When it comes to designing websites one thing that really irks me is menu items. People for some reason think it is necessary to add every page from their website into the menu. Even worse, every sub page is part of a drop-down, creating this epic menu.
This is all wrong.
Menus should be simple
Website menus should be simple and elegant. Your visitors are not familiar with your content. Your menu items need to serve as the compass to take them where they need to be.
If you ever go to a restaurant with my wife you will understand just how frustrating too many menu items can be. When there are too many menu items she takes forever to decide. I have seen this cause her to stress and get anxious. The worst part, she often makes the wrong choice. After ordering I hear comments like “I am not really sure if that is what I wanted…”
Ok, that is a different kind of menu but the philosophy is the same. When someone is faced with too many choices they get overwhelmed.
People hate to be overwhelmed. Its a horrible feeling, right up there with being scared or angry. When people get overwhelmed they often chose the easiest thing, nothing. When it comes to website visitors if they are presented with too many choices they will often hit the back button.
You don’t want this, it’s called a “bounce” and you should avoid them if you can.
Simplifying makes choices easier
My wife recently has started eating gluten free. She has to do this for health reasons and besides being healthier it has made eating out at restaurants a lot easier.
She doesn’t have many choices.
When we get to the restaurant she asks for the gluten free menu, sits down, and makes her choice. Its a more limited selection which makes choosing easier. No anxiety, no stress. Just a good time with good people.
That is the way you want visitors to feel when they visit your website.
Common menu mistakes
1. Too many options:
As I said in the example with my wife, when you give too many options you make people feel uneasy, they get overwhelmed, and then they pick the wrong one. Make it simple.
Only put menu items in your main menu that are absolutely necessary.
Think from the website visitors perspective. What would they be looking for?
Some common items that people are going to be looking for are: an about page, a way to contact you, your blog, and some information about your services. These are just some of the most common. Your industry might be different.
The point is, don’t put items into your menu just to have enough to make it look good. Only have menu items that make sense and are actually helpful to a user.
2. Drop Downs:
Everyone thinks a website should have at least one drop-down menu. They are wrong. If you have multiple drop-down items, you are over complicating things.
Just because you can add sub menu items which causes a drop-down menu, doesn’t mean you should.
If you are going to add drop-down menu items, make sure they make sense and are in a true hierarchy. You will notice on my site I have a services menu item with sub items of website reviews, website in a week, and custom websites. I am doing this to give the visitor an instant snapshot of the services I offer, not because it is cool.
A visitor could click on my services menu item and learn more about all the services I offer, or if they see what they are looking for in the drop-down, they select that specific service. This saves them clicks and time, which visitors love.
The worst kind of drop-down menu is when your main menu item is not clickable. It only is there to show a sub menu. This is confusing to visitors and will cause major navigation issues. When people get frustrated with your website you know what they do?
They hit the back button. We don’t want that, remember?
Stop having ghost menu items that are only there for drop downs.
3. Long Menu Items:
Again with the keep it simple mentality. There is no need to call your about page menu item “about my super awesome company”. About will do the trick.
If you can make the menu item shorter and still have it make sense to the visitor, do it. A good rule of thumb is to keep it 1-2 words max.
Time to optimize those menus!
Now that you know how to optimize your menu and create the best user experience, do it! Take a long hard look at your menu items and decide which ones are needed. Cut down the number of words used for each menu item, and get rid of as many drop-down menus as you can. Your website and visitors will thank you for it!
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Have a question about menus? Leave it in the comments, ill help you out 🙂