I am a card-carrying member of the people watching club.
Specifically, I like watching people solve problems. My favorite place to indulge my fascination is the gate at the airport when people disembark from their flight.
First I watch people greet their families. Although post 9/11 airport security has made the family homecoming scene a memory, I still love seeing the “I’m home” look of contentment on people’s faces.
Second, I enjoy watching people orient themselves in new surroundings as they try to figure out what to do next. Almost everyone quickly looks up when they leave the jetway hunting for the airport’s “navigation bar”.
You can tell right away if the airport got it right. Their arriving passengers efficiently slide into the flow of traffic without missing a beat.
The airports that get it wrong usually have frustrated passengers furiously scanning multiple signs while bumping into other passengers.
Interestingly, the same scene unfolds every time a new reader visits your blog.
What Your Navigation Should Do
Your new readers arrive at your blog and immediately try to figure out what to do next. Many will dive into your blog post. Others will try to get a feel for the place.
Overall your navigation has two functions.
First, your navigation should direct brand new readers to pages that will orient and introduce them to the experience they will have on your blog.
Second, your navigation should offer options for enhancing your reader’s time on your blog. Your goal is to lead your readers to new content that complements your blog posts. Links to tightly focused Expert Product landing pages are also an excellent addition.
First time casino goers quickly realize that it’s extremely difficult to find directions for getting “OUT” of the casino! Your blog navigation works the same way. Every link should open another door to more interaction with your blog. That’s why I recommend never using your navigation to lead readers off of your blog.
How to Tweak Your Navigation Bar
Let’s talk about some specific steps you can make now.
1) New Here? Start Here.
I’m not sure who get’s credit for this best practice but it works. Adding a “New Here” page and button to your navigation lets your reader know where to get an introduction to your blog. Place this button prominently in your navigation bar. The New Here page can include your Big Idea and introductory posts that readers would find helpful.
2) Place Important Links Front and Center
Most navigation bar span the entire page horizontally. My testing shows that placing important items in the center of the navigation bar attracts more clicks. Review your current navigation and decide which item you want to give the most attention, then move its position to the center.
3) Limit Drop Down Menu Items
Research shows that the more options a person has the less likely they are to choose one. Busy, time-starved visitors don’t want to search through 3-level navigation schemes. One level of drop-down navigation with 2-3 additional items should be the maximum for your blog navigation.
4) Avoid One Word Buttons
Readers want to know what’s “behind the button”. One navigation labels like “Cool”, “You”, “Tips” are too vague. When naming your navigation items, look for ways to describe what the user will see when they click the button. In many cases, it makes sense to limit the number of buttons to get space for more descriptive labels.
5) Make your Navigation Stand Out
I’ve run dozens of heat map tests to find the best position for the primary navigation bar and every test shows that placing navigation directly below the header works best. Also, changing the color of a button when a person hovers their mouse pointer over it helps the bar stand out.
Don’t Spend Too Much Time on This
Tweaking your blog navigation is definitely a “blog hygiene” item. Don’t obsess over this. Make your changes and watch your tracking information. Further refine your navigation if you aren’t getting the results you need. It’s an iterative approach that will take a little time to get right.
The sick thing is that I could write another 1,000 words on this subject (and I do). So, if you have any questions about your navigation bar, put them in the comments section below.