Written by Caroline Cox on Jul 27 , 2022

Website visitors need a guide when they land on your website. Navigation features are the answer.

Here, you’ll find:

  • How business sites can leverage navigation
  • The difference between header and footer navigation
  • How to build out your navigation with website UX in mind
  • Tips for what to include in your navs

Imagine being dropped in a new town without access to your smartphone’s map app. Scary stuff, right?

Maps help you navigate new places, showing where you’ve been and helping pinpoint where you want to go. The same can be said for website navigation.

The header (or main) navigation lives at the top of your site. As Squarespace explains, “To make your site easy to navigate, main navigation is the best place to put the pages you expect visitors will need the most.” 

Footer navigation (also sometimes called secondary navigation) often includes important info that isn’t necessarily your site’s main focus, such as terms and conditions, social media links, and company info.

Let’s lay out what you need to know about header and footer navigation with help from HawkSEM lead strategist Charlotte Soto.

three people on the sidewalk looking at navigation on a smartphone

Navigation can promote future opportunities to stay engaged with your content off-site (such as links to your social media channels). (Image: Rawpixel)

Why having header and footer navigation matters

As we’ve said before, search bots not only crawl links and your sitemap, but they also use navigation to determine the importance of certain pages on your website.

Having a functional header and footer navigation leaves out the guesswork for site visitors. By implementing these navigations, users see a logical layout of your site architecture.

The result: an improved user experience (or UX) on your website.

These navigation tools help people get to the content they’re seeking quickly. This helps improve the conversion funnel. Header and footer navigation can also positively affect the “dwell” time on a page, which can have positive ranking-signal benefits.

How navigation benefits your website

Navigation allows site visitors to access HTML sitemaps (usually located in the footer) to, well, navigate websites easily. Makes sense, right?

They also identify pages within a product or service cluster that aim to elicit an action from the visitor. This action could be something like shopping during a sale, signing up for a newsletter, or requesting a service appointment. 

The header and footer often include important website pages that can be easily accessible for Google’s robots to follow (aside from the robots.txt sitemap). This leads to faster indexing opportunities and can help with better performance on the search engine results page (SERP).

Lastly, navigation can help visitors stay engaged with your content off-site (through linking to places like your social media channels) and keep your brand top-of-mind.

Pro tip: Header and footer navigation also leverage internal linking, which helps boost your site in the eyes of search engines.

Tips for building your site navigation

When it’s time to start building or revamping your website’s nav, keep your brand’s main KPIs and goals in mind. This can help you make decisions and prioritize what you want to include, since you don’t want to overcrowd these spaces.

Ask yourself: How do we reflect our goals and KPIs in our menu structure? 

Experience tells us it’s also a good idea to keep it simple. After all, you don’t want to overwhelm your visitors with countless tabs to scroll through. The path to conversion should be simple

As far as priorities go, your product or service categories should be prominent in the menu structure, along with overarching pages that feature elements like your company overview and contact info.

When it comes to nav that keeps UX and SEO in mind, Search Engine Journal suggests you:

  • Analyze your Google Analytics user flow
  • Investigate internal site search
  • Visualize user interaction with heatmapping
  • “Teach” users what to expect with anchor text
  • Check what’s ranking and what’s not

Pro tip: Avoid having three or more clicks on your site structure. Users need instant gratification — otherwise, you risk losing engagement, conversions, and sessions. 

Woman using a navigation map

If you’re in the e-commerce space, it could be beneficial to offer an FAQ link that lays out details for things like returns, exchanges, and shipping times. (Image: Rawpixel)

What to avoid when creating your header and footer navigation

We’ve reviewed hundreds of websites over the years — and we’ve seen a lot of mistakes.

The good news: When you know what to avoid, you can feel confident that your site is on the right path.

When crafting your navigation, it’s wise to avoid:

  • Invasive menu navigation that isn’t responsive to your design, especially on mobile
  • Menu navigation that overlaps any content and becomes illegible
  • Any path to conversion that takes more than three clicks site-wide (including on your menu navs)
  • Confusing or hard-to-follow category names
  • Subcategories that don’t logically align with their parent categories

How to optimize your website navigation

Once you’ve got the main structure of your navigations mapped out, you can take the next step to ensure they’re optimized.

That process will look different for different companies depending on things like the particular industry and how many pages the site has. However, there are a few best practices that apply to most sites.

For example, it’s a good idea to use keywords or phrases when optimizing your footer or header navigation.

You also want your brand logo to be present in the menu nav and clickable so the visitor can easily navigate back to the homepage, no matter what page they’re on. Users are accustomed to this feature. 

If you’re in the e-commerce space, it could be beneficial to offer an FAQ link that lays out details for things like returns, exchanges, and shipping times. 

For software-as-a-service (or SaaS) brands, a live customer support link is important. And if your site is capturing transactions or in the tech space, showcasing security logos can help gain user trust.

The takeaway

If you ask us (and let’s assume you did), header and footer navigation are key components of a thorough, user-friendly, fully optimized business website.

By keeping the above tactics and tips in mind, you can build site navigation that benefit your visitors, search engines, and your brand as a result.

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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