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7 Hacks for Designing a Great Website Navigation

You’re so close to finishing your website. The logo is done, the first few posts are prepped and ready for publishing, the whole site is looking stunning, but there’s still the question of the navigation bar.

Website navigation bar design can be overwhelming because you likely have a wide variety of content or products to feature. Understanding how to design the navigation bar is vital to creating the best user experience. 

Keep reading to learn 7 hacks for better website navigation bar design!


1. Limit Options

When people are presented with row upon row of menu options to choose from, they can feel a bit overwhelmed.

The best practice in website design is to limit the menu items that visitors can see before they hover or click.

Successful menus will generally be divided into 6 or 7 (at most) categories to choose from. A visitor should be able to look at the navigation bar options, decide which applies best to them, and then find more options once they navigate to a designated area. 

2. Design a Content Hierarchy in Your Menu

When you design your website, you should also put a great amount into designing a content hierarchy for your navigation bar. A content hierarchy is a way of organizing content or menu options that is logical to the visitor.

For example, if you have a website about clothing, it would make sense to divide the clothing by gender: Women, Men, Kids, Gender Neutral, etc.

Under each of these options, the visitor will expect to see more specific options. So under “Women”, a visitor will want to see women’s pants, dresses, tops, etc. They wouldn’t expect to find men’s suits. 

While this is pretty cut and clear for clothing websites, it can get a bit fuzzier with different types of websites or blogs. A great way to find out what people think is logical navigation is to ask friends and family, which elements they would expect to find under a certain menu item. 

 3. Don’t Forget the Bottom Navigation Bar

Don’t forget your bottom navigation bar! Also known as a footer, this bar won’t have the exact same menu options as your main navigation bar, but it’s an opportunity to make the user experience smoother for your visitor.

The bottom navigation bar is a great place to add contact info or forms, direct visitors to your disclosure or affiliate policy, and have copyright information. 

Because the bottom navigation bar, or the footer, appears on every page, use it to your advantage! 

4. Use User-Friendly Language

Users shouldn’t have to guess what you’re talking about as they explore your navigation bar. Make sure that you’re writing below a 9th-grade reading level and that the words that you use aren’t only accessible to one dialect.

A “bubbler” to one person is a “water fountain” to another, so using language that is common will help users navigate your website.

5. Stick to a Conventional Navigation Bar

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. 

A conventional navigation bar features a horizontal bar with a variety of options, under which more options will unfold when clicked or hovered on. 

Users know how this type of navigation bar works, regardless of what website they’re on or even the language it’s in. By using a navigation bar like this, the user already has a sense of familiarity with the website.

The only time that a nonconventional navigation bar would be acceptable is generally for a website with a sole purpose. A big product launch or giveaway that has its own website might be worth using a unique navigation bar when people first go to the home page. 

6. Add a Search Bar

Perhaps one of the worst things that a user can experience related to website navigation is being unable to find something and also being unable to find a search bar for it. Most users will give up and go to a different website at this point. 

A search bar on your website is an absolute necessity! While you might not have room for it in your main navigation bar, having it slightly above is also a great option. You can also include a search bar in your sidebar for maximum ease of use.

7. Make It Mobile Friendly

A good portion of your users is likely going to be navigating to your website from their mobile devices. That means that your website navigation bar needs to be easy to use across all types of screens. 

Be sure to verify that your menu and all of the hierarchies appear as you would like them to on your mobile device. Keep in mind that the menu bar won’t look exactly the same, nor should it, on your mobile device as it does on your computer.

Generally, users will need to click the three little lines on their mobile devices to see the menu, which will then take up the full screen. Make sure that those three little lines are visible! Some websites might have them automatically set to the same color as the header so you will need to change that for it to be visible on mobile. 

Bonus: Link the Logo to the Home Page

Users are familiar with the idea that clicking on the logo of your page will take them back to the home page. Not having this as an option can lead to confusion or frustration, and users may simply decide to leave your website instead of having to type in your homepage again.

Keep it simple and familiar to users, and you’ll be well on your way to success!

Start Your Website Navigation Bar Design Today

Now that you know all about website navigation bar design, start brainstorming! Use an Excel sheet or a bulleted word document to start gathering ideas for your content hierarchy to ensure the best user experience. 

To keep learning more about website design, keep reading!

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