A well-structured and user-friendly menu can make or break the user experience on your website. As a content manager, your job is to create a menu that allows people to easily find what they are looking for.

In this post, I share some best practices for creating effective website navigation. A well-thought-out menu enhances user experience which also helps you meet your website goals.

Website Menu Tips & Tricks

1. Take Inventory

Start by looking at the pages on your website. Are they organized in hierarchically? The most important pages should be at the top level and subpages beneath.

In cms or framework, you can view your page hierarchy with our Dyanamic Listing tool. (Go to Pages > Audit your Pages in the left-hand nav of your site when logged in)

2. Define Your Website’s Structure

Next, it is time to make sure you have a clear understanding of your content and site structure. Begin by identifying the main sections or categories your website will have. For example, these could be things like About Us, Programs, Services, News, and Contact. The goal is to create a logical and organized hierarchy of information.

When organizing your content, decide what is the most important information. Then work your way down. This will help you figure out what should be at the top level of your menu, and what should be nested below at the second or third level.

3. Keep your Visitors Top of Mind

Who is your main audience? Gear your navigation towards them. What are they doing when they come to your site? Think about navigating your site from their perspective. Are key things apparent and easy to find? Can you simplify even more?

Use card sortingto help get in the mind of your visitor. This is a user-experience research method that involves sorting content items into categories. This reveals patterns in how users think about information.

4. Prioritize Content

Once you have your main sections in mind, it’s time to prioritize your content. Decide which sections or pages are the most important and should be prominent. These will form the top level of your navigation menu.

Following, are some of the critical pages typically found on Carleton sites. But note, your priorities may vary based on your website’s goals and content:

  • About
  • Programs
  • Future Students
  • Current Students
  • Research
  • News & Events
  • Contact

5. Keep it Simple

Avoid overwhelming your visitors with too many menu items. Limit the number of main menu options to around 5-7 items based on importance. Too many choices can confuse users and lead to choice paralysis.

Note: Our new web theme will feature top navigation. It will be important not to have a super long menu as this prime real estate is limited.

Group sub-menu items under main headings to make it intuitive. For example, on Web Services we have:

  • Talks and Workshops
    • Web Wednesday Workshops
    • Coffee Break Events
    • Training

6. Pay Attention to Order

Put the most important items first and last. According to the primary and recency effect, users remember (or notice) the first and last items the most.

Put the most important items at the start of your nav, and the least important in the middle. We recommend putting Contact at the end (or far right in a top nav), a standard location.

7. Choose Labels

Use short, clear link labels. Don’t use jargon or unfamiliar terms. What makes sense to your user? By default, WordPress takes the page name for the menu label but you can change it. For example, if your page is called “Events for Health Science Students” you can change the menu label to “Student Events” or simply “Events.”

The goal is to make it as easy as possible for your site visitors to know what they are going to get when they click a link.

8. Get users to do Something

While most of your menu is object-based (kind of like a table of contents) you may also have some action-based items. For example, a place students can click to “Apply.” Consider using a special nav item for Calls to Action (CTAs) that make them stand out. for example, this could be a button on the left-hand nav bar in our cms template (see “Get Support” on the left of this site) or at the top right in our new theme.

9. Monitor and Adjust

Once your menu is live, continue to monitor user behavior and gather feedback. Ask users what they think. Analyze interactions with your navigation menu using Google Analytics. Make adjustments based on user preferences and your evolving content and site needs.

Great Menu Examples from Around Carleton

Need help with your menu?

Get in touch with us!