Website navigation and architecture is extremely important but planning this from scratch or making changes can seem like an arduous job, even if you have an existing website to draw from. Given that the architecture of a website serves an extremely important role in connecting users from landing pages to conversions, the job of planning main website navigation paths does need to be given the time and care it deserves.
Improving Existing Pathways
If you do have a website with data gathered to back up user experience and reactions (such as from the Google Analytics User Flow report), then you should use this data before making any changes or putting pen to paper to plan.
You need to confirm whether you can see defined movement behaviour, so really you want at least 1 full calendar months’ worth of data to review. From here, you’ll want to look at visits that resulted in conversions or transactions, to further understand the behaviour of those visitors when set against the visits that did not convert.
Once you have this data, you should be able to see a noticeable difference in the behaviour displayed between converters and non-converters. Common factors that lead to a conversion include onpage layout of CTAs, easily accessible contact options and the presence of related products or special offers, so if your visits that did not convert primarily visited pages where those elements were not present, this may be a clue as to why they did not convert, and how to alter the site navigation and layout to improve this.
You can also use the data from Google Search Console to look at internally linked pages to see which pages would benefit from more internal links to encourage click throughs.
Working with a heatmapping service will also help to understand user behaviour on the website, which in turn will help to understand where clicks take place, as well as mouse activity.
Doing this will back up your research from the Analytics data and confirm the main navigational areas that need attention.
Once you have this data, the most cautious route is to make any changes based on this in a development environment first and test them with a selected user base, or split test them on the live site, making sure the search engines can’t index any duplicate content. If you do make changes to the live site, make sure they are tested as soon as possible and keep an eye on your data gathering sources to see what impact has been had – and if it’s negative, don’t be afraid to roll back.
Starting from Scratch
This can be considerably harder than working with an existing website, especially for a new build. There is often little-to-no data to use and you have to rely on gut feeling and experience to try and form the best navigation pathways to launch the website with.
In this scenario, we’d recommend mapping everything out – either on paper or using a mapping program to build a site wireframe. From this you can then start to define page names, links, anchor text and so on, but it is important to ensure you stick to the plan you’ve made and not add new areas without mapping them first.
Once you have a website up in dev, you can start to test the pathways and navigation. Ask people within the organisation and externally to go in and start using the website, giving them defined tasks to gauge behaviour and reception. These could range from locating a specific page or product to completing a dummy transaction or filling in a form. Ask them to note down their thoughts, and any issues they encountered on their journey.
Refining the System
Use this data to refine the system you’ve built; feedback is the key to success after all. Make changes and test again. Do the users find their problems have been resolved or been compounded? Have new problems arisen in the meantime? We can’t emphasise enough the importance of testing the navigation of a website before it goes live, as it’s much better to test in development than for real with a potential customer base.
As above, once you have a live site, use the data being gathered on a daily basis to refine and make changes where necessary.