Does your website main menu need a HOME button?

Your website’s main menu (or ‘primary navigation‘, if you prefer slightly fancier language) is the highly prominent list of clickable links that is one of the very first things that a visitor will see when they initially land on your website. As an example, here’s ours:

Fig. 1 – example main menu

Signposting

Your website visitors will quickly scan the webpage to reassure themselves that they are in right place, and to get a broad feeling for what your website is all about. As your website main menu is typically bold & eye catching, it will be a key area that will be looked at very soon in their journey. Visitors will typically briefly examine each item on your menu in turn, considering each ones meaning; this all helps the visitor form a clear picture about your business & your website. This is why is pays to think very carefully about what you put on your main menu (but more on that in a future post).

On smaller screens, such as tablets and smartphones, the wide, desktop view of the main menu will typically be shrunk down to a single icon called the ‘hamburger‘*. Here is ours:

Fig. 2 – example table/smartphone menu

(*Why ‘hamburger’ ? I think it’s because the three horizontal lines look a little like a burger between two baps – well, sort of ! )

Rightly or wrongly, the hamburger icon has quickly become a pretty common feature on most modern websites. Similar to the wider screen menus (Fig.1.), the hamburger menu is a great starting point for website visitors to quickly scan so they can familiarise themselves with the key sections of your site. Notice in Fig.2. (which is taken from our current Glass Mountains website) we tend to always prefer to include the word ‘Menu‘ next to the hamburger bit – relying on an icon alone is never normally a good idea in terms of usability.

Mental Model

Your website visitors are quickly trying to paint a mental picture for what your website and your business is all about. The human brain has evolved over a bazillion years so that it can make snap decisions from a very limited set of data. Why? because it can save your life: if we catch sight of something that looks like a dangerous, hungry, flesh eating dinosaur then let’s not wait until we are certain before we run to the nearest cave!*

* yes, I know humans weren’t around at the same time dinosaurs but, if we were, I’m sure we’d all look as good as Raquel Welsh does in One Million Years BC (cue spurious link to our header image for this blog post).

Anyway, back in the present day, to recap:  the main menu contains key links to signpost your visitors to important areas on your website. Traditionally, the first option on that main menu is ‘Home‘ or ‘Homepage‘. This option does exactly what you would expect it to, takes you back to the homepage – that much is obvious.

Your homepage is a very important page as this is where you get the chance to fully set your stall out so that website visitors can quickly grasp what you are about, what products/services you offer, and why they should buy from you. Your homepage should reassure such visitors, signposting them to further relevant pages so that they ultimately take the action you want.

All roads lead to Rome

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that all of your website visitors start their website journey on your homepage. After all, visitors to your physical house typically enter via the front door* but, with websites, this situation is much less clear cut (*exceptions: Santa Claus and perhaps burglars).

Search engines such as Google etc can find (or ‘index‘ in their fancy language) pretty much any standard page on your site; this means that all your website pages (unless you’ve dropped a massive SEO clanger) are potential candidates for showing up in the results to search engine queries and, therefore, being the first page that people land on when they hit your website.

And, if the website visitor is starting their journey on an internal page (ie. not your homepage), having ‘Home’ as the first option on your main menu really helps reassure them that they can get back to the main signposting page when they need. It reassures them that they can explore your website safe in the knowledge that they can easily get back to starting point which should be geared up to introducing them to you & your business.

Clickable Logos

On many websites, the main logo (which in many cases sits in the top left of a website design) is a link back to the homepage. A sizeable percentage of website users are very familiar with this convention and instinctively know they can click your logo to return to the homepage – however, the key word there is ‘percentage‘!

Take a look at this extract from a great website usability report from 2015.

We also asked, “When you get to an internal page on a vendor website from a referral site or search engine, how do you orient yourself?” Almost 50% of respondents indicated they use the navigation menu, with 36% stating they use the Company Logo to reach the home page.

The key takeaway there is that, whilst many website visitors know that they can click on the logo to return home, a lot of people don’t know that; such folks will look at the main menu instead. Now, whilst that report is from 2015, that’s not a bazillion years ago* and even if we adjust the 50% down a little bit on the assumption that, over time, more people understand the click-logo-go-home convention, then it’s still going a number which cannot be ignored.

(*Tenuous link #2 back to the blog header image)

Therefore (where it makes sense to your project):

  • Make the main logo clickable and linked to your homepage
  • Add ‘Home’ as your first primary navigation option

Thanks

Joel

P.s. this is also worth a read https://www.nngroup.com/articles/homepage-links/#contentBody

 

 

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