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How Visitor & Spider-friendly is your Website Navigation?

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A visitor and spider-friendly web site navigation system is one of the most important, yet misunderstood aspects of competent web design.

It allows visitors easy access to every part of your site, while providing search engine spiders with a path to index it comprehensively.

Without clear-cut, easy-to-use navigation between your site’s categories and pages, visitors will soon become frustrated and decide to leave your site in search of something worthwhile.

But it’s not quite as simple as that.

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Functional Website Navigation is a Question of Balance...

While some approaches may give visitors the functionality they are looking for, they may as well be invisible as far as search engines are concerned.

For instance, if a site’s internal links make use of JavaScript or Flash, most search engines simply cannot decipher, categorize, or even follow them, although Google has been able to read Flash to a certain degree for some time. Consequently, if you are using either of the above two for your site’s main navigation system, you would be well advised to supplement this with a full set of text-based hyperlinks to your website's main categories on each page.

The same applies if you are using an image based navigational system, since picture links are not assigned the same relevance as text by search engines, simply because a search engine is actually unable to ascertain what an image link is actually about, especially if that image does not have an alt-attribute specified in its HTML tag.

There are few things that irritate visitors more than having to hunt for a web site's navigation system.

When designing a site, ensure that all navigational links are placed where visitors will expect them. Although hiding your links within a graphic or, better still, putting them in the bottom right-hand corner of the page in a really small font on a multicoloured background, may seem like a new and interesting way of handling web site navigation, it does absolutely nothing to improve your visitor’s disposition towards your site.

If it doesn’t do what it says on the Label, visitors become annoyed.
When confronted with a link labelled ‘Home Page’ the reader (quite rightly) expects to be taken to your web site’s homepage. By sending them off, accidentally or purposely, to another part of your web site (even if this is your best sales page), you are vastly reducing the chances of them making a purchase from your site, since aggravated visitors are rarely inclined to buy things.

This may seem like obsolete advice

But you may be surprised about how many companies (sometimes even international brands such as Casio) will launch web sites which require a concerted effort by Alan Turing and Salvador Dali to unravel their navigational mysteries.

Lastly, as we’ve stated before elsewhere in our web design articles, be sure to provide an HTML sitemap, as this presents both visitors and search engine spiders with a sure-fire means of finding all your website's pages, should your website navigation system fail.

XML sitemaps can also be important when trying to get Google's attention. Contact us for details.

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