There are a few basic rules to creating your main, or Tier One as they say in search, website navigation. Two of them are the 7 +/- 2 Rule and Objective Naming Rule. The most important thing to remember in regards to rules is that they have their purpose. Know them, so that you know when to adhere to them and also when they can be broken.
The Seven +/- Two Rule
The Seven +/- Two Rule says that you should have no less than five and no more than nine navigation items. The maximum is based on comprehension principles that say our minds can only handle a certain amount of options at any given time. The minimum is based on content grouping, as most websites cannot fit all of their content into only two or three buckets. Meeting in the middle makes everyone happy - most of the time.
The Objective Naming Rule
The Objective Naming Rule says that you should not name pages creatively or arbitrarily. Instead, you should create a navigational title based on phrases that targeted users are searching for and what content will live beneath that navigational item. It should be intuitive.
There are basic best practices. For instance, your contact form and information should be in a page under the navigation term "Contact." However, things can easily get more complex:
Long page names need to be consolidated into one to two word navigational elements.
Trying to lump content together can lead to far too generalized terms, such as "Resources." Generalized terms require the user to click or at least hover in order to find out what you meant and need to be avoided whenever possible.
Avoid thinking "internally." "Who We Are" obviously explains your identity, but do you know anyone who actually searches: "[brand] who they are"?
Consciously know how much potential search traffic will be driven by each Tier One navigational term. Make Google's Keyword Tool your friend.
Based on these two rules, consider the following when planning the information architecture of a website:
Less is more. Ask yourself what can be grouped together and how concisely those groups can be named.
Ask yourself: Will the user understand what this means?
Ask yourself: Could you replace the term or phrase with a synonymous one that has a higher search volume? As stated above, know the potential search volume of each navigational term.
Ask random people to read your navigation terms and describe what type of content would be beneath each heading, knowing only the website's brand. If they don't get it, chances are other users won't either.
Break the rules, when appropriate. Just make sure you consciously understand why you're doing so.
Originally published Dec 19, 2011 1:00:17 AM, updated July 28 2017