There’s no place like home! But not your home page.

I recently helped an artist create a new website. It was time for her to have something that was mobile friendly and easy to navigate. It was also time for me to get my hands dirty and start helping people with websites again.

In fact, I just started a new site for a local politician, but that’s a whole different can of worms! Really a different set of rules for that world. Just trying to set up the donations button is a nightmare of special “political regulations” so, yes, I know: the donation button is not working… YET!

One of the parts of creating a site that can be deceivingly hard is the menu or navigation bar. Fresh off these experiences, I decided to share some of the best practices.

The Menu! It’s a pretty simple concept and yet…many fail at this important marketing opportunity.

People often take the menu for granted. I do website testing for a great online service and I also do private web reviews for clients. Surprisingly, I often see really crazy mistakes or total oversights.

I want you to avoid some common traffic killers. The top four tips involve placement, label protocols, creating a proper order, and making sure you deliver on your promise.

1. Be careful to use only traditional placement

Most modern websites use coding and templates that won’t let you mess this up, but someone who knows code could move a menu to an unexpected location. Visitors expect your menu on the top or on the left side. You don’t have “time” to educate people who find your site. Keep this simple and put your menu where eyeballs are searching. And if you have a site that allows for a footer (the bottom space like you see on my site) then by all means put in the most relevant pages there, too. That’s also where you can put “Non-essential” pages, like Press, Policies, or Shipping Information.

2. Avoid Generic Labels

A navigation menu starts with usability. The page labels are marketing opportunities. If you use the “template” descriptions for words for a menu, you will lose a percentage of interest instantly and fight for clicks to every page. Home, About, Blog, Contact, Products, Services, Shop, Shipping, FAQ’s, News, and Policies are just a few examples of lack-luster generic words that don’t invite investigation or solicit curious clicks.

Let’s say you are a foodie/chef who sells cook books and maybe a few kitchen tools, or spices. You might consider: The Busy Chef Blog, Equipment Recommendations, Shop Our Ingredients, Easy Recipes, Kitchen Tool Reviews. Foodie News, and Contact the Chef.

Note: Not all the categories from the generic list are even included in this example. No reason to have a policy page or services, right?

Home – or in my case on this site, “welcome” – can be left off entirely. It’s not unusual for the Icon or Brand to be linked back to the home page. Some people actually have their Blog as their “home” page. And remember: you don’t need to have all your links in your emails, social media posts, or profiles all go to your home page. If you tweet about a new cookie recipe, set the link to land on that recipe! (Or new painting, or new blog post. Home pages are not the go-to.)

Take a look, if you haven’t yet, at the two websites I just helped create. The navigation is very different in each case. The artist, Susan Klinger VS the politician, Hana Steel. Keep it interesting and relevant so you are always answering the question(s) they bring with them to your site.

Using more descriptive names in menus is also good for search engines. The navigation bar is one of the most important places to indicate relevance to search engines. No one is searching for “products” or “services,” so navigation with these labels isn’t helping you rank.

It’s Good for visitors, too. A button that says “what we do” doesn’t say what you do. Back to the example foodie site, Easy Recipes is much more enticing than, “services” or “what we share”. Although it clearly tells a visitor where to learn more, it doesn’t communicate instantly. If your navigation labels name your main products or services, it will be obvious, at a glance, what your company does. You can save them clicking something just to figure out what it is and possibly reduce your bounce rate (people leaving your site) when your menu labels say it all up front.

One of the things that is common with artists is using the word “gallery”. However, I just saw a restaurant using that term. I clicked and it was pictures of their food and restaurant. That should have said, Photos or even Dining Photos. With artists, I often see, Gallery 1, Gallery 2, and so forth. Look at how I emphasized the actual mediums for the art site of Susan Klinger.

Just try to imagine who might land on your site and what they most want to experience. The labels will begin to flow. If not, look around at your industry Big Dogs and see if they are using labels that can work for your site.

3. Getting the Order Wrong

We pay closer attention to the first one or two items on any list, including a menu. We give more weight and attention to the last item, too. In addition, we lose interest after seven items. So if you want people to go to your blog (and that is really a great place to begin a relationship), it should be first or second on the navigation bar. It’s a best practice to put your contact page at the very end. That’s another traditional placement norm.

And really consider using less menu items. Having more than seven items in your menu is over-kill. Sub-menus will take care of more details as needed.

The less pertinent pages should be lumped into the middle. People will look them over, but their instincts are to do one of two things: learn more about what you might be able to do for them (what’s in it for them) and learn more about you or your company so they can assess if you are someone they are willing to invest time (to read your blog or other information you offer) or spend money with.

4. Making it Match. Keeping the promise of the label

If you point them to a page about recipes, or landscaping awards, or hours of operation, that page needs to be about that subject. If you complicate the page with a lot of stories about how you met the chef at the top restaurant in San Francisco and relay all kinds of stories about your meal and your visit to the city under a label called Famous Recipes, you are not giving them what they came for.

Save that interesting story (which they might really love to read about) for your blog. Tell the story or show the information that matches the label. People are mostly in a hurry. And whether they are or not, they think they are. They click on “Famous Recipes” to see recipes. The average time spent on a web page is about 13 seconds. Give them the recipe. Have a LINK to the story of the meeting with the chef and drive traffic to your blog. If they like the recipe, and they like the idea of reading more, they will make the commitment. If you try to force information on them they didn’t expect or weren’t looking for on that page, they will feel “used” or just leave your site because it’s not about them.

The one exception to a menu on every page – the “landing page”

The Landing Page or Sales Page (sometimes called the squeeze page) is a very different beast with a totally different purpose for our sites. Sometimes, you need total control over a page on your site. You have given the world an option to buy something. You want ZERO distractions. You want total focus to give the visitor details about an offer you have announced.

The announcement may be in an email, social media posts, or even from a page on your website. This Landing Page has no links – no menu. It’s a stand-alone page that usually only has one link out and that is directly to a shopping cart.

I have a sales page on this server/site. It’s actually a bit of an anomaly because it only acts as a sales and information sheet for an organization I recently collaborated with to sell a very specific item with very specific conditions. They were given most of the information in an email so this is a “continuation” for those who click-through to the page. But this basic page and structure can be “re-purposed” and used to send people directly to a shopping cart just as easily.

You have been on many such pages in your surfing history online. You may not have realized that was what you were on at the time, but now I hope you will pay closer attention. I will blog someday soon about how to create a strong and effective landing page, so stay tuned. It’s a TRULY essential marketing tool. We cannot look someone in the eyes online. This is as close at it gets to drilling down to the details and giving them the final “pitch” to purchase.

But for now, take a close look at your site’s navigation structure, How you have labeled your pages? I would love to see your feedback, and would love to help you create a better menu, too. Send me links to your site!

Get your thoughts into the comments area and let’s do some brainstorming!
And share this if you ever see a website that confused or frustrates you!