What’s on the Menu? 3 Tips for Clear Site Navigation

Whats on the Menu 3 Tips for Clear Site NavigationEver landed on a beautiful website, only to get lost in a sea of confusing navigation items?

Instead of “Home,” you see “The Safe Haven.”

Instead of “Testimonials,” you see “That’s what she said.”


I’m all about being clever, but not when it comes to your site’s navigation menu.

Lemme tell you why.

The Drop-Down Dilemma

The idea for this week’s post came from a conversation in the private Facebook group where my Dream Clients hang out.  A client of mine came to share the exciting news that she’d added her new copy to her site. Wahoo!

When I went to click and find it, though, I had to search for it. I actually had to think. (I know, right?)

The problem was this: Her “About” tab had a drop-down menu with two other options. I assumed I had to pick one of those. When neither showed the actual “About” content we’d worked on together, I was confused. I kept searching. This time I clicked actual “About” link, and there it was.

Would new visitors take the time to do that? Probably not.

If your visitors see a drop-down, they’ll assume they need to choose. If they click around and don’t see what they’re looking for, they’ll BOUNCE. (Literally.)

I pointed that out to her, and she fixed it instantly. (Sometimes all you need is a second pair of eyes to help you see what you’re missing!)

Fix It

Make sure you’re not hiding any headliner content with unnecessary drop-down menus.

If you really want to showcase the content on those drop-down pages, decide if they either a) warrant their own spot in navigation, or b) can be linked from one of the main navigation pages without taking up precious real estate in the menu.

Drop-downs have their place in this world, but they’re just not necessary for most of us.

Keep. it. simple.

The Witty Wordsmith

I get the urge to come up with clever names. REALLY, I do!

Just be careful.

Depending on the nature of your site, your readers may be looking to be informed, entertained, or even inspired. I can tell you one thing for sure:

They’re not looking to be confused.

I used to tell my public speaking students about the importance of forecasting. Tell your audience exactly where you’re headed and how you’re going to get there.

For example, in a speech about apples, I’d recommend this thesis and preview statement to close out the introduction:

“Today I’m going to tell you about apples. First I’ll tell you about their color, then I’ll tell you about the taste, and finally, I’ll tell you about their nutritional benefits. So let’s start with color….”


Isn’t it nice to be able to sit back and enjoy the ride (speech, web-surfing experience) without worrying where the hey you’re headed?

A wise person* once said: A confused mind always says no.

Your readers want to enjoy the ride too. If they don’t get that “Braintrust” means “Archives,” they will (you guessed it!) BOUNCE.

Lost ’em for good.

Fix It

Watch a friend or family member click around your site for the first time. Then ask questions!

Was the navigation clear? Was s/he unsure what any of the tabs would lead to? How easy was it to find what s/he was looking for? Any recommendations on how to make things clearer?

Be open to feedback and willing to let go of the pet names you’ve created for your tabs. Your audience depends on it.

The Menu Bar Buffet

Ever been to a site that seemed to have every. single. page linked to the navigation menu?

I mean it’s alllllll up there. The only thing missing is a link to the author’s bank statements.

To me, that feels like work. And when I’m searching the web for answers or inspiration, I don’t want to feel like I’m working.

So how do you decide what’s worth including? Think about it from your reader’s perspective. What does she absolutely need to know when she gets to your site?

Only a handful of A-team pages should get top billing.

Two or three more B-teamers can join the party in the bottom navigation.

Everything else is better linked through logically related pages.

Fix It

If you know you’re guilty of an all-you-can-read menu, look at this a chance for spring cleaning. Don’t be afraid to declutter, reorganize, and start fresh when it comes to your navigation.

It’s okay if existing readers have to readjust. It will be wellllll worth it in the long run.

The goal is to make your site completely intuitive. Your readers should feel like you designed it with them in mind (because you DID)!

Bottom Line(s)

Your website is like your virtual home. Create a space where you’re visitors feel comfy. A place where they’ll be happy to kick off their shoes and stay a while.

Speaking of staying a while…

In the comments below, tell me: What is the most OFF-THE-WALL navigation menu item you’ve ever seen (and what did it lead to)?

You can also head over to my Facebook page to share the best and worst menu items you’ve seen. (Just be sure to change names to protect the innocent. They won’t know any better til you share this post with ’em.)

That’s what I got for you today, friend. Thanks for reading!

If you’ve got a few, go ahead and give my brand-new navigation a try.

I recommend starting at my “That’s what she said.” “Happy Clients” page.


*I googled and didn’t find the wise person’s name. Do you know?



  1. Jenny

    Great article and great new site! Loving your energy!!!

  2. Dr. Tonia Winchester

    Ha! I was at a formal dinner on the weekend, and we pre-ordered (months in advance) if we wanted fish, beef, or chicken. However we weren’t given any other information about the meal.

    After the soup course, the woman beside me admitted she was very stressed at this meal. I asked why and your article reminded me of her response.

    “I have no idea what’s coming, if I should fill up on bread, if they are going to take my plate away before I’m finished, if I should go to the cash bar, or if they are going to bring more wine. I hate not having a good sense of the overall plan.”

    In food and in web navigation a clear menu is always appreciated!

    Thanks Nikki!

    1. Nikki Elledge Brown

      Ha! That’s EXACTLY it, Tonia. Perfect analogy.

      Why would we want our readers to be stressed!? This is their happy place. Gotta keep it that way.

  3. Connie

    Fantastic info and something I’ve been working on this week! That line between branded words and just being clear is sometimes tough to find. What do you think about product titles? Same as site navigation or a place to add some creativity?

    1. Nikki Elledge Brown

      Ooooh good Q, Connie! Still a fuzzy line, in my humble opinion. As with everything else, go with what feels fun and will delight your customers!

      My fave clever product names are OPI nail polishes (like You Rock-Apulco Red, which I wore on our trip to the Mexican Riviera ;))

      If the names could be confusing, require further explanation, or straight up feel like you’re trying too hard – ditch ’em.

      Clever names (like clever titles) are great when they work for you, but they’re not necessary!

      1. Connie

        Good advice! I’ll have to use that filter when I’m naming…and pay attention the next time I’m getting a pedi! Thanks!

  4. Kiria Vandekamp

    Wonderful message, since I´m just working on my new website. I had been thinking about this stuff and whether i is clever to use fancy words or rather stupid. I guess it´s clear now. ;-)

    1. Nikki Elledge Brown

      Ha! Yes, Kiria. You can show your cleverness in the pages themselves. If nobody understand how to get to those pages, howev, all is for naught!

  5. http://tiresplanet.com

    Sweet blog! I found it while browsing on Yahoo News. Do you
    have any suggestions on how to get listed in Yahoo News?

    I’ve been trying for a while but I never seem to get there! Appreciate it

  6. Michele

    This is so true. I recently saw a job title, ‘Glitter Instigator’. Huh? It’s good to be creative but not at the expense of clarity.

    1. Hanna

      Brilliant as usual Nikki! I like to think my website is pretty clear in the navigation bar but now I’m going to double-check.

      And agree with Jenny, your energy is fabulous! You rock lady!

      1. Nikki Elledge Brown

        Well thank you, lovely!

        I’m *sure* your nav bar is just as clear as it is stylish :)

  7. Tanya

    Where do I get the info on working with you and your fees?
    I love your articles and love your energy!!!

    1. Nikki Elledge Brown

      Hi Tanya – thank you!

      Right now the only way to work with me is through my new program, A Course About Copy. The founding class is already underway, but the official grand opening will happen just in time for summer school :)

      To stay in the loop, join us in the Inner Circle (and enjoy my free training vids) at http://www.acourseaboutcopy.com.

  8. Ritu

    That’s my motto when it comes to site navigation too! That being said, my site probably needs a rethinking regarding it’s menu. Hmmmmm….

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