No matter how beautiful a website is, it needs to be accessible. Accessibility isn’t just a matter of your parishioners knowing the church URL! Once someone arrives, they need to be able to find what they’re looking for. This is done primarily through the navigation bar on your parish website. This is the line of options immediately viewable upon arriving at a webpage. When you click, press, or hover over one of the top level menu items, you’re either taken directly to a page, or a drop-down level of more options appears.
While we may be accustomed to this from using the internet on a daily basis, it’s another matter entirely to design web navigation yourself. Below, we detail five common mistakes in setting up your web navigation, plus tips to fix them!
Mistake 1: Bland Navigation
Descriptive navigation is a web design concept that makes your navigation bar work harder for you. For example, saying “who we are” doesn’t actually say who you are. Consider an alternate approach like this parish website. While there are a lot of menu options, any visitor to the website can find exactly what they’re looking for through clear, descriptive menu options.
Mistake 2: Overloading Your Short-Term Memory
As you’re deciding what to place in your navigation bar, choose carefully. If someone is trying to find something on your site, you want to give them enough options to be specific, but not so many that people become overwhelmed. As a visitor to your website assess which navigation item is best for them, their mind will need to hold all the options in mind for several seconds in order to sort through them. Studies show that we can only hold seven things in our short-term memory . Make it easy on the minds of your visitors! Stick to seven or less items in your navigation bar. This parish hits the number exactly and manages to be fairly descriptive in its menu items.
Mistake 3: Not Being Strategic with Navigation Structure
Here’s another memory trick with psychological backing. The serial position effect notes that items at the beginnings and ends of a list are more easily remembered. For your parish website, that means putting your most important links on the ends of the navigation bar. You’ll likely have the “home” button on the front end, so people can easily navigate back to your home page. As for the other side? Some parishes may emphasize joining or donating online . Consider your current parish priorities and select accordingly.
Mistake 4: Using Drop-down Menus Poorly
You may have read Mistake #2 and thought, “Seven menu items? But there’s so much going on at our parish!” While best practice does emphasizing keeping the menu short and simple, it doesn’t mean that’s all there is to your menu. Web design platforms allow you to create drop-down options for your menu items.
Drop-down menus can be tricky. If visitors to your website are looking for something, the success of clicking the right menu header can be cut short when they need to select again from other options. The annoyance may be brief — and even subconscious — but it does affect someone’s interaction with your website . Think carefully as you incorporate drop-downs. If there are only one or two items in the drop-down menu, consider if they’re really necessary.
That said, mega menus have less of a negative impact. Think of large retail sites like Amazon. The sheer volume of products and categories couldn’t possibly fit in the top level of site navigation. This method of organization could be comparable to the average vibrant parish, with multiple ages of faith formation and dozens of ministries active in the parish. WeConnect allows for a variety of nesting menus, which can help organize your complex website.
Mistake 5: Execution before Consideration
Everyone wants a great parish website. But it’s more than looking at a few best practice tips and jumping into making changes. You’ll notice that some of the parish websites featured here don’t fit all of the tips offered or have taken different routes in their execution. The point is this: Find what works for your parish community. Here are some questions to consider as you’re deciding how to structure your parish website’s navigation:
- Why are people coming to our website in the first place? Who is the primary user, and what are they looking for?
- Does our organization make sense to the average parishioner, not just us in the office?
- How can our labeling be accessible and clear?
- Is our navigation consistent and logical, or did we need to make some “stretches” to be sure certain things fit in certain categories? Does this serve the user experience, or should we reconsider our categories?
- How can we organize our navigation levels so that the user can easily decide where to go next?
Share your vibrant parish websites with us! What do you like about their navigation options?