September 2009

Website Menus

A website menu is considered the most important element in website navigation. If the menu system on the website is not user-friendly, you will lose visitors very quickly.

Consider this. When you go shopping at one of the larger shopping centers for the first time, you won’t know where to go to shop for what you wanted. Unless you are the adventurous type, you will look at the large sign at the entrance that shows the shopping center layout to find out where to go.  You know the one that says, “You are here”.  Your website has to operate under the same idea. They must know all the time where they are while on your website.

Website visitors are usually those who are just browsing, and those looking for something specific. When the website is opened, the first thing they will do is look for the menu. Keep in mind that visitors usually will spend just seconds on a website looking for something they wanted. If the visitor has a difficult time finding the main menu in just those few seconds, you may lose them, possibly forever. It is always easy to remember those websites that were hard to use. (Remember the old saying about “first impressions”?)

There are horizontal, vertical, side, top, bottom, drop-down, sliding, and many other types and configurations of menus. We aren’t going to say any particular type is best because website content and design should dictate the best menu system. For brevity, however, here is a list of our ideas about menus:

1. They should be easy to locate and easy to read. Those flashing, exploding, floating, or framed menus may not only be irritating but are rarely indexed by search engines.

2. With your menu, visitors should be able to go to any page from any page. Remember that visitors do not always get to your website from the main page.

3. Menus should never drop down or slide out so much that the website content is covered up. If there are that many pages, consider a combined vertical and horizontal menu system.

4. The layout should be such that the visitor does not have to keep clicking through to get to the part they are interested in. Good website design means minimum clicks and won’t aggravate or lose the visitor.

5. From a design standpoint, the color and style of the menu should complement the website, not make it look out of place.

6. Numbers 1 through 5 above apply to sub-menus as well. Sub-menus, from drop-downs, slide-outs, etc., should meet the same standards as your main menu system.

Obviously this list is not all inclusive. There are many factors involved with menu systems on websites. Just like the website itself, the elements of design, colors, and operation of menus are just as critical in keeping those visitors.