More Than Words….Why And How Words Are So Critical To Your Website (especially your navigation)

words in website navigation

Hmm the headline reminds me of a song from the 90’s.

But I’m not here to go down memory lane. I’m talkin’ about words baby, words. More specifically why you need to pay attention to the words you use on your website.

Usability expert Gerry McGovern says that words are the building blocks of every website. But then again, he also says words are the building blocks of modern civilization.

Deep stuff.

Hey I don’t want to be regurgitating everything Gerry has to say but I could because what he says is always damn good. Luckily though, Gerry says it’s OK.

Presidential candidate, Barack Obama, was accused of being all words and no action, of being lots of rhetoric and little substance. Here’s how he replied:

Don’t tell me words don’t matter. ‘I have a dream.’ Just words? ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ Just words? ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself’ -just words? Just speeches?’ (Obama plagiarized his friend, Deval Patrick, for these lines, but that’s not the topic of this piece.)

“Words matter. They always have. They always will. On the Web, words matter even more. The right words” – Gerry McGovern

Oh yes they do.

Writing for the web is really about holistic marketing.

See it’s not only the words themselves  – it’s being able to craft a series of web pages into a conversation that communicates to your reader exactly what your website is about, what you are offering and the actions you want your visitors to take.

Without words you are unable to communicate. I’m here to show you how to make better use of your words, whether it’s for SEO, branding or usability. This is what is about.

How People Use Your Website Depends on Effective Wording

Usability not only applies to design but to the words you use on your website.

What do I mean?

Well my mate Gerry says nothing can work on the web without written words. No page. No link. No classification, navigation or menu. No application or software. Nothing. Zip. Nada. Nilch.

Sure a picture can often be worth a 1000 words but only words can effectively identify forward steps. These forward steps take shape in the form of links and labels. That is, the links you use on your website tell people what to click on and where they will go next. Your website must serve new people that visit not just repeat visitors. This means people are likely to click on links if the words are meaningful to them.

Topical Navigation Tells Your Visitors Where They Are On Your Website

And only words can do that.

When you stumble on websites that have horrible navigation, chances are you won’t find what you wanted and you’re likely to never go back.

It’s quite alright to have a non-descriptive navigation such as links to your Homepage, About page, Products, Services and Contact page. But you often see bloggers, in particular, include links to useless widgets such as the blog roll, date-based archives, the WordPress calendar and non-descriptive category links on their sidebars. If you guilty of this, chances are you’re not converting web traffic into clicks, which means the only button people are probably clicking is the back button.

If you want more clicks that convert, you should have topical navigation, which means having a navigation bar that relates to the content you provide on your website. Or, as Derek Halpern says, links to content or pages that relate to the overall theme of your website.

Check out these two screenshots from the Retirement Village Association website to understand what I’m talking about:

Topical Navigation Bar


See how this organization has a navigation bar that links to everything this site is all about? It has links to village life, fees and charges, accommodation and community centre to name a few, which clearly identifies what the site is about. If you came upon this website from a search engine and think the current page about security and 24 hour call isn’t for you but you want to find out about fees and charges for your mother-in-law, you can easily click on that page to find out all about them.

As Gerry continues to explain most web writers think that their job is about writing articles. But it must be much broader and deeper than that. What is the navigation of the website made up of? Words. What are the links on the website made up of? Words. What are the applications on the website made up of? Words.

Remember This

Now that you’ve read this article, I want you to remember this:

Well-crafted navigation keeps your website visitors hanging around for longer. The more targeted it relates to the content on your site, the more people will understand what your website is about. So if you sell products or offer services, then people will immediately understand what it is you’re offering upon entering your website.

Now What About You?

Now I pass it to you sassy one. Do you pay careful attention to the words you use on your website?

How’s your navigation bar looking?

How do you direct visitors around your website?

Talk about it here in the comments.

Oh, and don’t forget to share this on Facebook and Twitter. 🙂

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  1. Great call Shae, way too often I see links to “Archives” on the side bar of a blog and I ask the owner “how often do you think your readers think – wow I loved an article from March 2010 I might click that link” – new readers have no idea what topics were published and when so archive links by month add no value to them. That space is better used for links to Categories, which are specific to topics that the readers will be interested in.

    Keep sharing this great content 🙂


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