So the boss says, “we need a new website!” A chain of events ensues. The “Redesign Committee” is formed and is now responsible for gathering RFPs and examples of work. Then, agreements are made and project managers grab the reins. The process begins, graphic designers create proof of concepts, the marketing staff spins their wheels crafting the perfect content for the new website, that they insist they “are going to get right this time.” Developers take over and voila, the new company website is unveiled. Next thing you know, Google comes crawling and if you are SEO minded, you cross your fingers your ranking goes up.
If Content Is King, How Do You Find It?
Priority #1 on a website is to create engagement for the visitors. We want website users to go beyond one page of content and convert into an interested party, lead or sale. The priority of the website’s owners is to make sure content is readily available and easy to find. You will want to think categorically. As an example, nuts and bolts are under hardware, while hammers and saws are under tools. Though, where do Hardware and Tools go? This is where you need to think hierarchically.
Hi·er·ar·chy (/ˈhī(ə)ˌrärkē/) - an arrangement or classification of things according to relative importance or inclusiveness.
As a web project manager, you will want to establish a hierarchy of content that supports the main business focus. When approaching a redesign, get your buckets in order. Create flowcharts as a base for organizing your content in categories that fit within the hierarchy of all pages of the website.
The next step is to plan out the new site’s navigation. “Navigation” (or sometimes “menu”) is the term used for websites or mobile apps “outline” of site pages. It’s that strip of internal links at the top of all pages that show the site’s visitors the categorical content of the website.
In a sense, the site’s navigation is similar to a table of contents that outlines the major topics and references by page number supporting text. Technical manuals, magazines, cookbooks and instructions for putting furniture together all have outlines for the reader to find and drill down to what they are looking for.
Smash The Hierarchy
While a table of contents for paper manuals and other literature must be orderly by page number, a website’s navigation may be crafted to highlight the most important content first. A visitor may be on your website that specializes in outdoor furniture for your home. You know from sales and website traffic that hot tubs are the business’ bread and butter. Rather than the main navigation having a link to a page about “Water Recreation” as a category with products underneath it, a well crafted website navigation would have “Hot Tubs” as the first navigation item.
The vast majority of people read from the left to the right. The most important content should come first in your website’s navigation as it's what the majority of your visitors are looking for. That vital content should be what your business and website are known for.
Enter the search engines ranking the best known content. Search engines crawl websites top to bottom and left to right. The website’s navigation presents the first links that Google will crawl for search engine ranking. If your goal is to sell a product or a service, having the “About Us” page linked first on the main navigation doesn’t give search engines the most important content first.
There’s a balance between usability and SEO that can be best addressed by research.
How Do You Create The Best Website Navigation?
Look at the history of your existing site through data. Use best practices regarding the html that codes the navigation. Above all, it should make sense to your visitors.
Don’t Use Gif Buttons
Let’s get this out of the way from the start. Now that we are in the 21st century, we hope you all have given up on image buttons in your navigations. 1) They incrementally slow down the web site 2) Search engines ARE NOT interested in reading text on an image and 3) Search engines are VERY interested in the first few links on your site and the anchor text (the text you click on) of those navigation links are excellent for search engines to crawl as they should have connection to your main feature of content.
Review Your Traffic Analytics
Website traffic analytics are big indicators of where your site’s users are moving beyond a single page. It’s important to identify trends in your site’s traffic. You want to look for pages linked in your navigation with high bounce rates or low traffic and address that. Either remove the pages, make them part of a sub-navigation or address what is wrong with the page’s engagement and fix. Give navigation link consideration to pages you’ve found in user flow paths that lead to the most conversions.
Google’s Navigation Summary
Under Behavior in Google Analytics, find Site Content, All Pages report, click on your homepage (represented by a single slash) and then the tab for Navigation Summary. The “Next Page Path” will show you more specifics on those first movements off of the homepage.
This is great insight on your navigation of the most popular topics and pages of your site.
Behavior Flow Report
Within Google Analytics, you can find the “Behavior Flow” report under Behavior to find those most important topics for your visitors. Be cognizant of the different paths. Some portions of your users’ traffic may be interested in different products and stay only within a few pages relevant to those pages. Similar to the Navigation Summary, look at the starting pages and the 1st Interactions as you sort through what should make up your primary main navigation.
Within the User Flow report, you can Segment the traffic flow to only show User Flow from visitors who made a conversion on the website by completing a goal.
This gives you a sense of the best of the best traffic flows on the site that lead to conversions.
You may see “Contact Us” pages with massive traffic. Without a psychology degree, you can tell it’s one of your most important pages. It is an engagement page for site visitors after interest has been established. The navigation shouldn’t feature contact us up front (it’s not core to your content) but easily found above and below the page fold.
Internal Site Searches
Within your Analytics, you should be able to find searches that users are making on your site. Consider this the content on your site that is not easily found. Factor these terms in when defining your site’s redesigned navigation. If there are terms with lots of searches against them, you may want to incorporate them into the site’s navigation depending on the importance of the page and if it’s a page that carries many conversions.
There Are Clues In Google’s Search Console
In the left hand navigation of Google’s Search console, you can find “Links”. If your main navigation is on every page of the website, you’ll see those pages represented first.
You want to look for pages that are becoming less important for your site that make it in the Top Internal Linked pages. If the content is not core to your business purpose, it is taking up search engines crawl time when they revisit. If a link needs to persist on all pages, like “Support”, depending on importance you may be able to put it in the footer of the site.
Compile what you’ve learned from analytics, clearly understand the behavior of your existing users on the website. Visit your competitor’s websites. Take note of their main navigation and consider industry terms between them for your navigation text. Look at how they may present (or call out) key features of the website, such as Request for Quote button or Directories and Single topic site searches.
Ball up everything you’ve learned and make that happen.
How Do Search Engines Use A Site’s Main Navigation?
When a search bot crawls a website, they may read the sitemap first. A sitemap is a file on a website that lists out the most important pages. It’s usually unseen by site viewers. Though, it’s the first step in declaring what is important to the site.
Once the crawler is on your site, the main navigation links are the first urls that search engines will come across. As a main navigation is most often attached to each page of a website, that proliferation of internal links across the site tells search engines that these are the most important topics and everything beyond that supports those topics.
This is where a Search Engine Optimized navigation can give a lift in ranking results. Rather than a main navigation item for “Welding”, a more descriptive term would be “Industrial Welding” for manufacturers and “Underwater Welding” for companies who fix bridges, oil rigs and dams. The differences in these types of welding practices are clear and for search engines to index better, using more descriptive terms should tip the scale in your favor.
Good Luck With Your Website Redesign!
The usability of a website is important for finding information, a clear path for converting and for search engine indexing. Constructing a site navigation that can balance the user needs vs search engine algorithms is the first step in creating a website that benefits visitors, owners and your best free publicity, the search engines.