Five budget-friendly ways to improve navigation and usability

Scott Payton suggests quick and low-cost steps for making your corporate website easier to navigate.

A growing number of communications teams are grappling with shrinking budgets as their companies respond to the economic uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 
So over the coming weeks, we’ll be highlighting lots of cost-effective ways to improve your company’s digital channels.
This week, we’re focusing on navigation and user-orientation provisions on your global corporate website. 
Taking simple steps like those below – and ensuring that they are consistently implemented – can bring big benefits for your audiences and your company. 
This is all just as relevant if your communications budget hasn’t been squeezed: many a multi-million-dollar website relaunch has been spoiled by a failure to do the following: 

1: Make your navigation menus constantly visible – at all levels

It’s increasingly fashionable to bury a site’s primary navigation menu behind a hamburger icon – even in ‘desktop’ mode of a responsive site. This is a bad idea, because it forces visitors to work harder to find what they’re looking for. It also reduces the chances that users will visit pages that you want them to visit – regardless of their own goals.
Providing a conventional – and therefore intuitive – set of primary navigation menu labels is the answer. Many companies provide these horizontally along the top of the page. Others, like BP, provide them vertically in the left column. 
It’s also a good idea to provide constantly visible in-section navigation menus – covering secondary, tertiary and deeper sub-sections. The menus on are a good example.
Again, if in-section links are in dropdown menu panels alone, users must work harder than necessary to browse and use them. 
Remember that many visitors to your corporate site will be arriving for the first – and possibly last – time (read more about this here). So make navigation as obvious and easy for them as possible. 

2: Ensure that links from your global site to all PDFs and separate sites open in a new browser tab

It’s good practice to ensure that all links to PDFs are labelled ‘PDF’, and open in a new browser tab. The same is true for links to external sites – including social media channels. 
If a link opens a PDF or a separate site in the same browser tab, visitors are likely to become disorientated – and are forced to resort to the ‘Back’ browser button to return to the original site. Try downloading any PDF from Goldman Sachs’ global site to see the problem. 
Most web managers probably know all this. Yet on many corporate sites it is not consistently implemented. The Investors section is a good place to find culprits here – the result of hastily uploaded PDFs materials during busy results periods, for example.
A comprehensive audit to find and correct such rogue links will be time well spent. 

3: Make your breadcrumb trail prominent – and comprehensive

A clear breadcrumb trail – which shows every level, including the user’s current page – is a quick and easy way of improving users’ ability to remain orientated as they browse your site. 
It’s also a handy supplementary navigation device – especially on sites without constantly visible in-section navigation menus. 
Some companies make the mistake of burying their breadcrumb towards the bottom of pages: it’s more useful, and easier to find, at the top. See and for examples. 
Other companies – like Siemens – go a step further and add dropdown menus to each section of their breadcrumb trail (see the screenshot below). Again, this is a potentially useful additional navigation tool. 

4: Highlight the user’s current location

A breadcrumb trail is not the only device for helping users to keep track of where they are within a site. Highlighting the user’s current primary section in the main menu – by underlining the relevant section label or displaying it in a different colour – is another useful mechanism. 
This is another good reason for having constantly visible in-section menus: if you have them, you can highlight the user’s current sub-section, too – which users will appreciate.  
Bayer’s global site is a good example of this.

5: Clearly explain your site’s accessibility provisions

Providing good accessibility provisions for hearing impaired, sight impaired and keyboard-only users – among other groups – is a potentially complex task. But explaining the provisions that you have provided is a simple one, which many companies overlook.
Firms like HSBC and Shell provide an ‘Accessibility’ link in their corporate site’s footer, leading to clear and comprehensive information about their accessibility provisions, and how to use them. 
It’s also good practice to include a contact route from here for users with accessibility-related queries.
In our next article, published later this month, we’ll focus on budget-friendly ways to improve online communication of your company’s ‘purpose’. 
For more insights on all aspects of corporate digital communications from the experts who advise 25 of the world's 200 largest companies, download the Index of Online Excellence and subscribe to our weekly newsletter.  
First published 05 May, 2020
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