Website Menu Navigation Basics | Help Your Users Find What They Need

8 min read


You might have all the information your website visitors could ever need, but it’s not much use if they can’t find it.

The internet brings the world to your website visitor’s fingertips. But beware of the ‘back’ button on their browser. If they aren’t confident you have what they need, they’ll look elsewhere.

Use content inventories to stay organised
Cluster menu items for your audience
A search bar that works is key
Use metadata to enhance UX

In today’s internet, even a niche business probably has at least a couple competitors online. While there are several things that might make your potential new client click away from your website, not being able to find things is a big one.

And this isn’t just a concern for businesses looking to sell a product or service. Government bodies and not for profit organisations are increasingly relying on digital methods to deliver more efficient services. If the people you’re helping can’t get what they need online – say renewing their driver’s license, or RSVP’ing for a volunteering event – they’ll turn to more traditional methods. And unlike a website, a phone call or an office visit will tie up one of your staff members entirely for its duration. 
We refer to this as making your website do more than look pretty, using digital transformation to your advantage, and most importantly being prepared for the future of technology. For many of our clients, this leads to reduced workload in the boring or routine tasks, and frees up employees to do the tasks they enjoy or provide a higher quality services elsewhere.

Being smart about your website information architecture and navigation is a crucial part of any digital strategy, but what does information architecture mean?

Put simply, information architecture is your method for categorising information (generally, webpages) on your site.

This is reflected in your navigation menu and sitemap. Additional navigation methods you can offer your visitors include website search, and tagging systems.

Before creating a new website, or re-developing an old one, you may want to create a content inventory. These are detailed lists expanding on the content you have (or plan to have) on your website. 

Content inventories typically include:

  • Title of the webpage
  • A line about its contents
  • Associated keywords and categories
  • Who ‘owns’ the content on that page within the business
  • When the page was last updated (where relevant)

Our techsplorers have even developed custom alerts where the website can remind a specific webpage owner or department to check and review a web page on a scheduled date (for example annually from date published or reviewed). This is particularly handy for ensuring compliance on government or not-for-profit websites as well as stopping your site content becoming old and un-loved.

Some content management systems (CMS) will be able to generate basic reports on your webpages, serving as an excellent base for your content inventory. Kentico, for instance, enables you to view and generate reports on the various analytical data of your site as a whole, in addition to individual pages, to pinpoint the areas of your site that are getting the most and least traction.

Content inventories also offer a great opportunity to talk with your webpage owners about the content they have online, whether it is still needed, if there is anything missing, and how often it should be updated going forward.

Once you know what content is going to be on your website, you can begin to plan your main navigation menu.

  • Alphabetical menus display webpages sorted by, as you might guess, the letters of the alphabet. This sort of menu can be useful when there is a consistent naming scheme that is already familiar to your audience. One example would be a glossary website, allowing visitors to browse words to look up their meaning. 
  • Audience-based menus group their content largely by who it is intended for. You’ll often see this method used on university websites, where pages are grouped depending on whether they are useful to prospective students, current students, or educators.
  • Task-based menus are focused on specific categories of tasks the website intends to facilitate. One example would be insurance company websites, whose main content categories are ‘Update my details’, ‘Make a claim’ and ‘Find my perfect cover’.
  • Organisational structure menus mirror a company’s existing structure. An example would be a company intranet where the business has elected to divide their content up between departments such as HR, Outreach or Business Systems. These structures can be useful in specific circumstances, but can be confusing for people outside the business in question.
  • Category-based menus use groupings specific to their audience and subject matter. An example of a category-based navigation menu would be for a recipe website that breaks their main menu items into ‘Breakfasts’, ‘Lunches’, ‘Dinners’ and ‘Snacks’.

We ran workshops at the City of Canning to help them understand and implement a smart menu navigation structure.

Internal workshops are a great way to uncover potential menu structures and find out what your team think is the most important information, be sure to include reception staff as they know what people are calling up and asking about (or can’t find on your website). Using site analytics also provides powerful insights such as popular landing pages and exit pages.  User testing is a great way to discover if your website navigation works the way you think.

Once you have decided on your website menu structure your CMS should provide a straightforward approach to get your menu looking the way you want. Alternatively, your website developers should be able to help. If you get stuck at this stage, your CMS doesn’t do what you want or you are frustrated with your web developer, let us know, we’re happy to help. Kentico offers a few out-of-the-box ways to implement even the most intricate of navigation structures and they can even be extended if your menu is especially complex. This being said, a pleasing and user-friendly menu structure isn’t the only way of assisting users to find what they are after.

Not all users will look to a navigation menu first, especially if they don’t immediately recognise a category of interest to them.

Offering alternate methods to browse your website such as search and page tagging can help your visitors along their journey.

If your website is larger than a handful of pages, offering a search bar can be a great help to your visitors. So long as it’s easy to find within a few seconds of scanning the page and actually works. And yep, you guessed it: Kentico also allows you to easily set up an intuitive and high-performance index-based site search solution that you can place where you want, our developers can jazz it up for additional functionalities required. When in doubt, a great default position for the search bar is generally the top-right-hand corner of the screen.

You may wish to add filtering options to your website search, particularly if your website has a large volume of content. Kentico offers a convenient way to customise filters to display all the types of content you want to appear, as well as hide anything you don’t. Because of the CMS’s smart design, you’re not restricted to enabling search in the one place. If you only want to allow certain products to be searchable in the store, and only documents after a certain date elsewhere on the site, you can do so. If the filtering system is too complicated for you or you want more or unique options, don’t worry, because due to the extensibility of Kentico, we have built our own filters that remove the complexity.

Page tagging and metadata can help with user experience.

Some websites will also benefit from using a tagging system. A general news website is a classic example. Someone might land on one of your articles via Google, then want to read additional articles about that specific topic. When your website covers many topics, tagging can assist readers to quickly find related articles, rather than making them scroll through multiple pages of a broader subject from the main menu. Assisting readers this way means they may stay to browse your material, rather than clicking ‘back’ to see what other websites have instead. Retention of these website visitors not only can make a huge difference to your earnings if your website relies on advertising, but also is a factor feeding into your ranking on Google’s search results. 

Kentico provides this tagging functionality too. By utilising tags via the CMS’s tag selector and tag groups, you can organise and homogenise corresponding documents with keywords of your choice that can help keep your users moving through your site. You can even filter search by these tags if you want the best of both worlds.

At Integranet Digital, we work closely with our clients to ensure their website supports their business needs, and this includes making sure your content is findable by your clients. Let us know what you would like to achieve with your website, and we will go the extra-mile to help you get the results you want.

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