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Written by Finn Ruijter, 14 January 2021

Creating website navigation structure: Tips and tricks

It’s probably happened to you before. You land on a website where you can’t find what you’re looking for. This is a major irritant for many visitors. In such a case, the website’s navigation structure was not well thought out during design. Yet many people underestimate the impact of a poor navigation structure. It’s not just annoying for visitors: Google doesn’t like ambiguity either. A website additionally performs worse with respect to conversions and visitor numbers. It literally causes you to miss out on customers. So plenty of reasons to think about creating a good navigation structure for a website.

What is a website navigation structure?

The navigational structure of your website reflects the overview: it is the way the website is structured. An important part of this is the main menu, a breadcrumb trail, the footer and the search bar. These are parts of the website that help visitors get to the right page. Among other things, this navigation affects search engine optimization (SEO) and conversion rate optimization (CRO). Because if users do not land on the right page, fewer conversions will come from it and Google will find the page less suitable.

Start with the target audience

To determine a good navigation structure, you need to know who the visitors are. The question is: what is the target audience and what are they looking for? One pitfall is to set up the website from the eyes of the company, when you are not the user of the website. So it is important is not to just make assumptions. Want to know what your target audience cares about and what you are found on? Use data from Google Analytics, for example. View demographics, visitor flows and best-visited pages. Take these dates into account when deciding which pages will be in the main menu.

The purpose of the website

Whatever the goal of your website is, as many visitors as possible should complete this goal. For example, a Web site may be intended to inform, to sell products or to attract new employees. The navigation structure should be in line with the purpose of the website and should serve the corresponding target audience. By maintaining a good structure, you take visitors by the hand through the website to the end goal. This is how users find what they are looking for. In addition, visitors immediately get a good idea of the entire website and know what else to find.

For large, informative Web sites, it is good to incorporate the user’s search query into a navigation item. This is how a website with a lot of information gets a clear structure. The website of the Municipality of Tilburg is an informative site and directly displays residents’ search requests.

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Navigational structure categorization

A clear site structure helps Google understand the content on your website. By building a tree structure, it is possible to distinguish between main themes (pillar pages) and sub-themes (landing pages). By categorizing the entire structure, you build a clear tree structure, making it clear that the pages in the top category are more important than those in the bottom category. That’s how you distinguish main points from side points for both visitors and search engines.

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The distinction between the most important pages and the less important pages should also be evident from the main menu. Not every page of your website should be reflected in the menu. Provide a simple and clear selection of main topics. A menu structure often has two layers: the main menu and the informational menu.

Main menu

The main menu contains all the pages that are very important for the purpose of the website. So these pages contribute directly to your sales or conversion goals. Put in here the most important services or products and the most compelling pages about the company. These pages are prominent so visitors are more likely to land here. Google also places more value on pages that are in the main menu.

Our recommendation is to place a maximum of six items in the main navigation menu (excluding the home and contact buttons). All these items should make sense from an SEO point of view: the most important topics for the company should be found by search engines in the menu. Other themes you can complete through landing pages.

A good structure is a combination of an external point of view and an internal point of view. By this we mean that, first of all, it is important what information the target audience is looking for and in what way they are looking for it. In addition, it is good to consider which pages are important to the business itself.

Informational menu

This top menu is above the main menu and contains pages that are less important for the purpose, but convenient for visitors to display. You can think about the job page, contact page, customer service pages or frequently asked questions. It is also possible to incorporate this section into a dropdown menu, in addition to the main menu.

An example of a good menu structure is a main menu focused on the target audience: here are solutions to questions they have. A dropdown menu displays services of the company. Both menus use relevant keywords and are thus search engine optimized.

Menu structure of red cross website

In summary, your goal is to design a website so that the content is properly categorized, aligning the needs of both visitors and the needs of the business with the goals of the website. Here it is important to take into account how the target audience looks for information and exactly what information they are looking for.

Navigation structure is customizable

A navigation structure is customizable in a web design. It is possible to measure website performance after going live and see if the navigation structure is generating conversions. It is possible to then, using data, optimize the structure. Specific underexposed SEO topics you can then supplement via landing pages. Need help defining or implementing a good navigation structure? We are happy to think with you.