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Navigation Structure

Avoid My Newbie Mistake!

In the first incarnation of Boogie Jack's (way back in 1997) I used to provide a link to every page from every page. It was easy to navigate, but as my site grew larger this navigation structure quickly became a big chore just to add one new page. You can learn from my mistake and set your navigation structure up right from the beginning, rather than having to redesign out of necessity as I did.

The best way to provide navigation is using server side includes (SSI). SSI can call a file into a web page. For example, I use SSI to load my navigation system into the top and bottom of each page. I can change one file on my site and have my site navigation changed on every page. You can learn more about SSI as an Inner Circle member or by grabbing a copy of my book, Web Site Design Made Easy. Not everyone has SSI available to them, so I'll show you the best practice that is available to everyone.

A Better Way

When I designed my next navigation system I created topical sub-indexes that I called jumpstations. I called them that because it sounded more intelligent than calling them Fred.

I still use jumpstations. For example, the Web Design Tutorials index is the jumpstation you used to access this tutorial unless you came to this page directly from another site. When I add a new HTML tutorial, I only have to update the main Web Design Tutorials jumpstation. Jumpstations can also help with search engine positioning because the content is so tightly focused.

In some areas I've also put a "next page" link to the next page in a particular content circle. Using this page for an example, it is part two of a 4-part tutorial on site planning, so each page is linked to the next page to make it easy to go on to the next tutorial without backtracking to the jumpstation page.

All the main jumpstation indexes are listed at the top and bottom of each page so at any point you can jump to another area of my site without backtracking. After I came up with jumpstations, visitors were never more than one to three clicks away from what they're looking for even though I had over 500 pages of content! Some content has since been moved to my Inner Circle members area.

Your site visitors will appreciate the ease of navigation you provide and will be more inclined to explore more of your content—if you offer quality and original content. If you don't have quality, original content, little else will help you retain visitors or gain new visitors.

At the Very Least...

Always have a link to your home page (index) from every page of your site. You have no control over which page someone else may link to within your site, or which page turns up in search results. Many newbies won't know how to get to your main page if they arrive on a page without a home link. You think not? Every month people come here from search engines where they searched specifically for "" so most of those folks probably didn't know how to type a web address they already knew into their browser's address bar.

Another Good Idea

I also like to keep my links in the same set up. You'll notice my links set up at the bottom is the same on every page. Once you get it set up the way you want you only need to copy and paste for your other pages. Easy! And your guests quickly become familiar with the way your site is arranged so it aids in their navigation and enjoyment.

Test It

Be sure to test all of your links before going public with your site. You don't want your first email to be complaints about this link or that link not working. Speaking of email, if you want to receive letters from your guests you should also include your contact link on every page. Someone may want to write and tell you you're the coolest cat since Felix, but if there isn't a contact link on the page they are on, they may well just move on rather than hunt for it - and you may never get that ego boost!

A word about frames...

Some people advocate using frames to have a navigation system that allows you to change one file that will be reflected across your entire site, but—did you know there is a large percentage of surfers who hate frames? There are even "I Hate Frames" clubs. A quick search on Google for "hate frames" yielded 223,000 web sites that talk about their hatred of frames . . . and those are just the people that hate them enough to make web pages about them, millions more just dislike them, but not enough to make a web page about it.

If you're thinking of building a framed site, that's not the only drawback. You'll also have trouble getting a framed site indexed with search engines, and even if you do, getting a good ranking is also more difficult, and that is plenty hard enough as it is.

Frames also prevent users from bookmarking their favorite pages because all they get is the frameset page. Then there is the frame recursion problem where frames get nested inside other frames, sometimes to the point where a browser crashes. I recommend thinking long and hard about the benefits and drawbacks of frames before using them.

A word about JavaScript...

Another way to read a navigation system into a page is with an external JavaScript file. With that you can update the one file and have that update reflected throughout your site. I use an external JavaScript to rotate the daily specials you see at the top of each page. I wouldn't use it for my navigation system though. The drawback is that some people have JavaScript turned off in their browsers. If JavaScript is not enabled, those visitors won't see any navigation system. I can live with someone not seeing my daily specials, but they have to be able to navigate my site.
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