Consistency of style, design and navigation are crucial. Inconsistent design and navigation confuses and frustrates users. Even experienced users give up quickly when it becomes too difficult or confusing to find the wanted information. Users should always be able to know where they are within the site and be able to easily find back to a top-level page.
Especially people with learning difficulties or memory problems will benefit from consistency.
In 'Don't make me think', Steve Krug suggests that navigation should answer the following questions:
- What site is this?
- What page am I on?
- What are the major sections of this site?
- What are my options at this level?
- Where am I in the scheme of things?
- How can I search?
Be consistent in the presentation of site navigation, i.e. position on page and link colours.
Avoid graphics as navigational links, unless a text equivalent is provided.
Every page should have a link to the homepage, preferably in the upper left corner.
Group related links.
Using so-called 'breadcrumb trails' ensures that users don't get lost. They represent a way up the hierarchical structure of a site. For example: Home > Main Section > Subsection > Current Page.
Provide links to the main sections of the site or a back-to-top link at the bottom of long pages.
Provide a sitemap / table of contents and search options, especially on large sites.
People who are confused by a site's structure or can't find what they are looking for on their first visit are unlikely to ever return to this site. Interfaces and site layouts have to be instantly and intuitively usable. This is why it is important and safe to stick to conventions, especially regarding the positioning of information on a page. These conventions have now turned into user expectations. Ignoring them can therefore quickly frustrate the visitor.
Some of these conventions are:
- The organisation's logo is usually placed in the top left corner of a page.
- Clicking on the logo will take the user to the homepage.
- Internal navigation is most commonly found on the left side of a page, external links on the right.
To learn more check out this information from an eye tracking study.
Some other conventions:
- The standard link colours are blue (link), purple (visited link), red (active link).
- The main link items should be repeated at the bottom of page.
- The date of the last update should be included, usually at the bottom of a page.
A list of relevant links can be found in the Resource section.