Head to Toe
The Nav and Footer are two places where best practices rule the day and innovation should be limited.
A visitor doesn’t want to be impressed by your unique navigation design. They want to understand what your company does and they want to get to where they are trying to go.
Some of these best practices are universal (ie they are relevant for pretty much any website) and some are category dependent (ie E-comm and SaaS companies each have their own Nav best practices).
The Primary Nav
The most important best practice is having as few links in the nav as possible. More choices lead to more confusion and a first-time visitor will not know where to start or what to look at.
For most links, we like to have them earn their spot in the starting lineup. We start with them in the footer and if they are getting a lot of traffic or our metrics are underperforming, we can reconsider, and test them in the primary nav.
The biggest mistake in Primary Navs is called “Shipping your Org Chart.” This is when the primary navigation is a 1:1 representation of your internal teams. This makes the Nav about the company instead of the visitor. This is frightfully common and absolutely destructive to the performance of the site.
The footer of large-scale websites has really grown in importance over the years. Many of your audiences, most commonly those looking for a job, know that they should simply scroll to the footer to find the Careers or Job Postings sections.
The modern footer can be quite large with virtually no consequences. It is a great place to have a more complete directory of the pages on your site. Because the footer is on every page, visitors will have this directory handy at all times.
The Footer is also our last chance to make a lasting impression or generate an action. As such, they are great places to:
Make one last attempt at a given CTA (Sign Up! Join our Mailing List!)
Showcase a bit of personality. This is especially effective because the footer is an otherwise fairly dry part of the site.
Stop them from leaving by proposing an interesting next page of the site to visit.
The Primary Nav and the Footer play quite well together. The fact that the Footer can be large and hold the majority of your site’s pages enables a more considered, focused approach to the Primary Nav.
Take the time to get the balance between the two right. Once you’ve got that balance, you’re free to concentrate on the fun stuff.