3 common navigation mistakes that hurt your website's conversion

Summary People won't use your website if they can't navigate it quickly. Here are 3 common navigation mistakes that hurt your website's conversion and how to fix them.

You're doing some work around the house, and suddenly you realize you need a specific tool to get the job done.

You hop into the car and drive to the local hardware store.

On the way there, you already start thinking: "hmmm, where will this item be located in the store?".

You arrive, you walk in, and take a quick look at the names above the aisles.

As soon as you see a general category that you think matches the tool you are looking for, you walk in the aisle and start looking.

A website isn't much different from a hardware store in that regard.

A visitor lands on your website with a specific question and starts scanning your website's navigation to quickly analyze where they'll find their information.

Is your website easy to navigate?

They'll locate the information they are looking for with ease.

Is your navigation bad?

They'll become frustrated, leave and tank your website's conversion rate.

In fact, 94% of consumers say your website must be easy to navigate. If it isn't, 38% of visitors will stop engaging with your site immediately.

So without further ado, here are the top 3 mistakes that hurt your website's conversion and how to fix them:

Mistake 1: hiding your navigation

A typical web design trend is to port over the well-known hamburger menu icon from responsive website designs to regular desktop versions. This hides your website navigation both on mobile and desktop devices.

A good idea?

Well. No.

Research (on desktop devices) shows that hiding your website's navigation negatively impacts user experience:

Discoverability is cut almost in half by hiding a website’s main navigation. Also, task time is longer, and perceived task difficulty increases.

Nielsen Norman Group

In other words: people don't use your website as much when they have trouble navigating it.

And that really shouldn't come as a surprise.

A website is, first and foremost, a utensil. People use it to find specific information. If you hide the navigation, you're stopping them in their tracks. You're giving them one more hurdle to overcome. And that ultimately lowers your chances of your visitor seeing more of your website's content.

How do you fix it?

This one is pretty obvious. Don't hide your navigation on desktops, and make sure your navigation is prominently visible at the top of your website. Only hide your navigation when it's essential (for example, small screen sizes like a smartphone).

Mistake 2: vague labels

Say you crave some corn to put in your salad. You go to the store and find the aisle with canned food. You suspect this to be easy: just look for a can with yellow cubes on it. But then you notice none of the cans have pictures on them.

You're forced to read every label to make sure you're buying corn.

What?

People have certain expectations of how canned corn will look like. And that's just the same for website navigation labels. There's a good reason why you see links like "Contact", "About us", or "Process" on a lot of websites. It's because those labels give a clear explanation of what that page will be about. You know what to expect.

If you start using 'creative' labels that aren't descriptive, there's a significant chance your user won't know what they'll get when they click that navigation item. Even if they have to think just a split second, you've created friction that lowers the chance of them diving deep into your website.

How do you fix it?

Make your navigation labels as descriptive as possible. Ask yourself: "Do I know what I'll get when clicking this link?". Ask someone who has no clue about your business, have them read your navigation labels, and ask them what they think will be shown when they click them.

This will make your navigation easier to use and will reduce friction.

Mistake 3: overwhelming with too many options

Imagine walking into a store looking for an eletrical toothbrush, only to be met with 50 different models. You'd probably feel pretty overwhelmed. "I just want a toothbrush man!".

That's exactly what many websites do. They fill their main navigation to the brim with all types of links which leads to choice overload. It hurts your website's conversion rate because it stops your users dead in their tracks, forcing them to sift through all types of irrelevant links.

How do you fix it?

Keep your navigation short and sweet. Ask yourself:

“What navigation items are truly essential?”. These are the pages that contain critical information. Without them, your visitor might miss essential information. Examples are:

  • About
  • Company
  • Portfolio
  • Products
  • Shop
  • Approach
  • ...

“What navigation items are nice to have?”. These are the pages that are useful but aren’t essential. They shouldn’t be at the fingertips of your audience at all times. Examples are:

  • Privacy policy
  • General terms and conditions
  • Press
  • Shipping
  • Costs
  • ...

Only keep the essential navigation items in your main navigation at the top of your website. You can always place the other links in a different menu, such as inside the footer area of your website.

"But what if I have too many essential navigation items?"

See if you can group the menu items to not only save space, but also make the navigation
seem less daunting. A typical example of this is to group a couple of services in a sub menu underneath "Services":

A screenshot of domotica.be's sub menu navigation

To summarize

  1. People won't use your website if they can't navigate it quickly.
  2. More hurdles equal less chance your user will use your website. Hiding your navigation adds one more hurdle. Don't do it when it isn't necessary.
  3. People have certain expectations of where they'll find information. Make your navigation labels as descriptive as possible to help them. Ask yourself: "Do I know what I'll get when clicking this link?"
  4. Too many options lead to choice-overload. Make sure your navigation is concise, clear, and has a logical division between essential and non-essential items to avoid overwhelm.
Maarten Van Herendael

Maarten Van Herendael

Maarten is Heave's founder. His passion is to help businesses like yours do great things with a website that looks better and sells more. You can find Maarten on LinkedIn.