How To Optimize Website Navigation Menu

Learn how to optimize the website navigation menu to engage your visitor & make it more accessible, check great tips for making more of menus

Updated on September 3, 2022
How To Optimize Website Navigation Menu

 This article will show how to optimize the website navigation menu to engage your visitor and make it more accessible. See website navigation best practices and great tips for making more of your site menu.

In an ideal world, every page of your website would be accessible from that one site-wide website menu. But as you, as a web developer or website owner, undoubtedly know, the real world of websites is far from ideal.

How To Optimize Website Navigation Men

We struggle with multiple devices, fixed-width websites, themes that can hardly be changed without creating new problems, and so on. Nevertheless, the website menu is the most common aid for navigation on your website, and you want to make the best possible use of it. Here, I’ll address a number of applicable best practices that allow you to optimize your website menu for your users and SEO.

Website navigation menus

First, I think we should forget the assumption that a website can only have one menu. I believe we have become used to the tiny links in the upper bar on a website.

How To Optimize Website Navigation Menu
How To Optimize Website Navigation Menu

Like so many other websites, Greenday.com has a first menu in the black bar, whereas the red bar also contains a number of links to internal or external pages. Social profiles, Apple Music, Spotify links, and a newsletter subscription.

How To Optimize Website Navigation Menu
How To Optimize Website Navigation Menu

Manhattan College has a straightforward second menu leading to internal pages aimed at specific audiences. It just goes to show that these extra menus are everywhere.

My point here? Don’t put everything in one menu. Doing that clutters your website and makes your main menu poorly reflect your site structure. Focus on the most critical content. For instance, I like a ‘Contact’ link in a menu. But only add one if your main goal is that your visitors contact you. Otherwise, that link can be placed in a second website menu without a problem.

Confirm order and quantity

Human memory is a fascinating thing. Ever heard of the serial position effect? If I go to science for a while (I almost became a biochemist), please bear with me! A study was conducted in which participants were asked to recall words they saw within two seconds. The number of terms displayed varies between 10-40. The researchers observed that participants were likelier to remember the comments at the beginning (prime effect) and the end (recency effect) of the list, regardless of how many words were shown.

Have you noticed that most websites you visit have a “Products” or “Services” tab as the first item in the menu and a “Contact Us” button at the bottom? This is because these sites consider these pages to be the most important and want their site visitors to find and remember them. Keep your visitor’s end goal in mind when deciding which pages to link to and in what order in your navigation menu.

Add search bar

Many users prefer to find pages through the search bar. You can target these users by including a search bar or an expandable search bar icon in your navigation menu.

If you’re unsure what words to use in the navigation menu, the search bar can help you find out. By looking at the words visitors type most often in the search bar, you can identify what your website visitors are trying to find or where your current navigation menu lacks clarity or direction.

Link the logo to the homepage

It has become common to link your logo to the homepage of a website. Users are used to this feature and often expect it. Where many sites used to use navigation menu items to link to the home page, using a logo can make room in the navigation menu for another category.

Use descriptive words

The words you use in navigation menus can significantly impact the user experience. Consider GPS directions. Do you want your users to “turn left within 2 miles” or “turn left on Alice’s Road”? These two phrases can mean the same action, but one may be more beneficial to your users.

See the keywords people use in their search queries to find your website. Which keywords are used to find your competitors? Is there any overlap? Are there words you might have missed? Wouldn’t it make more sense to use a more general term like “product” or a more specific industry term like “marketing service”?

Minimize creativity

Even if you want your website to be creative and stand out from competitors, navigation menus are not the place to break the status quo. You want users to spend a lot of time on your site without figuring out your navigation menus. See what other sites in your industry are doing. Find ways to be different.

Be consistent in optimizing website navigation

Your navigation menu should look the same on every page of your website. Users get confused and frustrated when navigation menus change locations or terms between pages.

“Consistent, predictable navigation menus help users easily navigate the site and find the information they’re looking for,” Scott said. “By providing the best experience, your website should have a lower bounce rate and better time on page, both factors that search engines use to determine relevancy.”

Your website navigation menu is the central hub for all your pages. While search engines can use navigation menus to crawl a site and determine page structure, they significantly impact user experience. Know your website visitors, set your end goals, and you can create optimized navigation menus.

Too many links anywhere on your page aren’t recommended. Yes, Google may allow up to 250 connections and perhaps even more on a page without problems. But your website’s goal’s probably not to make sure your visitors can’t see the wood for the trees. We recommend against:

  • Tag clouds (what’s the use, really?)
  • Long lists of monthly links to your blog archive (don’t use date archives!)
  • Infinitely scrollable archive pages with links to articles (at least add excerpts and load more articles on scroll)
  • A hundred categories in a list (why so many!)
  • Menus with submenus and sub-submenus and so on

Why do we recommend against this? Having too many links on a page messes up your link value, for one. With so many links on a page, every link from that page is a little less valuable for the page it links to. Besides that, it messes up the focus of your visitor. With every link, you diverge from your website’s primary goal.

I think you need to have a solid reason to add more than one submenu. And if you feel you need that extra level in your menu, monitor the number of clicks that menu gets and adjust if needed. I think you are much better off creating good landing pages for your submenu items in many cases.

The perfect website navigation menu

Of course, there is no template for ‘the perfect menu.’ Much of it depends on your site and on what your goals are. In any case, there are two critical questions you should ask yourself when optimizing your menu:

  • What is the best menu structure for my site?
  • What menu items should at least be on my menu?

Another tip we can give you is a drop-down menu for important sub-items. And don’t add too many links to your menu, or they will lose their value. Do you have other tips for a good site menu? Let us know in the comments!

Multi-level menus