Navigation path

Menus and links - helping users navigate

Web readers need help finding their way around a site. This is the job of menus and links. Linking is the quickest way to get the user to the most relevant information.

Think carefully about the likely visitors to your site and how you can organise and write each menu item to make navigation as easy as possible for them.

 

Make menus specific and meaningful

Like tables of contents, menus should give the contents of your site a meaningful structure. Write menus to reflect this structure. Help visitors understand this by using hierarchies and organising your content in the simplest and most logical order – especially since you never know the order in which it will be read by the user.

Write individual menus so that:

  • One bounces off another, illuminating both.
  • Readers can see why certain menus are grouped together.
  • Readers sense a certain sequence from the top menu to the last.
  • Readers quickly get a sense of what the section is about, along with hints as to where they can find the information they want.
  • They are clear – not cryptic or ambiguous, as they could be misunderstood.
 
 

Group and sequence menu items

When objects are in groups, people remember them more accurately. Grouping helps people understand how your menu is organised, find what they want more easily and recall the organisation of your site more accurately later.

One way to group items is to create a range from the familiar to the unfamiliar, from general to specific and from most commonly used to least.

 
 

Use hierarchies

Grouping headings into menus and submenus creates a hierarchy. In general, a good hierarchy helps people store and remember incoming information, because people organise the information in their long-term memories in hierarchies.

Group information items at various levels and provide clues in your writing as to why you organised the items in this way.

To avoid confusing readers with too many pages at different levels, try to ensure your hierarchy is no deeper than four levels.

 
 

Offer multiple routes to the same information

To help visitors follow their own trail, offer them multiple menus leading to the same low-level items. People usually come to your site with different purposes, tasks and mindsets - you can support them by putting the same heading in more than one menu. Such menus can also offer different perspectives on your content.

 
 

Writing good link labels

Avoid meaningless words

Nobody will be entering these terms in a search or skim-reading a page for them.

Wrong approach Correct approach

For information on EU fisheries policy, click here

Information on EU fisheries policy

EU fisheries policy - MoreMore on EU fisheries policy
 

Don't simply leave a url

Unless you're promoting a particular site address, standard practice is to write a meaningful, descriptive label for your links.

Wrong approach Correct approach

For more information, see the EU tax and customs home page: http://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/index_en.htm  

For more information, go to the EU tax and customs site
Use meaningful words

 

Use keywords

Link labels should be a specific indication of the content the reader will find by clicking (don't mislead and waste their time). And search engines look especially for keywords in links.    

Multilingualism – education sector
Abstract / jargon words

Language courses/schools
Concrete words that potential students are likely to recognise instantly / search with.
Commission communication on customs and trade COM(2003) 452
"COM(2003) 452" is a keyword only a tiny number of experts might know.
Commission communication on customs and trade - COM(2003) 452
Including the subject keywords "customs and trade" gives your link much broader meaning.

 

 

Don't repeat unsuitable page headings

Don't slavishly mirror the heading on the underlying page. If this is unsuitable for use as a link label (too long, unclear, etc.), it's okay to rephrase it in your link label.

Wrong approach(heading on page linked to)Correct approach(link label pointing to it)

Detailed explanation of the different types of public works contract

 

Public works contract types
Link contains enough words from the underlying heading for readers to make the connection when they land on that page.

European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument
 
Programmes in EU's southern/eastern neighbours
Explains underlying content better for non-experts - "EU neighbourhood" concept not widely known.
 

Meaningful in isolation

Link labels must make sense if used out of context, e.g. in other locations, on outside websites, etc.

Wrong approachCorrect approach

Energy saving (too general) 
a link to a video of individual energy-saving projects in European towns

EU energy-saving projects  
Specifies more where the energy saving is and in what form

 

Short – about 3-5 words

Wrong approachCorrect approach

Overview of the EU’s relations with Iceland

EU-Iceland relations

Experiences in the Use of Country Environmental Profiles in the context of Environmental Integration in EC Development Co-operation Programming

Environmental profiling in EU development programmes

 

Enticing and direct - to encourage readers to click

Wrong approachCorrect approach

For more information, see the Commission's research framework programme

More on EU research funding