Does Your Site’s Navigation Menu Tell Your Story? How Menu Copy Creates Clarity (or should, anyway)

by Crystal Paradis-Catanzaro

If all of the page copy on your website disappeared, leaving only your menu navigation items, would people still get a good idea of what you do? How you name and structure your menu items (“nav” items, for those in the web biz) should tell your story.

Depending on what type of website you have, the primary goal may differ. Whatever the primary goal of your site is should be reflected in the taxonomy (or naming convention), order and heirarchy of your primary navigation and menu items.

The Menu Basics: From About to Contact

The most common menu items include such staples as About, Contact, Team/Who We Are, Resources, etc. — and for a company business page which is mostly what we used to refer to as a “brochure” site, these may still be the best menu items. If your site exists mostly for people to get to know you on their way to becoming a customer, client or fan, this may be enough.

Menu Taxonomy: How to Write Easily Navigated Menu Items

Be consistent.

Reading across your menu bar should make sense, and should not change tenses.

Going for simplicity? Try “Team,” “Services,” “About” and “Contact.”

Want to get a little more friendly and conversational about introducing yourself? Your team page could be called “Who We Are,” and your services page “What We Do.” Your About page can become “Why We Do It” or “How We Do It” but is probably best left as “About” unless your About page specifically outlines your “why” or “how” or is more about your history (“How We Started” or “Origin Story”).

Starting with verbs that a site visitor can take? If your team page is named “Meet Our Team,” then your services page should be called “Work With Us.”

Pro tip: while it may be tempting to get cute or creative in your page names, straightforward is the best way to write your menu items. Trust me, I love a great pun, but potentially confusing a visitor who came to your footwear site with “A-Boot!” will likely backfire when, instead of the boots they were looking for, they get “gotcha-ed” by your hilarious about page. There are plenty of opportunities to show off your personality in the site copy, if you so wish. The navigation menus are neither the time nor the place for such shenanigans!

Effective Ecommerce Menus

Ecommerce sites should make one thing really easy: shopping (commerce!). This doesn’t mean that one menu item should say “Shop” — rather, your primary nav menu on an ecommerce site should be the top 3-5 categories that people are searching for when visiting your site. Some retailers split these top items by gender or department, others by item type, genre or attribute (size/color, etc.). The way you decide to categorize your top menu categories will vary depending on the types of products you’re selling, and how your best customers typically shop.

The Best Blog Menus

If your site is primarily a blog, your most popular categories should make up the majority of your primary menu. If your blog is super populated (like, say, HuffPo), you’ll probably need a mega-menu or at least a robust drop-down menu, for the many subcategories in your blog topic hierarchy.

These are just a few top considerations for a menu that clearly communicates your core business services to your next potential client. Next time: taxonomy for your blog categories!