Explicit Links are the simplest navigation tool. Don’t mess with the default colourways and don’t use underlining for any other reason. Users are most familiar with this style and hence using it keeps your users in their comfort zone.
Yes, sometimes it clashes with your graphic design – choose: do you want a good-looking site or a useful site?
Google prefers that the text of the link relates to the words in the URL. Don’t say “Click Here”.
Taxonomic or Hierachial Menus allow for many pages. The top level should not have too many items – say 20. A depth of more than 3 tends to be too many – how many clicks do I need before I can see where I am going?
Such menus depend on the user understanding the implict structure of the domain. For example if I am looking for Dolphin and I click on Fish I will not find what I am looking for and I will think your site is useless. Be careful to use words which are generally well understood. Be aware that YOU may understand your domain but your users do not which is why they are looking on your website.
Sometime the more general category may have content so that it operates as a link to itself AND to more detailed content. So mouse-over and click are both functional but in different ways. We choose to repeat the higher level link while its lower levels are showing.
Use a symbol to show that this link has subordinate links.
SiteMaps are necessary. A Sitemap essentially shows all the pages. The simplest form is an alphabetical list of page titles. Avoid beginning page names with “The” – make sure the keyword appears first.
If presented as a diagram it will represent substantial overheads to maintain.
Google and some other search engines do not search too deep when pages appear to be lists of links.
You may choose to place your archived (old) pages in a separate page.
Search is a further important navigation aid.
If the site is modest in size (say less than 100 pages) then use simple left-hand stubs. Show about 65 characters of context in each result. We choose to show only the first context if the same word occurs multiple times on the same page.
Sometimes the Search control is placed separately from the menus – often at the top right in the banner area.
To address alternative terminology and alternative spelling options ensure that the page does contain such alternatives.
Functional links should be separated from navigational links.
We use Top, Back, Home, Print, Save, Email, WebMaster, Policies and Contact Us.
These are placed in a floating menu which is always across the bottom of all pages.
Breadcrumbs show what links from the homepage need to be clicked to get to the current page.
Breadcrumbs therefore coach a user on the menu structure.
Breadcrumbs are particularly important if the user may get to this page by another route – say a link provided by a pass-thru page or link in an email.
Special links may be set-up for returning users.
What’s New, Wishlist, Recent Purchases are examples of links which help users resume using your site.
Use Tiny Icons but only for well understood links.
Examples are Shopping Cart, New, Top, More, etc.
Image Links can be valuable. Ensure they always have mouse-over text.
Then ensure they always have Alt-text for use by search engines.
Websites are used in a Conversational Mode – not a high volume data entry mode.
The user expects confirmation that they made the right decision each time they click Submit. Show something that says that or clearly confirms the previous action.
It should also be clear what are the obvious choices of what to do next. But also indicate what are the most usual places to go next. Sign-Out indicates that the user can finish here.
WebStats should be available to the Site Administrator in particular so they can see if users are having navigation problems.
If users go back and forth between the same pages (and this is not normal) then they may be lost looking for where to go next. Watch Exit pages – do you expect users to exit from here?
In the early days of your site conduct Usability exercises where you watch a new user navigate your site for the first time. Ask them to keep saying out loud what they are doing and what are they looking for.