It’s easy to tell a poor web site from a good one. Just take a minute to look at the navigation.

Poor sites make it difficult for their visitors to find things. And the more difficult it is for someone to get around on your site, the more likely it is he will leave quickly.

You navigation system must be obvious and easy to use. An image-map is great if it is very well designed and loads quickly. Small buttons (images or java script) are good also. Text links are great (they load fast).

It’s common practice to line up the navigation along one side of the screen (usually the left although I’ve seen some good sites with the menus on the right).

If you are using Java or image based navigation (even simple buttons), be sure and include text links somewhere (usually on the bottom of the page). You don’t want people who have graphics turned off to leave your site.

The basic rule to follow is: keep it simple stupid. The KISS principle. Unless you have a very large site there is no reason to use anything complex and doing so will just increase your maintenance costs and turn away visitors.

Some important things to include in all navigation systems:

  1. Every page should include a link back to the home page.
  2. I would include an email link on every page to allow my visitors to easily communicate with me.
  3. Be sure to allow for non-java, non-ActiveX and non-image browsers.
  4. If you use an image-map make sure it’s fast loading and obvious.
  5. Dynamic HTML menu systems are great, but remember this is only supported by newer browsers.
  6. I love it when menu items change color as I move the cursor over them. It makes it easier to see what’s going on.
  7. Don’t use sound in menus at all. It’s annoying and turns away visitors very quickly.

Here are some of my personal pet-peeves about navigation.

  1. Strange, Java-based menu systems. Please, give me a break. Man, how to slow things down and make it obscure in one easy lesson. I was on a site the other day that had an expandable Java button which mushroomed out into a multi-level menu. The button also stayed in the exact same place on the screen regardless scrolling up or down. It was beautiful, and it was horribly annoying. I did what a lot of people probably do when they visit that site – I left.
  2. ActiveX based menu systems can be very, very fast and look very slick. But they use ActiveX, a technology which has many, many security holes (some real, some just perceived). ActiveX menu systems require scripting, which increases site maintenance costs. Also, because of the perceived security risks, many users will not use a site which requires an ActiveX control to be installed.