Customer off the Port Bow! Why Website Navigation Is Key to Improving CRO

Ahoy there, marketers! How goes the perilous sea of online marketing? Are you successfully raising your conversion rates and making more of your site’s visits profitable? If you’re having a hard time turning your bites into catches, you may need to take a closer look at your conversion rate optimization (CRO) tactics. Are your methods based on solid, logical online principles, or do you find yourself repeatedly making attempts to use easy tips and tricks to improve your CRO?


This article takes a look at how website navigation is paramount to improving CRO. The goal of CRO, of course, is not to increase the number of visitors to your site but to improve the number of profitable visitors who are converted into leads. Whether your goal is to sell a product, get a petition signed, or have an article shared, you need to focus on how to improve the rate of conversion of your existing visitors. If you want to improve your conversion rates, you need to take customer experience into account. What kind of experience does your site offer new users? Is it smooth sailing on your site, or are your users expected to navigate choppy waters? If your CRO needs to be improved, the odds are pretty good that your website navigation could use some polishing. So, what should you consider when looking at website navigation in relation to improving CRO?


The most basic and most important consideration is how easily your visitors can get around your site. You want site visitors to be able to reach their destinations in as few clicks or actions as possible. The faster and easier it is for visitors to get where they want to go on your site, the more likely they are to buy your product or otherwise fulfill the goals your site has set out to achieve. Below are some aspects of website navigation that can be improved by keeping this basic principle in mind.


Dropdown menus and labeling

One key aspect of navigation that many websites tend to use poorly is the dropdown menu. Most website users become frustrated with dropdown menus. Just when users think they’ve found what they’re looking for, they are confronted with more options. This means more looking, which leads to more work, which generally results in a lower conversion rate. Dropdown menus can be like dropping anchor and thinking you’ve hit bottom, only to discover that you’ve actually just snagged some seaweed. It’s one of those irritating things that are best avoided if possible.


What to avoid and why

Despite the challenges, there are some uses for dropdown menus. The key is to use them properly, in a way that optimizes conversion rates. Generally, “interactive” menus—menus that change depending on the selection made—should be avoided, as should menus that are so long that the users can’t see all the options on the list at the same time. Don’t make your users scroll through a menu, as they may forget the options at the top of the list and have to scroll back up to reread them. If they’re forced to do this, they may actually just leave your site instead, thus increasing your bounce rate. Dropdown menus should also be limited to two levels.


When and how to use dropdown menus

The most appropriate time to use a dropdown menu is when there are many options available. Dropdown menus can be a user-friendly way to present a lot of information, as they allow this information to be easily accessible without cluttering up a page. The key to using a dropdown menu properly, aside from avoiding the common pitfalls listed above, is to use the correct labels. Labels should supply the users with the most important information and not the most general. Remember, you want to give the users the most important information in the fewest clicks or actions possible. This is why menu labels should be specific to your site. So, if you’re selling maps, don’t label the menu Products—name it Maps!


Along with improving your bounce rates, using specific labels will go a long way toward search engine optimization (SEO). The use of keywords and keyword phrases will help organically raise your SEO ranking. Think of it like this: Most people don’t just want to sail to any old place but want to know their destination before they hop aboard. They’re bound to search for information related to that destination, and they’ll be more likely to end up on your site if that information is an organic part of your website navigation. Give them a direct route to their destination, and it’ll be smooth sailing.


Navigation on landing pages

Everyone wants to be original and creative. But your navigation is not the place to express your creativity. The fact is, roughly 50% of potential website sales are lost because customers can’t find what they’re searching for. Have you ever seen a boat made of stone? Probably not. Even though creative thinking is important, an original boat design is useless if it does not float. Using conventional methods for navigation is actually a good way to help users find the information they need, thus reducing bounce rates and improving conversion. Using methods that have been proven to work is more important than having a “unique” website.



Removing navigation from landing pages

One example of a proven navigation method is the removal of navigation from landing pages. Several studies, like this one conducted by HubSpot, have shown the benefit of removing navigation (e.g., dropdown menus, headers, and other links away from the page) from landing pages. On the contrary, providing users with links to leave your landing page, where your call to action is (hopefully) being fulfilled, is a good way to deter people from fulfilling this goal. The entire point of your site has been to lead the users to one of your landing pages, so why would you encourage them to leave the page so easily? The removal of navigation from landing pages is a proven method for improving CRO because it simplifies the users’ experience and makes it easier for them to engage with the site and fulfill your site’s call to action. After the conversion has been made (i.e., the users have filled out your form to request the offer), your website navigation should reappear on the “Thank-you” page. This way, the users are more likely to return to your site.



Sometimes, users find themselves stranded in the middle of a website, unable to remember when or how they got there. It’s as if they’ve been dropped onto a deserted island with no map, no compass, and a ship with no crew. Are they supposed to sail aimlessly, hoping to get back on course? And how will they ever return to the island if they don’t know how they got there in the first place? These visitors don’t want to use the main navigation to return to the home page or to another tab because they may not be sure about which page they were previously on or how to return to the page using the main navigation. Sure, they can hit the “back” button, but will they? And if they do, will they just keep clicking “back” until they arrive back at the search engine results page they found your site on? If they make it this far back, you can be sure that they will not be making it to your site again, let alone to one of your landing pages. So, how can you help your visitors keep track of where they are on your site? Luckily, a certain German fairy tale can give you a hand with this aspect of navigation.


What are breadcrumbs?

Breadcrumbs allow users to keep track of their location and the path they took to reach that location on websites or within other programs or documents. Just as Hansel and Gretel leave a trail of breadcrumbs to lead themselves back home, some sites leave “breadcrumbs” to lead the users back to the place they started. (Luckily, there are no virtual forest creatures or birds to eat the breadcrumbs left behind online.) They usually appear at the top of the page below title bars or headers, and they provide links back to the pages previously visited by the users. They make moving backwards much easier, and, as such, they tend to lower bounce rates.



When should breadcrumbs be used?

The important thing to remember about breadcrumbs is that they are not meant to replace navigation. Instead, they are included as an additional feature to provide greater convenience for the users. Breadcrumbs aren’t the map; they are the path the sailor drew on the map with a red pen. They work best on large sites with pages arranged in a hierarchical structure; they do not work for single-level sites that lack a logical hierarchy or grouping. The goal of breadcrumbs is to reduce the number of clicks or actions necessary for the users to reach their destination—in this case, a previous page. This is why breadcrumbs aren’t very useful for single-level sites. For smaller sites, the use of breadcrumbs usually unnecessarily increases the number of user clicks, thus increasing bounce rates and decreasing CRO. Because the use of breadcrumbs is relatively standard on hierarchical sites, users are accustomed to seeing them and therefore know how to use them. This is another example of how standardized methods of navigation can be more beneficial than “creative” ones.



If you take nothing else away from this article, take this one piece of advice: Don’t make changes to your website navigation—or to the rest of your site, for that matter—for no reason. Consider the rationale for implementing each change before you make it. Are you reducing the amount of work your users have to do to reach your landing page? If so, you are likely improving CRO. There are a ton of websites out there, and some of them probably have similar offerings to yours. If your site is not easy to navigate, users simply won’t take the time to investigate long enough to improve your conversion rate. So, batten down the hatches, get organized, and improve your website navigation. You and your conversion rates won’t regret it.