when your website is slick and your customers
can find your products with ease? On the other hand, a site
that makes finding the order page a hunt for buried treasure,
will urge the visitor to leave your site and buy elsewhere.
Minimally, it sends a strong signal that your company is
unprofessional, and purchasing from you could be risky.

When considering the best navigation plan for your website,
first make a list of the most important, or highest-level,
divisions of your site's content. For example, if your site
promotes your services, plus sells a product, has helpful
information and articles, and provides a demo of a product or
service, you may want to arrange your menu with these main

Order Products
Consulting Services
Product Demos
Contact Us

Some of the headings listed above may be further subdivided,
such as a list of articles, or a list of available product
demos. There are many examples of menu systems that drop-down,
or cascade, to reveal more selections within a category.

Your site will, no doubt, have pages that don't really need to
be included in the main navigation scheme, but which must be
accessible nonetheless. This could include your Terms of
Agreement, Privacy Policy, or Additional Links pages. The footer
links (the text links normally included at the bottom of the
page) are an excellent location for web pages that are
important, but which might clutter your website’s message.

Additionally, your site may have some nice feature that should
be highlighted and easy to find. Using the example from above,
your site may have a "Search" function that is useful for
visitors to find specific products or information. In this case,
put the Search field and button at the top of the page, perhaps
embedded in the banner area. Make it visible! Don't bury it two
thirds down the page, where your visitor will see it after
they've already spent 10 minutes looking for what they are
trying to find.

In a nutshell, your website's navigation should consider the
following: from any page on the site, can a new visitor to the
site easily and intuitively find their way around the site? Will
that visitor feel comfortable moving around on your site? Can
they find the Home page again? Is your contact information
readily accessible from the pages where it is needed the most?
Most importantly, can the visitor quickly and easily locate the
product and/or services you are selling?

If the answer is not "Yes," your website's navigation needs some
redesign. Don't despair—if you have good, relevant content this
may not be a huge project. And reworking the menu and navigation
may be just what your website needs to communicate the
professionalism and quality for which your business should be

About the Author
Debra Bellmaine is President of Bellmaine Associates (, a web design & development firm providing website solutions for small and medium-size businesses. She is a software professional with broad experience creating custom business applications. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Information Systems, as well as various certifications, including Sun Certified Developer for the Java 2 Platform.


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