by anthony on 09/29/11 at 7:40 am
Before you spend hours debating with your colleagues and clients on how your menus should look, there’s something you should know. Users spend more time with content navigation links than they do with menus. In fact, some users don’t even look at menus. What users look at is page content. And that’s where they often go to navigate.
One of the reasons users use content navigation links more than menus is because they’re more engaging and can take users on a journey of content they’re interested in. As users view page content, they can click on any link they find interesting. This takes them to another page of content with links they can click that leads to another page of content with more links and so forth. Before users know it, they will have consumed multiple pages of content through the clicking of content navigation links. That’s true engagement.
Menus don’t have this same effect. They’re a boring list of links on the sides of the page that users only use when they’re already familiar with the site and know exactly what they want. Menus are handy and your site should have one, but they can’t engage users on a level that content navigation links can. This is because menus don’t come with content. They’re ambiguous labels that have little meaning to users who visit your site for the first time. First-time visitors aren’t looking at your menus to navigate. They’re looking at your content to navigate, which is why you should focus more of your energy on designing your landing pages than your menus. The landing page is where the user’s journey begins. It’s the starting page for an area of your site that includes attractive headlines, images and text to entice users to click-through to learn more.
Most designers obsess over the details of their menus because they assume that most users will use the menus to navigate. However, the truth is that most users will use content navigation links to navigate. While it’s important to have a usable menu, an engaging landing page matters more. If you aren’t seeing many page views on your site, you should worry less about your menus and focus more on improving your landing pages and content navigation links. That’s where users spend most of their time. And if you design that well, that’s where you’ll get a lot of your conversions.