Your website’s navigation is one of its most important features. At a glance, it tells visitors what your parish’s priorities are and gives them a clear path to move through your site. If visitors can’t figure out what to do or where to go on your website, they’ll either struggle unnecessarily or give up and move on from your site. When visitors have a clear, well-defined navigation that helps them find what they want and need, they are more likely to return on a regular basis.
Here are five tips for moving your website’s navigation in a more positive direction.
1) Plan your navigation
When it comes to organizing your website’s navigation, a little forward-thinking is a necessity. Before you jump in and add every new page to your main navigation, clarify which features and pages your website requires, and what the hierarchy should be. Do you need to feature three different donation links in your main navigation or is it better to organize these links into a ‘Ways to Give’ section? What pages are the most valuable for your site visitors?
Get started by creating a list of all the main pages of your site and all the sub-categories within them. This will form the base of your navigation menu. You can use any method you find most comfortable for making this list - you can write it by hand, set up a flowchart or diagram, or type it out on a spreadsheet.
2) No more than seven top-level options
There is an idea in psychology that suggests that humans can remember up to 7 plus or minus 2 choices (5-9 choices) at any given time. We can apply this to site navigation design and recognize that you should try to limit the option you present to your visitors.
Limiting the number of links in your top-level navigation is good for two reasons.
Concise navigation is:
1. easier for your visitors to find what they need
2. more meaningful and useful
A general rule is to aim for 4-7 main navigation items. Any fewer, and perhaps you aren’t presenting enough information about your parish. More than that, and perhaps you should better prioritize your options and group them into categories. For example, if your top navigation contains links for ‘News’, ‘Calendar’, ‘Weekly Bulletin’, ‘Monthly Bulletin’, and ‘Photo Gallery’ we suggest moving ‘Calendar’, ‘Weekly Bulletin’, ‘Monthly Bulletin’, and ‘Photo Gallery’ under ‘News’ since they are similar in nature.
3) Mind the order
The order of your navigation is just as important as the number of items listed. Within your menu, there will be pages that are higher and lower priority and we suggest that as you plan your navigation, you list them in order or priority. Next, make the most important pages stand out by listing your important pages as the first and last in your menu to attract more attention.
4) Make Links Clear and Simple
Your website’s navigation should be clear and concise. You don’t want your visitors to have to guess what any of your content is, and you shouldn’t have long phrases. Use the clearest, descriptive text possible so visitors know what you mean. Here are some examples of long to brief changes you may want to consider for your website navigation:
- “About our Parish” ===> “About Us”
- “New Visitors Click Here” ===> “New Visitors”
- “Calendar of Events” ===> “Calendar”
- “Contact Us” ===> “Contact”
- “About Fr. John Pappas” ===> “Our Clergy”
- “Maria Dowd Memorial Banquet Hall” ===> “Hall Rentals”
5) Avoid Long Drop-Down menus
In paring down your main navigation to a reasonable number of choices, you’ve grouped several pages together within each of your main navigation items. In some cases, perhaps you’ve created some very long dropdown menus with 7 or more items each. Your dropdown menus should follow the same rule as above for your main navigation. Try to limit each dropdown menu to 4-7 items. You should be strategic in what information you put forth on your website. Will the information we are presenting on our website help accomplish a goal? Perhaps your goals are “outreach to new members”, or “deeper engagement with the existing community” Make sure your content reflects that.
Consider the following:
- Does this page need to stand on its own, or can its content be grouped with one or more other pages?
For example, with your ministries, rather than listing out each individual ministry as a separate page, create one page that groups several items together. Some examples are:
- Youth” (JOY, GOYA, OCF)
- “Education” (Sunday School, Greek School, Bible Study, Vacation Bible School
- “Outreach” (Food Pantry, Shut-Ins)
- “Liturgical” (Altar Servers, Chanters, Greeter Ministry)
- Is the content relevant right now?
- On your site, do you have seasonal pages, such as “Holy Week Schedule”, “Sunday School Registration”, “House Blessings”, or “Christmas Pageant”? These pages are just taking up space throughout the year when your visitors don’t need them.
- Use Third Level Navigation only when necessary
- If you have a fairly complex sub-section of your site, you may want to consider a 3rd level navigation to allow your visitor to find his or her way through the microsite. This should only be used in rare cases. Perhaps this would be useful for a parish archives section or your church festival. In most other cases, be concise and intentional about the information you are presenting.
By following these important 5 steps, you will take a huge step forward in serving your parishioners, reaching out to new members, and anyone else who visits your website. As you work your way through these steps, look at your site as if you are one of these visitors. Can you find the things on your site that are most important to you? If not, make those changes today!
For more information to improve your parish’s web presence, check out our other articles at support.goarch.org or contact us at the Department of Internet Ministries at internet.goarch.org!