1. Make Intuitive and Accessible
People are now spoiled and expect information to be quick and easily accessible. Unrealistic expectation? Of course not, just make sure you know your audience and your navigation is intuitive and accessible. Perform some usability testing to confirm your navigation is obvious and easy to use.
2. Name and Position Elements Carefully
Got problems trying to figure out whether or not users will understand your categories and taxonomies? Use OptimalSort to determine the best way to structure your navigation. Make sure you stay within the context of usage and your site pages. Also be sure to avoid jargon or vernacular that might confuse your users. Be concise and specific, not vague and miscellaneous.
3. Consistency is King
Primary navigation should be site-wide. If you are inconsistent with your navigation across your site, then users will probably have the tendency to assume they’re looking at a new and different set of navigation links. Ensure navigation is on all pages … remember guideline #1, accessibility and consistency walk hand in hand. Don’t force users to return to previous pages or the homepage in order to access different site sections.
4. Clarify in order to Simplify
Less is more. Too many main navigation links can overwhelm users. Keep main navigation links to 6 or 7 at most if you can. Are there exceptions to the rule? Always make sure you’re well informed of the rules before you start breaking them. Try to keep sub-navigation from becoming too muddled as well. Again, use OptimalSort card sorting as a way to determine what you need and don’t need. Reduction is one of the best ways to achieve simplicity.
5. Keep it Flexible
Navigation is unique to each individual website and should be designed as such. If you have international users, be mindful of their needs and expectations as well. Don’t just go out and try to match what your competitor’s are doing. Design for your users.