Navigation, WordPress and SEO
You know how to get from A to B on your website but does your customer? This article will help you to point your visitors (and search engines) in the right direction rather than leave them wandering around a labyrinth.
Here's what we will cover...
- Navigating WordPress: The basics
- The case for multiple menus
- Are dropdown menus a good idea?
- Categories and tags
- Navigation through links
- Mobile navigation
- Navigating WordPress ecommerce sites
Navigating WordPress: The basics
The essence of website navigation is simple: you want your visitors to take the shortest pathway to the content they are looking for. Providing an effective menu can be harder than it seems though, especially with larger sites or when creating menus for mobile displays or ecommerce stores.
When designing your website’s menu, it is best not to stray too far from the basic structure that works well for the majority of WordPress websites. This comprises a fixed navigation bar running across the top or down the left-hand side of every post and page. This bar usually displays the main menu which is divided into a number of links to important pages.
For larger sites, the menu may include categories and perhaps subcategories to further organise posts and pages. Category headings can be linked directly to landing pages or may bring up a dropdown menu when clicked or hovered over.
This structure is easily created via the WordPress ‘Menus’ page and we can take you through how to do this on our upcoming WordPress Training Course.
So far so good. But what if your website contains a large amount of content and more categories than you can comfortably fit onto your navigation bar? How do you avoid cluttering your pages or affecting search engine optimisation (SEO).
A search engine robot will only spend a limited time crawling a website and you want to ensure they use that time indexing your most important pages and posts.
The case for multiple menus
Most WordPress themes do not limit you to a single menu which means you have the option to create multiple menus if you so wish. If you have more than seven links on your main menu, it is time to start considering alternatives.
One popular design is to have a prominent main menu featuring links to popular pages with a second, less obvious menu situated above the first. This is often used for membership sites and may contain links for account log-in and management.
Another common area for a secondary menu is on the footer. Most WordPress themes contain widget areas on the footer making it simple to place additional menus here.
Unless you are running a blog, it is normally best to avoid archive menus. These can become distracting and take up valuable space for limited value. Even if you do run a blog, it is usually better to replace archive menus with scrolling excerpts of your most recent posts.
Are dropdown menus a good idea?
There is some debate over the value of dropdown menus. Some sources recommend you avoid them because they annoy users and take their attention away from your main landing pages. On the other hand, if you have a lot of content, it is difficult to make this visible without dropdown menus.
The choice is ultimately a personal one but we do recommend limiting how deep your dropdown menus go. If you are presenting more than two options per link, you might be best grouping pages into categories and placing links to pages and subcategories on the category landing page.
Categories and tags
WordPress provides two main structures for organizing post-type content: hierarchical (categories) and non-hierarchical (tags). One default category is automatically set up but you can set up as many as you want and then use these categories to filter content in various ways, including adding the categories to your menus. Again, we can take you through how to do this on our upcoming WordPress Training Course
Tags are optional and mostly relevant if your customers are likely to browse your website for information on topics of interest.
For both categories and tags, it is best practice to limit them to a small number. Giving viewers too many options can cause them to lose focus and can also harm SEO. Therefore, avoid long lists of categories and features such as ‘tag clouds.’
Navigation through links
Another form of navigation in WordPress is through standard hyperlinks between pages. Again, these should be used sparingly. Think of your user’s attention span as a limited resource; the more clickable items you provide for them, the more likely it is they will be distracted from their main purpose.
The number of smartphones worldwide is predicted to reach 3.8 billion by 2021. As smartphones increasingly become the most popular way to view web content, designing navigation for small screens has to be a priority.
Fortunately, most responsive WordPress themes automatically serve an alternative menu for mobile devices. Often these make use of icons such as the ‘hamburger menu,’ a series of three horizontal lines, and three dots or a cog for settings.
Navigating WordPress ecommerce sites
Ecommerce business owners often have thousands of products in dozens if not hundreds of categories. This poses a unique challenge when it comes to navigation. Features which can help to improve user experience on such sites are mega menus and filters.
Mega menus are organised panels which usually drop down when a user hovers over an option on the navigation bar. Filters enable users to customise their options by buyer intent. For example, on a clothes store they might select a category, price range and size.
Mega menus and filters can be added to WordPress as plugins, often in addition to the popular Woocommerce ecommerce plugin.